Maverick designer thrives in emerging creative hub of Cebu
| By Joanna Cuenco
VITO Selma has had quite a productive 2013. He has been handling several projects at the same time for his furniture company. He’s been organizing soup kitchens for typhoon survivors in Tabuelan, and working with Waves for Water to set up water filters for communities in Negros. He was recently in Paris with Design Philippines, which spearheads the Center for International Trade of the Philippines show twice a year. These, among the designs he continues to create and the recognitions and awards he’s been receiving for them.
“I have to do so many things,” Vito says. “You can do two things at once.” (or in his case, a lot). He adds: “Anyone can, with time management.”
Yet, with all these activities and running his furniture company, he doesn’t wear a watch. He has no map and often no itinerary when traveling. Instead of package tours that cram many destinations in two weeks, he would prefer seeing two countries for 12 days in Europe so that he can really experience what each has to offer. “Don’t be a tourist, be a traveler.”
He has a trip planned just after he reveals his work in Ayala Center’s latest expansion, making good on his life goal to see six continents by the time he turns 30 this month.
Vito’s parents have been in the furniture industry for nearly three decades, with Vito becoming more involved in the design process six years ago. He studied in San Francisco for three years, then spent 15 months in Milan to earn his master’s diploma in industrial design from the Scuola Politecnica di Design. He now runs and designs for his own company carrying his name. Despite his international schooling, Vito identifies himself as a Cebuano designer.
How does he think Cebu measures against Milan and Paris? “Cebu is an emerging design hub,” he says. “We have the people and the skills here. Everything you can think of is here. But in Milan and Paris, the cities breathe design,” something that Cebu is catching up with.
“I’m not a big city person,” Vito says. This was one of the reasons why he wanted to study in Milan, which he says can be explored just by walking. This preference is also evident in his designs, favoring wood as a material, and his choice of mentors: Debbie Palao in Cebu, George de Haast in South Africa, and Raffaella Mangarotti in Milan. “We share the same love for everything natural and clean, and keeping textures and materials very natural.”
His Geo table set is in Portugal and Korea, with other pieces having been sold in a total of 42 countries. Some of his high-profile clients include the princess of Malaysia and the prince of Saudi Arabia in Dubai. But Vito says, “Famous clients are not a selling point – the workmanship is. I love each piece because I have seen it grow.” Despite the far reach of his designs, he has never marketed his work: “It just so happens that people see my work in a show and like what they see, and the story that comes with it.” Buyers now are interested in the inspiration behind the product. A table is not just a table, but a piece with a story.
Part of Vito’s work is training the interns at his office, as he enjoys teaching people. His advice to young designers is “Design because you want to design, not because you want to be someone. Don’t be in a hurry, or you will miss out on essential steps to becoming a designer.” He advises starting from the material first, instead of starting with aesthetic and then finding material that can take its form. “Test what the material can do, then you can add a shape and then a function. It creates a path for the process.” Vito believes in never rushing design, and will always wait until it’s ready, even if it takes a year or two.
If he hadn’t been given all these opportunities to be a designer, Vito would have been a photojournalist. “It’s honest photography. It’s about truth and capturing the moment.” He used to do photography work in Milan every weekend when he wasn’t busy with school, and still loves taking photos.
Vito fills his days and his years with design work, productivity and community service. But he always has time for life, whether it’s by photographing moments or exploring the world. Certainly, 2014 is going to be another eventful year for this successful Cebuano and man of the world.
Photography: Ruel Rosello
Venue: Vito Selma’s Show Room