Designer Spotlight: Natalya Lagdameo
On the jewelry, the bears, and being ‘part-Ifugao’
Some of Natalya Lagdameo’s work can easily be seen and photographed on the wrists, necks, ears, and fingers of her clients. Aside from the jewelry she is known for, even fewer know of her as a practicing interior designer. Stepping into her family’s workshop in Mandaluyong for the first time is like entering a small, well-curated museum on Filipino heritage: antiques line the walls and part only wide enough for any of the inhabitants or visitors to pass in pairs. Despite being 30 minutes early, Lagdameo (whose petite frame is offset by her dark striking eyes) welcomes me warmly. Soon, we sit and chat in her father’s workroom, going thru her gamut of design projects.
“ID (Interior Design) is my primary job; I also work here with my father (Buddy Lagdameo). It’s the family business: we design and manufacture furniture. Jewelry is 50/50 with everything else. I also have the bears, my charity project. For Christmas—I’m doing pigs.”, she finishes with a chuckle.
I’d come for the jewelry, but couldn’t help sharing her enthusiasm for her bears (and pigs). Lagdameo’s “little army of stuffed toys” has grown in number since 2014. She was first approached to help recycle retaso fabric for Elements Fine Furnishing Fabrics Inc.
“The project started off as a tribute to a friend — her name was Tana. She taught me about classical toys; she was a collector. That’s how I started out. I created the Tana bear, but she needed a friend. So, I made Pyke, which is actually my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, who was English—that’s why it’s Pyke with a Y.”
She is sent boxes of swatches from Elements’ discontinued lines to this day. “I pair every single one, so every bear is different. They’ve been stocking fabric for me. If there’s no more space they have to dispose of it, which is a waste, as its very good fabric.” She came up with an innovative use for them after meeting with the Gifts and Graces Fair Trade Foundation Inc., who found the local communities who, with Natalya’s guiding hand, would hand-make the bears. The bears can be found with her trusted distributors such as AC+632, Cura V, and Firma
“They’re also available in Steps (Dance Studio)—for the little ballerinas.”
Her army has Pinoy bears (developed for Amanpulo and are on stock there throughout the year) too. Named Pepe and Paz, the former is named after her dog; the latter, her cook.
These personal themes appear to be a unifying feature. For example, her interests are deeply seated in indigenous culture. Natalya’s Pinoy bears use local weaves (like Inabel from Ilocos Norte, the modern Django stripe from Abra, or the popular but hard-to-get Yakan fabric from all the way in Basilan). These are considered her premiere line and cost P1,800 (as opposed to P1,200 for the charity bears).
“They’re hand-loomed; we wait 6-8 weeks for a couple of yards. It takes probably a day to do a yard by hand; it’s all taught to them and done by memory. People look at fabric, and they take it for granted. But each one of these bears has passed thru so many hands, so it’s not like it’s a factory-made thing. They’re made individually, from start to finish. So are the pigs, and the dogs (when we make them).” She laughs. “Abel is the Ilocano word for weave. Each pattern has a different name. That’s what fabric’s for: stories. It tells you stories of what they see and do; that’s how they come up with patterns.”
It seems her calling is to provide an outlet for communities to keep telling their stories. Her jewelry is another medium that proudly conveys centuries-old metalworking traditions from the northern regions of the country, particularly the Cordilleras.
She stresses that she has no training, aside from interior design. “I’m not a goldsmith, or a silversmith. I learn from the plateros who tell me what will or won’t work, especially for moving parts. When you’re doing things like hinges for earrings, or closures; they give me input from experience. It’s like building a house—a smaller version. I’ve grown up with antiques because of my father’s business. He used to live in the Mountain Province in the 60’s, so he used to bring us; that’s how I learned their culture. It’s like I’m part-Ifugao,” she smiles.
The jewelry started earlier than the bears, with equally interesting origin. “I could never find bracelets that fit. I’d go off and get commercial things and they’d be down here,” motioning to back of her hand. “I’d always be bruised when drafting.”
“The giniling bangles were the first things that we manufactured, 9-10 years ago. The same people do all my handmade lines. Their instinct is spot-on: I can send them a design and they’ll get it perfectly 98% of the time. They use a lost-wax pattern, do the smelting in a small clay pot, and then they just pour. Every single one has different bubbles; I told them to leave the blemishes. That’s what I want—that’s what makes it different. You can have 6 of the same design but each one has a different pattern of bubbles, dents, a fire mark, something—people actually get to choose which one they want.”
She wears 8 gold originals out of the 30 giniling bangles that adorn her wrists. The first five are the product of countless begging from her father, while the other three were given by her dearest friend Tana. The bangles were made to protect the Ifugao women’s veins, and men’s knees. She’s added more bracelets to her upcoming collection, for clients who were big fans of the giniling who now want something to go with them—she’ll have 6 new designs coming later in the year.
“I don’t really follow seasons, full collections. I’ve released about six. Majority of my work are the restorations, the antiques. That’s what people come for. I actually prefer those because I’m used to doing individual pieces. When I restore, it’s one-of-a-kind. I start from that piece, and build around it. When I do bespoke, it works the same way: they give me something personal, and I’ll work around it.”
Despite her apparent preference for bespoke restorations, her Pebble collection is slated for completion in October, she says. Pretty uncharacteristic for someone who has never featured stones, but this year she’s decided to come up with a few: using jade, onyx, and even white sapphires. “I used to do big, chunky rings—all the rings for this collection are stackers. You can wear them with whatever you have. I’ll have more items in gold, just because there’s no maintenance. I figured this is a good time to transition. These are all handmade by my plateros in Manila. When you hammer gold, you get that lighter texture: strong, but thin.”
From the soon-to-be launched Pebble collection. (L-R: gold ring with pebble, jade earrings, gold ring with white sapphire) Photo courtesy of Jake Verzosa.
Her upcoming premiere line is full of eye-catching, intricate details. With the name still in the works, she manages to show me a few treasured pieces before I leave, saying, “This is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. I was just waiting for the right time and the right manufacturer to do it.”
One thing she says about her work, ”a lot of my theme is PLENTY; plenty of the same thing. Plenty of this (motions to her giniling bangles), or this (to the earrings with tamburins). It’s either that, or it’s one. If you’re gonna do big, might as well (makes an expansive gesture with her hands) make it plentiful. But then you have simpler items, where it’s as basic as it can get. For my Pebbles collection, I’m highlighting the pebble. I don’t go very far on the spectrum: it’s usually black, white, gold — once in a while, green and pearl. (laughs) That’s as adventurous as I’ll get.”