In the next few years, Asian and African designers will play an increasing role on the global fashion scene. Even the most famous European fashion designers such as the genial Galiano and even the late Yves Saint Laurent often turned to the East for inspiration.
The Filipina designer, Bea Valdes, is currently enjoying an unprecedented success, both in Europe and the United States. Valdes, whose family has been working in the jewelry business for three generations, began designing evening bags in 2004. She soon became interested in statement neckpieces, these giant necklaces which add “wow” to the most casual clothes.
Her ‘artrageous’ creations have been photographed in Harper’s Bazaar, Newsweek, Glamour and Marie Claire. More recently, British Vogue’s September issue featured Kate Moss wearing only a Burberry trench coat and a sublime neckpiece by Bea Valdes. Sold in well-known shops such as Barney’s, Harvey Nichols and Saks Fifth Avenue, her jewelry has been worn by Sharon Stone, Kate Hudson and of course Kate Moss. A Bea Valdes piece, whether a bag or a neckpiece, takes around a month to finish. Each piece is handmade and can consist of up to 75 different beads, crystals, and even semiprecious stones. “I don’t really plan what I create. I begin by working on my panels. Sometimes, a panel will tell me what it wants to be, a bag or a neckpiece. We are a work in progress and that is the kind of mindset I plan on keeping for the years to come. We are in constant search of new material and we aim to evolve in design and technique,” she explains. She has chosen to remain in the Philippines where she works closely with her team of forty artisans. She feels it is important to maintain a creative environment and Manila is the only place where what she wants can be done as she wants.
Bea Valdes grew up in the Philippines. She graduated with a degree in Industrial Design from the University of the Philippines and then studied Interior Design in London. When she was applying to Central Saint Martins for Jewelry Design, a professor she met for an interview, saw the embroidered panels she had brought along and told her to use them as bags. In 2000, she created 12 egg-shaped bags which were an instant success. And her breakthrough happened when one of Bea’s clients brought some of the bespoke bags to Vogue and they immediately requested a photo shoot and an interview. She is presently famous for her gorgeous, bold necklaces, the niche she was looking for, a kind of jewelry which is neither fine nor costume.
“It was like trying to create the antithesis of fine jewelry while still capturing the drama of it,” says Bea who was surprised by customers’ reactions. A number of women felt they were too short to wear such huge pieces: “I am quite small myself and love the fact that the pieces are oversized.”
Bea draws some inspiration from outside the fashion world, presently she is mostly influenced by writers such as Edward Gorey and the French poet Charles Baudelaire. She admits that she likes pieces that tell a story and according to her sister Marga: “She designs everything for herself, something I would wear, something she would wear. It’s just something she would like.” As for Bea, every time she starts working on a new bag, she says: “This will be my favorite piece. And then, the next time I start another, I say it again. That’s my motivation.”
Her bold necklaces have been doing very well since they were launched on the market a couple of seasons ago. The best-selling pieces are the most intricate, most of which are bespoke. Besides the regular collections which are sold worldwide, Bea Valdes continues to do special orders for private customers in Manila and abroad.
Despite her global success, the most well-known Filipina designer remains unchanged. Bea Valdes still spends most of her time designing, despite the birth of her daughter, Bella. Her presence, however, has affected Bea’s creativity. She tends now to use fewer dark and bold colors in favor of pastels and light colors.
For Bea Valdes, “The most important thing in one’s life is that you do the work you love with the people you love.”