In the Bag

An architecture student delivers the perfect metaphor for a purse
shop in the Philippines.

With its second luxury-handbag branch in central Manila, mother-and-daughter design pair Aranáz opted for a daring visual onomatopoeia: the place looks like a purse. Iridescent scales envelop the walls and converge on a slippery-smooth floor as light glances off the reptilian coats and lustrous beads that adorn some 40 handmade bags. “The space brings together the two worlds of the Philippines—indigenous mother-of-pearl, and exotic skins and leather,” says Amina Aranáz, the duo’s junior half. “It has a modern yet artisan feel, which is very consistent with our brand.”

It’s a fitting follow-up act for the ten-year-old company, which has translated peddled wares at weekend markets into a multimillion-dollar export-retail venture that melds traditional Southeast Asian and Western design. The new outpost opened in April, at the cost of $26,000, and occupies 660 square feet in a financial-district shopping mall (a “premier lifestyle haven,” to quote press materials) replete with overpriced swag (from Marc Jacobs, Escada, Michael Kors, etc.) and a floor dedicated to Filipino designers. “The location of the second store is an indication that we have reached a certain level of prestige,” the younger Aranáz says. “I wanted the store environment to reflect that.” And she didn’t want to play it safe—she was looking for whimsy.

Twenty-seven-year-old Juan Carlo Calma—a family friend and a starry-eyed student at London’s Architectural Association, with no built projects to his name—envisioned a clever literalization of nature. “The concept was to create this skin assemblage that’s sort of wrapping around the store and creates a very fluid tectonic,” he says. With 3-D-modeling software, Calma crafted 220 discrete “scales,” each prefabricated with one-inch-thick sheets of recycled timber and covered in scored, metallic-rose laminate (which gives the face its pearlescent sheen). Thanks to a double-wall system, small evening bags are showcased along one length of the store in a series of diamond-shaped recesses, and jagged shelves highlight larger totes along the other. The floor, made of orange-tinted vinyl tile, reflects light beams from some 30 halogen lamps tucked into ceiling rifts, adding further texture to the fissured walls.

One obvious drawback: the boutique has so much look that shoppers often stop simply to gawk at what’s probably the closest thing to an alligator they’ll see outside the zoo. And yet, Amina insists, “The space, although intricately done, still manages to highlight our bags. Hopefully, it entices our customers to explore and discover more.” Herpetophobes, of course, might want to shop elsewhere.

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