EST. 2009

January 11, 2017

That Little Luxury

AS SNEAKER CULTURE, MOBILE WORKING and other mobility-embracing trends secure their place in the mainstream, you'd expect form to follow function with the triumph of commuter-friendly fashion. But history shows that practical isn't always necessarily the most coveted. Many of us still readily make room in our lives for beautiful, albeit impractical, things.

Such is the case with what has been dubbed "the smallest it bag ever." Launched in 2015, Simon Miller's Bonsai bag measures a mere 12 x 12.5 x 17 centimeters, with a pair of hoops as handles measuring 6 centimeters across. For scale, the iPhone 6 at 13.8 centimeters is taller than this bag. The average female palm, at 6.8 centimeters, is wider than the bag's handles.

Still, it sold out on Barneys' pre-order even before stocks reached stores. “We wanted to create something cool and cute, and to help women streamline their lives by only allowing the essentials." Simon Miller founders Daniel Corrigan and Chelsea Hansford shared with the Telegraph. The cylindrical bag has no zips or fastenings for securing its contents, and only saw the addition of straps and a slightly larger version introduced in Fall 2016.

Priced accessibly for its category, what the Bonsai truly signals, in my opinion, is luxury. I imagine that this bag's owner has nothing to lug around; neither a laptop nor an umbrella, which a P.A. or chauffeur could fetch. She wouldn't travel by bus or bicycle, because even in the absence of theft, it seems unlikely that the Bonsai would hold its contents through a rigorous commute.

That's not to say I don't want one of my own. William Morris, a 19th-century designer and poet associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, once said in a lecture: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Whether it's an item of cult status or a randomly-found pebble, driftwood or seashell from a shore, objects of beauty gain their value not from their function but from the way we regard them. And therein lies their luxury.

Simon Miller Bonsai bags, images from

December 20, 2016

Those Spills and Surges

SURF LIFE SAVING AUSTRALIA LISTS SHARKS, WINDS, STRONG CURRENTS AND TOPOGRAPHIC RIPS as hazards at Half Moon Bay. In spite of these, and a recorded average of 18 rescues per year, the beach receives a general hazard rating of 3/10, placing it in the "least hazardous" category. Beach hazards is a concept foreign to me, having lived most of my life in an archipelago of warm, relatively calm shores. Save for typhoon-tormented days at least, Philippine beaches aren't known to pose much danger to beach-goers.

Half Moon Bay, located south of Melbourne, takes its name from its crescent shape. The bay faces north in the southern corner, west in the northern section, and is interrupted midway by the prominent rocks and cliffs of Red Bluff. Rich in iron oxide, Red Bluff's burnt-orange formation is notable on its own, but extra dramatic when interfacing with the sea. Frothy, glassy waves spill, plunge and surge against its scattered rocks, turned a deeper tan by saturation with water. The crashing sound seems rhythmic and constant, but the waves appear different each time.

The internet is awash with tracks of ocean wave sounds. But it's a singular sensation to actually walk on a rocky shore, wary of the beautiful, possibly hazardous spills and surges that could sweep in forcefully at any moment. Contemporary life is designed so that majority of our interactions are comfortable, convenient and predictable. It's good to be reminded that the best of nature isn't a product of contemporary design, or human design at all. And oh, how remarkable its force could be.

Red Bluff at Half Moon Bay, Victoria. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

December 8, 2016

That Breathing Space

THE WORKS OF LIAM STEVENS range from geometric cut-out compositions to loose paint daubs, and finally, airy pencil sketches of natural scenes. Predominant across the styles is that airiness, as if the image had taken a breath, and is prompting you to do so too. The sketches in particular impart this sensation, with foliage and other natural elements defined by lines that don't dare intersect. Save for a few, they don't even touch.

In graphology, handwriting with widely-spaced words and letters suggests that the writer enjoys freedom and independence. Widely-spaced strokes in drawing give me the same notion somehow. In Liam Stevens's nature sketches, the lines appear to be independent of each other. The spaces between them call attention to the way they interact as elements on a page; elements that give way and have room to move about.

It's a tiny detail that fascinates me, primarily as a designer who works with graphics, but also personally as an individual who values personal space. We've all been there, in public transport and crowded events, in which strangers feel too comfortable with contact. Let me out!

If you can relate, do check out anthropologist Edward T. Hall's chart assigning radii in feet and meters for the intimate, personal, social and public distances between people. According to the chart, we can reserve up to 1.5 feet of personal space for those with whom we feel familiarity and intimacy.

But alas, it seems we're better off as lines on a Liam Stevens drawing.

Illustrations by Liam Stevens,

November 2, 2016

Those Scar Cymbals


A DEEP VIBRATIONAL HUM FILLS THE MAIN HALL OF THE ZABLUDOWICZ COLLECTION, a former methodist chapel in North London. At the chancel is a glass house of sorts, aglow in LED, with plywood ladders leading up to each of its four stories. At the center of the room, a platform resembling a brain is covered in fine, white sand. There is paint smeared on the walls.

