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Minaudière Maker Neil Felipp San Pedro’s Rise To Designer Stardom And His Ornate, Hand-Carried Stories In 'Crazy Rich Asians'

At the age of 29, award-winning minaudiere designer, Neil Felipp San Pedro, has already captivated us with his whimsically distinct and creative craft.  His fantasy-riddled dreams and imaginative musings come forth in the form of artisanal minaudières of elaborate make—ornate and elegantly crafted stories you can own and carry in one hand. 

 

Oceania Minaudière—Two-toned brass fishes in white resin minaudière

“Just look at the world around you. Right here at the ocean floor. Such wonderful things surround you.”

 

 

Following Neil’s 2013 victory in Inquirer’s Look of Style Awards for Accessories, his embarking on a three-month scholarship in Sheffield Hallam University abroad spurred a budding luxe design career.  “When I won as the first ever Accessory Category Winner, it was the stepping stone.  I was sent to the United Kingdom for an intensive scholarship program.  From there, I learned how to build a Global Filipino brand through the program while immersing myself in the art and design culture of the U.K. which has produced the likes of Alexander Mcqueen.”

 

 

 

 

Getting mentored abroad and broadening his artistic and cultural perspective was but a foretaste of better things to come for Neil.  His most recent success rides on the cinematic release of Crazy Rich Asians where a couple of principal actors in the film are carrying Neil Felipp minaudières.  “It was through a personal recommendation by the author, Kevin Kwan who asked if I would be interested to have my minaudières used in the film, Crazy Rich Asians.  Of course, I immediately said ‘Yes’ since it would be a privilege to part of a historical Hollywood film.  We were only able to finally meet after a year or two when he visited Cebu to promote his third book, Rich People Problems, which I'm greatly honored to have the Neil Felipp brand mentioned in as well.” 

 

 

“Kevin and I have been in touch since his first visit in the Philippines to promote the first book; Crazy Rich Asians. It was when a good client/friend of mine brought her Suzy Wong collection minaudière with her to interview him.”

Suzy Wong Minaudière in Black—Brass oriental dragon clasp plated in gold on a black shell Minaudière

 

Suzy Wong Minaudière in Kabibe—Brass oriental dragon clasp plated in gold with an antique finish on a Kabibe Shell Minaudière.  “Known in Asian Literature as the ‘Hooker with the golden heart’. An interesting character that though she may seem fragile, her strength and love is that of a dragon.”

 

 “The first thing Kevin noticed was that and he asked if he could post it on his Instagram feed. Everyone started tagging, but during that time, I didn't know who Kevin Kwan was.  I sent him a direct message saying thank you and we have been communicating since then.”  Neil explained that the production team were very particular about which minaudières were to be feature for certain scenes, and even while he was not on set for the production, everything was handled quite thoroughly.

 

 

Before the beginning of his career, having changed his mind about studying in San Francisco, Neil instead chose to first be mentored by award-winning furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue, “At a young age, I always thought I would be pursuing fashion apparel.  I would make sketches of dresses in high-school. I was already thinking of various fashion schools in the Philippines, outside though when I found out that Kenneth Cobonpue was going to be a mentor for the Industrial Design Program at the University of the Philippines - Cebu, I decided to stay and apply.  It was a really good experience.  It expanded my approach when designing various products from installations, furniture and in time, fashion accessories.  To this very day, I'm still very grateful that Kenneth Cobonpue is still my mentor and still guides me.” 

During Neil’s academic years, storytelling and cultural mythology massively influenced him, “My hobbies then involved reading literature and enjoying various films which are some of the sources of inspiration when I do create.  A favorite [subject] is the different mythologies of various cultures.  Another would be films by Studio Ghibli and Disney.  When it came to time management, especially between work/studies and being with friends, I organized my hours on the basis of priority.  During the week, 70% of my time was dedicated to work or academics.  During the weekend, no work should be involved unless it is really important.”

READ: Here's Why 'Crazy Rich Asians' Is The Next Fashion Film You Can't Miss!

