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From Paris, with Love

Filipino artist and Philippine Pavilion front liner Michelline Syjuco brought the recently concluded Maison et Objet Paris to its knees with her extraordinary wearable art designs 


By Hannah Jo Uy

Paris conjures up images of romance and beauty, like no other city. The beloved City of Lights has captured the imagination of artists, poets, and icons for centuries. It was and continues to be the melting pot and incubation hub for countless pioneers in the arts. For Michelline Syjuco, a homegrown Filipino artist, it was a global stage where she could present her stunning creations to the world; and in the face of her miniature masterpieces, Paris was brought to its knees.

“I like the idea that people who wear my pieces own a part of my soul,” Michelline says, “and that each piece is as unique as the person wearing them.”

A multidisciplinary artist with a breathtaking oeuvre that is truly one of its kind, Michelline’s work blur the line between art and design. Creating handmade sculptural jewelry, the craftsmanship, thought, and aesthetics meticulously showcased in each piece can rival the most immense creations despite its smaller scale.

This is what she had showcased during her recent participation at the Maison et Objet Paris, the largest, most anticipated lifestyle exhibition and the main event for Paris Design Week. The event is exclusive to registered members of the design community and trade buyers, drawing talented names in the world of design, fashion, and the arts. The works of Michelline, curated by Budji Layug, was a frontliner at the Philippine Pavilion, which was under the theme “Reimagined Traditions,” and developed with her pieces in mind.

Her participation came after much prodding and encouragement from her mentors, notable people in the art scene, predicting the positive response she would receive from Parisian audiences, who would appreciate them to be truly art, and not merely design pieces.

“All my pieces are handmade by me, and each one tells its own story,” says Michelline. “So much work goes into producing a collection, that I have, at most, one big show a year. Some people don’t understand this. They ask why I don’t reproduce the pieces so I can make a bigger profit. For me though, the piece would lose its value once it is mass produced.”

Her conscientious approach to art making is evident in the fine details that set her work apart from all others. Unwilling to compromise a piece for the sake of production, she channels her creative energy wholeheartedly in design and elevates jewelry into an artwork. The result is these magnificent creations pulsating with life as she injects her fascination for mythology, dark fairy tales, swords, sorcery, and the seductive charm of the fantasy and the fantastic into almost otherworldly pieces.

For Paris Design Week, Michelline created a series of wearable art pieces, under her collection, “In Chasms Deep.” In addition, she also brought sculptural creations for the home entitled, “Metamorphosis,” which is front lining the Philippine Pavilion. Her creations showcase her versatility and proficiency over matter, as artworks forged by her own hands are set off by semi-precious stones and pearls.

She received an overwhelming response from international audiences. Following the massive success of her exhibition, she has been invited to showcase in different galleries across France as well as in the US and Dubai. She also received noteworthy media attention, being featured by several publications including Elle Magazine. Following the strong reception, her pieces will also be carried by seven high-end boutiques across Europe, whose proprietors expressed their appreciation for the unique, irreplaceable quality of each piece for their elite and specialized clientele.

But she is quick to point out that her success is one that can be shared by all participating Filipino designers: “I am also happy to report that The Philippine Pavilion and the participants have really been able to showcase the diverse talents and resources that the Philippines has to offer by showcasing original works that incorporate pearls, wood, and even recycled paper. These products are truly different from what the rest of the world has to offer, and the workmanship is impeccable.”

Michelline emphasizes how fellow participants have proven that they are not simply manufacturers, but designers in their own right and how brands such as Floreia, which uses a unique and patented recycled paper material, have evolved from basic shapes and textures to more ornate, complex silhouettes. “I am excited to see how much further along they can go, given just a few more years of product development.”

As she has proven, the international scene is ripe for fresh and original Filipino creations, noting the potential of the Filipino designer to make a name for themselves in the global arena. “There is so much talent in the Philippines and we have the skills and all the resources. We just need to keep pushing and keep up our presence at different exhibits abroad. Given the opportunity to see what we have to offer, there is no doubt in my mind that the world will take notice, and that the Philippines can become a design giant. It’s just a matter of time, and of course, continued government support.”

She adds, “Despite the fact that more and more foreign brands are coming into the Philippines, I have seen an increase in the desire of Filipinos to patronize local artists and artisans. Aside from Manila FAME, there is the Maarte Exhibition of the National Museum of The Filipino People, which regularly promotes local talents. There is also a growing community of patrons dedicated to supporting Filipino designers and talents, one of whom is lawyer Melva Valdez, who has made it her life’s mission to help the Philippine designers to go global. We need even more people like her to give us that little bit of extra mileage, which is what will inevitably propel us to international success.”

As she contemplates on the bright future ahead of the Filipino designer, she gratefully looks back on the family that has molded her to become the artist she is today, reflecting on how art has since shaped her life.

“I was fortunate enough to be born into a family of artists, so creating things has always come naturally to me,” she recalls. “I was always amazed at how you could make something beautiful and functional, out of seemingly insignificant things. To this day, that is what I derive joy and satisfaction from—transforming the ordinary and mundane, into something fantastical.”

Indeed, Michelline Syjuco is a bottomless pit of inspiration, dominating each new creative endeavor with her unique brand of je ne sais quoi.

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