Medium density fibreboard encase Kaoss pads and speakers at the back of the room. An acrylic panel rises from it. From here comes the vibrational hum, turned on and off by models loitering about. Their skin is painted in natural pigments including turmeric, coffee and clay, which stain their surroundings upon contact; an "inescapable residue of touch" rendering acrylic surfaces opaque over time.

Scar Cymbals is Donna Huanca's first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom. The installation-performance hybrid features elements from her exploration of the surfaces of identity, as well as the interface between bodies and objects. While showcasing Huanca's unique visual aesthetic, Scar Cymbals is primarily sensual, at the same time sacramental, with sculptures that respond to the chapel's architecture, and daily performances that reference the functions of the skin.

Catch the show for a neon-stained meditation-sensation challenging your instinctive reaction to flesh.

Scar Cymbals by Donna Huanca at the Zabludowicz Collection, Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

October 18, 2016

That Persona

NAMED AFTER THE LATIN WORD FOR MASKS WORN BY ACTORS IN ANTIQUITY, Ingmar Bergman's Persona deals with the guises people create to satisfy the demands of their environment. The term contrasts directly with "anima" which pertains to the inner personality or soul.

Persona's two protagonists embody these two opposing concepts. Elisabet is a stage actress who one day ceases to speak, not due to any physical or mental illness, but out of sheer willpower. Alma is her carer, a young nurse who candidly shares not only thoughts and emotions, but even scandalous secrets.

The two women spend time at a seaside cottage, in utter silence, save for Alma's carefree intimations. Real events blur with what could be interpreted as dream sequences, in metaphorically-rich scenes of two identities oscillating between similarity and distinction. At the outset, Elisabet's fa├žade renders her very different to Alma, but their interface, as well as clues throughout the film, erode the actress' guise, revealing an inner world that mirrors and melds with that of her companion.

Persona has been widely analyzed and critiqued, with Bosley Crowther's New York Times review describing it as "a veritable poem of two feminine spirits exchanging their longings, repressions, and mental woes against a background of natural beauty." Details have also been examined, as in Thomas Elsaesser's piece for Criterion, which notes the link Bergman makes between hands and the face, that "are everywhere in Persona: hands reaching out to caress or slap faces, or covering their own faces; even the photo of the Warsaw ghetto boy with his hands raised is scrutinized by the camera for hands and faces."

I was particularly fascinated by Persona's visual composition of juxtaposed profiles and superimposed faces, that even outside of their symbolism result in meticulous, elegant arrangements. And in light of shedding guises, I must also express my trivial appreciation for the film's sartorial aspect. Turtle necks, boater hats and that gorgeous chain link bangle. Not bad distractions through 84 minutes of psychological drama.

Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman in Persona, 1966. Directed by Ingmar Bergman.

September 29, 2016

That Zurier Sky

THE FIRST PAINTING DILEMMA THAT REALLY ENGAGED JOHN ZURIER was that of painting the sky seen between two buildings, so that the entire painting would be nothing but an empty blue space. He found the task nearly impossible, putting it off for a long time, with his artistic concerns nearly unchanged since.

There's no evidence of struggle in his work though, which incorporate a delicate human touch into atmospheric depictions. The pale blue canvases from his Muuratsalo/Finland series evoke feelings of escape with glimpses of daytime sky. Notable in the paintings are wisps of unpainted canvas, seemingly suggestive of clouds. Zurier's other works, such as those in Night, are more densely painted, as if portraying the weight of darkness. The contrast makes his sensitivity to atmosphere even more apparent.

Hardly a fan of fleeting, electric sunsets, I am drawn to flat skies in muted tints. Light blues, I associate with flight. Grey skies, contemplation. That is, until a spell of cabin fever dawns and any glimpse of sky is a cure. A pale, blue Zurier may be a good indoor alternative.

Paintings from Muuratsalo/Finland by John Zurier,

September 14, 2016

That Desert Pause

IT'S THE KIND OF SILENCE YOU GET DURING A BLACKOUT, naturally, as La Pause chooses not to run on electricity. Sparsely luxurious, the retreat comprises traditional mud-and-straw lodges set on secluded mounds and slopes. A Berber tent cluster provides common areas for lounging and dining, with arid landscape views interrupted only by a Jerome Leyre sculpture.

Just over an hour's drive from the busy Medina, La Pause requires some bumpy-riding through parched, roadless and barren land, where local villages are said to have been driven out by lack of water. The complex is lush though, built around an oasis of palm and olive trees. The gardens grow grapes and such urban staples as rocket and alfalfa, which come with your meal.

Entertainment and activities of a very wide variety can be arranged, including donkey polo, rally car racing, calligraphy and meditation workshops, fire-eating and fantasia horse shows, among others. We opted to lounge and dine, as one can never have too much tagine or over-sprawl in a sun-dappled shade. The Agafay desert, just gazing at it, is quite phenomenal too.

It's trendy, and not a new trend at that, but I find it artful nonetheless to extract elegance out of what is otherwise rugged. Nourished by a little river, the only source of life for miles, La Pause embodies "less is more" and proves itself an unconventional escape from traditional luxuries.

La Pause, Agafay desert, Morocoo. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.