Previously awarded the Special Mention in the Salone Satellite 2019, designer Mirei Monticelli attracted attention in Milan this year with her new collection Ocean Myths.
Milan-based, Filipina designer Mirei Monticelli exhibited her new collection Ocean Myths at the Salone Satellite during Salone del Mobile 2022. The Philippines has a lot of natural resources that are beautiful, sustainable and difficult to find in other parts of the world, as stated by the designer. Through the use of a special banaca fabric, sourced from the Philippines, the eye-catching lighting products resemble sea spray, crushed shells or waves crashing along the shoreline.
“The Banaca fabric that I use for my lamps is handwoven, and each strand is individually worked by hand using traditional methods passed down through generations,” the designer explained in an interview via email.
“It is the same raw material that is used for BANANATEX (it comes from the trunk of the banana-abaca tree), the difference comes down to the processing of the fabric that gives it a totally different visual and tactile appeal. From what I know, bananatex is processed in a more industrial way which makes it easy to be mass produced. You can easily distinguish the fabric because of the texture and transparency, and they are used for different applications.”
There are colors available on the website where visitors can request samples. The studio works with Banaca fiber, cultivated from the Philippines and woven by a community of weavers found in the province of Bicol. The proceeds of the products go into livelihood development programs for the weavers and their families.
“We have the Instagram page @weavinghopeproject. We are currently collecting the funds to create a weaving center to give them a sustainable livelihood because as of the moment, they do not have a permanent structure to do their work due to the typhoons that batter their region. We are sustaining their business and livelihood through the work that we give them.”
The lighting pieces in the collection Ocean Myths are representative of elements we’d find in the ocean or sea. The centerpiece of the collection is the flowing hanging lamp “Riva”—Italian for ‘shore’—which resembles a wave crashing onto the shore. By using a studied gradient, specific coloring was added to the fabric to strengthen the impression of the last moments of life of the wave, according to the designer, the precise moment when water, air and sand become difficult to distinguish from one another.
“Coming from a tropical country and moving to Italy made me miss the ocean, especially during the pandemic because I was not able to go home. The ocean reminds me of home, and it reminds me of happy memories I spent there with family and friends. I took inspiration from this and let it all out in this collection I made.”
Monticelli brought three versions of the Anemone Lamp (2020) to the Salone, of different size, height and colors. This versatile table lamp recalls creatures living on the coral reefs under the surface of the sea.
The table lamp Aphrodite (2022) combines a base made of concrete with a beautifully designed top of Banaca fibers and is a result of an experimental project. This mix of materials is what gives the robustness and stiffness needed for its functionality. Aphrodite is meant to remind us of a shell containing a pearl, that is blossoming to the world – like the Venus of Botticelli.
“This collection has been in my mind for a very long time, even before I thought of thinking of having a collection; that’s why I can’t really specify when I started doing it,” the designer explained to ArchiExpo e-Magazine. “Sometimes I make patterns out of the fabric but I don’t know what to do about it or what form it will take. Then somehow everything just comes together and falls into place. Making this collection was not really a linear process, and I think it’s because I lived through it, and it is a big part of my life. I wouldn’t also say that this collection is complete because it is still evolving.”
“I always wanted to make a product with which to experiment different techniques and materials. Playing with the materials that I could easily have in my studio, I obtained this material mix that really satisfied me both in terms of functionality and aesthetics. The fact that this material can be easily colored is another plus to support my design, ” the designer stated in a press release.
In addition to lamps, Isole tables were showcased at Salone Satellite. These tables are made from crushed shells recycled from the food industry. The Isole tables come in a set of 3 nesting tables, each one with a different color – blue, green and red.
Even if it isn’t part of the Ocean Myths collection, she also showcased the Nebula Lamp, the first lamp of the studio. This is in homage to the product that was awarded the Special Mention in the Salone Satellite 2019, and that started Mirei’s career in the design industry.
In fact, Mirei Monticelli had only founded her studio the same year she won the special mention for the Nebula Lamp. After beginning her career as a multidisciplinary designer in the Philippines where she discovered traditional manufacturing, artisanal crafts and production of handmade furniture, she moved to Italy to explore state-of-the-art techniques. She studied at Politecnico di Milano, earning a Masters’ degree in Design and Engineering in 2017.
Still, her journey may have taken form thanks to her mother who Mirei pointed to as her main role model. Her mother, a Filipina fashion designer, revolutionized the way the traditional Filipino dress was worn while exploring and developing natural fabrics using resources that can be found in the Philippines, according to the designer.
“Most of the techniques that I use in designing my lamps, I learned from her. And I cannot really think of an Italian counterpart because what she does is completely different from what other designers here in Italy do.”