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Fascinating Women 2023: Mirei Monticelli

This Milan-based Filipina designer supports a local community of weavers, as her creations make a splash internationally


“My desire to design [was] a subconscious decision because my parents are creative people.  My mom is a fashion designer and my father is an engineer who really likes building things.  They were very, very supportive of me, and my creative inclinations.  They would bring me around the country (the Philippines).  They would make me experience the different handicrafts around the country,” Mirei Monticelli tells the Japanese show, World Interior Express.  


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This Filipina who lives and works in Milan creates sculptural lighting pieces out of banaca fibers.  There’s a fluid and organic quality to her pieces which boast of a fragile glow when lit.  Calling them “luminaries,” Mirei creates these with a material that is woven by a community of weavers from Bicol.  


 “Producing the banaca fiber I use for my lamps literally takes a whole village to make. Each person has a specific role since there is so much work that goes to it - from the harvesting of the plant, stripping of the fiber, drying, spinning, knotting and finally to the weaving. It is a cottage industry that a lot of families heavily depend on. The job of knotting, spinning and weaving are mostly dedicated to the women, and they have been doing this almost for their whole lives. They recount that it is a lot of physical and mental work because it requires mind and body coordination. But when they get used to it, it becomes a meditative practice and brings them peace. I’m really thankful that I have access to this material and I understand how precious it is, and that’s why I work hard to try to give the most value to their hard work,” Monticelli reveals.



 In doing so, she is helping sustain this community’s livelihood.  She is also instrumental in preserving their craft and material heritage, hoping to inspire younger generations of weavers to keep their skills alive.  Proceeds of her creations go to the cause of supporting this weaving community.


The mastery of new techniques and technology is integral to her creative practice.  Her luminaries’ dreamy quality is derived from a hands-on passion that propels this creative to give her sculptural pieces their ethereal  forms. 






Intentional planning via sketches on paper combined with doses of experimentation and inspiration have made Mirei’s pieces sensations that have graced the Salone et Mobili in Milan as well as Disney’s Noi Principesse Sempre Celebration.





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What does this fascinating woman have to say about work, life and inspiring the next generation of women?  Read her exclusive Q & A with Metro.Style below:



What, for you, makes a fascinating woman?


A fascinating woman is a woman who knows herself, knows what she wants and makes it happen. She is not afraid to be vulnerable, while being strong to stand for herself and her beliefs. She focuses her strengths and talents into creating a positive impact. 






In your opinion, what makes women on design a fascinating topic? 


I don’t think much about feminine of masculine design as male and female designers both inspire me. However, as for most other occupations, it is more challenging for women thrive in this field because of family responsibilities, sexism and other factors. As I look through history for design masters, I see very little female representation, and that’s because there has been very little support for women to grow in this career. Thankfully, this situation is changing for the better because women designers bring a unique perspective to design that feels more compassionate, instinctive and emotional. 



 Who are your role models or design heroes?


Neri Oxman is known for her designs that combine architecture, biology, computing, and materials engineering to empower a future of complete cooperation between nature and humanity. Her work is more for research and scientific purposes, but I love how she infuses poetry in beauty in everything she does. 





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Lindsey Adelman is one of the few female designers specializing in lighting that I admire. I am inspired by the way she grew her studio and perfected her creations to capture the ephemeral, fleeting beauty of nature.  





Zaha Hadid was an architect who changed the skyline of so many important cities with her buildings that depict flow and movement. I love how she carved out her own path – as she made her own category in the field of architecture. 





How is it working with and nurturing a community back home while you grow your practice abroad?


Thinking of the people I work with back home always inspires me to keep going. Although there is still so much to be done, I find it wonderful to have something that grounds me to my roots because I feel that it keeps me on the right path.


For them to know that they are producing a product that is widely appreciated and valued around the world empowers them and gives them so much pride because they know that they are able to achieve and perfect something with their own skills. Hopefully this attracts the younger generation to keep this tradition alive. 



 How was the interest in lighting design and the material you work with cultivated in you? Are there women inspiration(s) behind your work?


I spent the summer before I came to Italy to study at my mother’s atelier to ask her seamstresses to teach me how to use the sewing machine. I did it because I was anxious of the future I had ahead of me, and I wanted to bring with me at least one skill that could probably come in handy. When I got to Italy, I bought a portable sewing machine and started practicing with some pieces of fabric I brought with me. As I was observing it, I held it up against the light and noticed how beautifully the light plays with the fabric. I always knew that I wanted to work with the Banaca fabric, because my mom has been advocating it ever since I remember. She is the main inspiration behind my work, and she continues to amaze me with her visions and her perseverance to carry them out.  





 What would you like to impart on the next generation of women designers?


What really helped me in my practice was finding my voice, my style and cultivating it. I had so many “design heroes” that I looked up to and wanted to follow, but soon realized that I’m different and I couldn’t fit into that mold. I realized that I started to thrive when I put my true, authentic self into what I do. 


 If you had three tips for women in design who want to chase their dreams, what would they be?


When we think of design, people think that a huge part of it is about aesthetics. But design goes deeper than that, and a good designer must devote a precise understanding of what she is doing and what she is doing it for. Designers in this day must have a more transformative role in the society as we are facing more and more problems related to scarcity of resources (at the same time also having problems in overproduction) and climate change. Although we often think we are a small part in the grand scheme of things, the work of designers does have a direct impact on big issues we are troubled with. 


As I look back at my (not so long) journey in design, I think back on the multiple rejections that I have faced. I still get rejected often, and I have accepted it as part of the job of my growth in being a designer. If you are looking outside yourself to be validated, it won’t come. You have to believe in yourself before other people can start believing in you. 


Name three women whose homes you’d love to grace with your creations and why?


I admire how Margarita Fores brought art into her work as a chef and restaurateur. She has been challenging perceptions, laying out the foundation and elevating our Filipino cuisine and I would love to have my creations not just in her home but also in her restaurants. 



Although she surely will not remember me, I met Reese Fernandez-Ruiz a while back when she was just starting her enterprise (and I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life). We are probably about the same age, but back then - her maturity and her passion for her advocacy has truly inspired me as a Filipina entrepreneur. 



I would love to have my work alongside the paintings of Marina Cruz because I was immediately struck by her paintings the first time I saw them. I admire her talent for painting with such realistic detail. But I what I love the most about her work is how it can evoke such nostalgic emotions that can only be done by someone who has a deep sense of her work. 



In the gallery below, see this fascinating woman's creations: