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Why Designer Filipino Bags Are the Next Big Thing

Don't be fooled by their size, these handcrafted, Philippine-made minaudières pack a powerful sartorial punch. By STEPHANIE ZUBIRI.

Published on May 29, 2017


FILIPINO DESIGNERS have embraced the purse as a medium to showcase creativity. Around an island nation where sunscreen and shades and are must-totes, the landscape is dripping in Technicolor inspiration, natural materials abound and there is a tradition of highly skilled craftsmanship, it isn't surprising that the fashion scene is bubbling up with truly eye-catching handbags. Blurring the lines between fashion and art, these artisans have adorned the clutch—perhaps the perfect canvas for innovation as it is bigger than most jewelry but small enough not to overwhelm—with bespoke beadwork, weaving and embroidery, carved woods, metals and even precious stones. The result? One-of-a kind statement pieces so graphic and sculptural that a would-be accessory becomes a gallery-worthy display, glittering in your grasp. Here are six innovative designers who are establishing the Philippines as a vanguard of couture clutches.


This former biologist marries both his passions in his three-part Aquapocalypse collection, first released in 2014, with clutches that mimic vibrant coral landscapes. "I never had any training in fashion," Samudio says. "What you see now are remnants of vivid memories from when I was exposed to the beauty of underwater life. They say experience is the best teacher. I do not sketch but create only from experiences and memories of my past work." Each bag is a triumph of engineering; it took a five months to perfect the clasp mechanism and the proportions, and every string of beads is individually hand-sewn upright to lambskin. The psychedelic pieces are as hypnotic as the seabed scenes that inspire them.; handbags US$600–$1,500.

Ken Samudio
Courtesy of Ken Samudio.


There is a pre-colonial Philippine edge to Joanique's founder Malou Romero's work, with each piece handmade from sustainably sourced acacia wood. The graphic motifs have an unearthed-from-anarcheological-dig feel, but are rendered in vibrant modern hues, like lime green and metal-flake sapphire blue. Her Maskara collection takes inspiration from the MassKara Festival, a raucous three-day carnival where revelers don masks, with each wooden minaudière carved into smiling or surprised face. The creations are sure to stir up conversation while the color combinations can meld with any wardrobe. Just don't tote one to a museum or you may have the guards accusing you of theft.; handbags US$420–$560.

Courtesy of Joanique.


"As they begin to kiss, Midas would slowly turn Medusa into gold," San Pedro says as he explains the story behind his golden snake minaudière. "And as he looked into her eyes they would forever be frozen in time, locked in their passionate embrace. This is what I imagined would happen if they fell in love." San Pedro manages to translate narratives of epic proportions into clinquant clutches that fit in the palm of your hand. From Marie Antoinette meeting the Mad Hatter to a box of tumbling monkeys to a spectacular sardine run, each of his pieces have a tale to tell. The beautiful brass, shell and finished-wood designs are elegant yet whimsical, and despite the use of rigid materials there is a certain fluidity and movement to the finished shapes. Whether adorned in swinging simians or marching ants, these purses have looks and personality.; handbags US$750–$785.

Neil Felipp San Pedro
Courtesy of Neil Felipp San Pedro.


When Bea Valdes first established her brand, her vision was to design purses that would be regarded as "art to wear." This principle holds true today as her work becomes increasingly elaborate. The richly textured bags in her signature asymmetrical shape are all minutely hand-embroidered and embellished with crystals and semi-precious stones. Although she sources materials and draws inspiration from across the globe, Manila is still her home base. "In a factory you just do a piece of something, you don't get to own the whole," she says. "In our atelier, my girls take a lot of pride in their work. Everything is created in-house, from concept, to design, to production. Everything is proudly made in the Philippines." The bags are a testament to the ultimate luxury: time. Each clutch takes a month to complete and reflects the tastes of the individual embroiderer. The extreme attention to detail elevates these bags to heirloom pieces.; handbags US$800–$5,000.

Bea Valdes
Courtesy of Bea Valdes.


"A thousand fireflies red-hot against the night sky, their reflections like fire dancing on water; the carabao, beast of burden, marked by a majestic crescent horn; the rice terraces, viridescent staircases extending towards the heavens," designer Emi Jorge says of her travels to Banaue, Donsol and Bohol, experiences that inform her creations. Using natural materials like shell and wood and combining artisanal and modern techniques such as inlay and laser-cutting, she encapsulates these memories in her handbags. Most of her clutches are petite, but when it comes to these bitsy beauties it isn't what's on the inside that counts. Available in select stores in Manila handbags US$340–$500.

Emi Jorge

Courtesy of Emi Jorge.


Becky, Amina and Rosanna Aranaz, the mother-and-daughter trio behind Aranaz, are all about tropical living in style. From leather-adorned woven raffia to blinged-out coconuts, the local materials used move well beyond the realm of souvenir shops and onto the catwalk. Their team of skilled artisans transforms playful imagery like pineapples, toucans and palm leaves into formalwear by giving them a luxe and glamorous makeover. Molded metals and vibrant high-gloss-paint finishes allow the pieces to work just as well with a casual caftan in Bali or with a glitzy cocktail dress at a Hong Kong art show.; handbags US$465–$800.

Courtesy of Aranaz.



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Ken Samudio's neon clutches mimic vibrant seascapes. Courtesy of Ken Samudio.
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