Neil’s first ever minaudière, a mermaid-inspired creation, is a personal labor of love soaked in a memory.  “The story of my current craft—the making of minaudières—began when I saw my mom attending a formal occasion, she was beautiful.  Her gown was an off-shoulder midnight blue.  Her jewelry fit the look perfectly with the exception of her minaudiere.  It was quite a challenge.  I wanted this minaudière to embody her.  I looked back on the times when she would bring me to the beach which was my playground—we do live on an island, after all—I then thought of a mermaid.  The Siren Minaudière is in homage to my mom and an island that I call home.” 

 

Siren Minaudière in Blue Capiz—Brass mermaid clasp plated in silver on a blue Capiz shell Minaudière.

 

Siren Minaudière in Kabibe—Brass mermaid clasp plated in gold with an antique finish on a Kabibe shell Minaudière.

 

By 2010, Neil was accepted into an export company which specialized in metal craft—specifically in lost cast waxing.  “This is a certain technique in casting where you can capture a great amount of detail with brass and at the same time maintain consistency in quality when producing in volume.”

 

Simian Minaudière in White (Brass)—Brass monkeys in antique finish on a White Acrylic Minaudière

 

“Majority of the inspiration of my pieces are stories specifically from literature.  One good example is the Medusa & Midas Minaudière, a piece inspired by a surreal love story of what would happen if Medusa—the woman cursed with snakes for hair and a stone gaze—and Midas—the king cursed with the golden touch—would both meet and fall in love. 

 

 

Both cursed as they were, they decided on a deadly embrace.  As Medusa becomes gold and Midas turns into stone, their lips are forever sealed in a kiss.” 

Medusa & Midas Minaudière in Black—Brass snakes as a clasp in antique finish on a black acrylic minaudière.

 

Neil explains that the vital aspect of every piece he makes is the story that each creation holds. The majority of his conceptualization process falls on that aspect.  “If you would look at it in a different way, it’s as if I'm creating the soul of a certain piece.  Once I have outlined the right story, that is when is the creation process begins.”

 

 

 

Persephone Minaudière in Black—Minaudière in Black Resin with hand-painted flowers and gold plated brass bees “A collaborative piece with Filipino artist, Doc Nanette Catigbe. Together, we envisioned hand-painted flowers that are taken cared by gentle bees on your minaudière.”

 

Neil’s sampling and conceptual process continues with multiple sketches, material swatches, color swatches, and an ergonomic design of the actual piece.  He shares that several considerations are made to ensure that the minaudiere is not only aesthetically pleasing but that it is also functional enough for the owner. 

 

 

 

“When I'm putting together a story, I do like to be playful and imagine various characters of what would happen if there ever was an encounter between these two.  Another example would be my ‘Antoinette and the Mad Hatter’ Minaudière. This piece was inspired by what might happen if Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, survived the French revolution and wound up down the rabbit hole.  There she—instead of Alice—explores a world filled with wonder and meets a peculiar man with a large hat offering her tea.” 

 

 

 

When it comes to the work of peers, colleagues, or even iconic greats in the industry, Neil believes in still looking to acknowledge traditional and existing art.  “There should be a balance between original concepts and being motivated or inspired by other people’s work.  We also learn from existing crafts to ensure that the traditions live on while simultaneously incorporating a new take—whether it involves a design or manufacturing process into it to make it more viable.  Overall, we still learn from the existing crafts for they are part of our culture and our identity as Filipinos.  The knowledge gained from that becomes a more solid foundation for us to create something new while remembering our heritage.” 

 

 

In spite of his recent success, Neil won’t ever forget about how he started and how not every single phase towards where he is today came easy.  “It would be naive of me to say that there were no moments where I wanted to quit.  It is also good to have a support system through wise friends and mentors for times like these to help remind you of the goals you set for yourself.”

To aspiring artists and designers, Neil reassures that you need not obsess about the exact point you are at in life, “I would like to say that it is fine to be lost.  Knowing you are lost is the first step of finding your way.  I got lost multiple times and I'm grateful for those moments.  For without them, I wouldn't be where I am right now. I kept reminding myself to keep moving forward, whether or not the pain of failure was present.  This is something I learned while being an apprentice for Kenneth Cobonpue—you must have perseverance if you are going to take this path or any other path to achieve success.”

“The best way to find the direction you need is by taking the first step—you may succeed or you may fail. but that is okay.  As long as you keep moving forward, I know for sure you will find your voice.  Remember, keep moving forward.”