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EXCLUSIVE: Mai Mai Cojuangco—How The Designer Of Demetria Made The Most Exclusive Italian Luxury Bags For The Manila Elite

 

 

“I truly believe in luxury, and every woman deserves luxury,” designer #MaiMaiCojuangco says with confidence. “When [people] ask me, ‘Wouldn’t it be more practical for women, who want practical pieces, to get something cheaper?’ I say to them: ‘Why do you have to choose between luxury and practicality, when you can have both?’” More on #Demetria’s designer in our digital cover story, up on Metro.Style! • Produced by Jenica Chuahiock (@jenicachuahiock) Text by Kristel Dacumos-Lagorza (@kreeesdax) Art Director Butchie Peña (@jpendesign) Photos by Dix Perez (@dix_perez) Styling by Maita Baello (@maitabaello) of Qurator Studio (@qurator_studio) Assisted by Alex Castillo, Carl Pabilona, and Paul Cenizal Makeup by Xeng Zulueta (@xengzulueta) Hair by Mong Amado (@mongamado) • Special Thanks to Maricel Pangilinan (@mommymaricel) and Idée Clothing (@ideeclothingstore) • #Fashion #People #Luxury #LuxuryBrand #LuxuryBags #wellstyledlife #lifestyled #lifegoals #inspiredliving

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The interesting thing about leather is that though it may be one of the most well-known materials in the world—used in the making of wallets, belts and other accessories—it’s held with such reverence as a luxury piece. And it should rightly be so, as only a small population of artisans (an estimated 2% in the world) are skilled enough to handle this prized piece.

Durable, beautiful and exotic, what makes this tactile material such a luxury is the fine quality and craftsmanship needed to produce it. Skilled artists who have the wisdom and experience to have it yield to their whims are few and far between. This entire appreciation of the process, craftsmanship, and artistry of leather-making is what Margarita Demetria “Mai Mai” Cojuangco-Zini upholds and highlights in her latest designing endeavor, Demetria, which currently has three styles in collaboration with Idée Clothing.

As a brand, Demetria just launched its second collection last April 21; the finely constructed bags, some with vintage scarves crowning their rims, were presented in an artful manner at the Silverlens Galleries. Although each bag costs thousands—as befits a luxurious, artisan craft—the whole lot sells out in a manner of days!

 

Mai Mai Cojuangco with the Demetria + Idée Sempre Bag

 

As the bags fly off the shelves, we caught up with the designer who started it all. Mai Mai breezes into the studio, a large dark box of Demetria + Idée lifted on her arms and shoulders, and a look of exhilaration on her face.

 

It's in the Bag

Demetria—a name shared between Mai Mai, her daughter and grandmother—is a luxury label that designs high-quality leather bags to complement the styles of the quintessential cosmopolitan woman. “One bag of ours can take even weeks to put together. For us, it’s not about producing mass quantities, but focusing on limited pieces and ensuring the perfect construction and craftsmanship, which makes a piece truly luxurious,” Mai Mai shares with a smile.

Mai Mai launched the first Demetria + Idée collection on April 2017, finally realizing her dream of starting her own bag label. But even before becoming a designer, she was already a fashion figure in her youth. As the fourth daughter of Jose “Peping” and Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, she was deemed one of the "It” girls of her time (pre-social media). She graced numerous covers and billboards across the metro, along with her equally stylish sisters, Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworksi and China Cojuangco-Gonzalez. But the title of “It girl” is a label she unwillingly accepts and shakes off with a laugh.

 

 

After a successful modelling career, she moved to Florence, Italy, which would become her new home base, after marrying the love of her life, Italian businessman Andrea Zini. It was there, under the Italian sunrise, living within the inspiring culture capital, that she would discover a new passion that filled her days with more creative purpose.

“I really fell in love with the idea of designing a bag—knowing how to make it, actually producing it, and the end point was coming up with something of my own and sharing it with others," says Mai Mai, whose passion for bags became a steadfast direction in her youth. After all the years of dreaming, learning and planning, it’s only “inevitable” for her start her own brand—one way or another, somehow.

 

 

Even before becoming a designer, #MaiMaiCojuangco was already a fashion figure in her youth. As the fourth daughter of Jose “Peping” and Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, she was deemed one of the ‘It’ girls of her time (pre-social media). She graced numerous covers and billboards across the metro, along with her equally stylish sisters, #MikeeCojuangcoJaworksi and #ChinaCojuangcoGonzalez. In a digital cover story with Metro.Style, Mai Mai talks about how her move to Italy after a successful modeling career eventually led her to fall in love with the idea of designing bags. As #Demetria celebrates its first year, she tells us about how she came to launch her very first Demetria + #Idée collection in 2017, finally realizing her dream of starting her own label. • Produced by Jenica Chuahiock (@jenicachuahiock) Text by Kristel Dacumos-Lagorza (@kreeesdax) Art Director Butchie Peña (@jpendesign) Photos by Dix Perez (@dix_perez) Styling by Maita Baello (@maitabaello) of Qurator Studio (@qurator_studio) Assisted by Alex Castillo, Carl Pabilona, and Paul Cenizal Makeup by Xeng Zulueta (@xengzulueta) Hair by Mong Amado (@mongamado) • Special thanks to Maricel Pangilinan (@mommymaricel) and Idée Clothing (@ideeclothingstore) • #Fashion #People #Luxury #LuxuryBrand #LuxuryBags #wellstyledlife #lifestyled #lifegoals #inspiredliving

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Leather love

Nurturing her creative curiosity, Mai Mai enrolled in an intensive two-year course in a state school in Italy. There, she learned everything about bag-making and leather-crafting—from sourcing the material, drawing and cutting the patterns, to stitching, down to the finest thread.

“I have always been a creative person; I was never a person who liked math,” she says. But to her surprise, her critical skills in computing were soon put to the test, and good use, as bag-making entailed more than just designing on a piece of paper.  

“Actually, it’s all about numbers!," she laughs incredulously. “Bag-making is really about precision and craft. It’s like architecture. If you miscalculate and miss a stitch by just a few millimeters, the leather will not fold the way it’s supposed to,” she reveals.

 

 

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After arming herself with the know-how, Mai Mai set off to find her “tribe” of artisans who could help bring her concepts and designs for Demetria to life. And by luck or by destiny—or both, she can’t quite say which—she found them. “These four women artisans that I work with were happy to oblige me in making only a few limited pieces at a time. In the usual business model,” she explains. “If you look at huge brands that are really commercialized, they have one style that’s produced to 100 to 200 pieces.

“In my case, I work with artisans who don’t necessarily need those quantities, which allows me to be more creative and offer something new all the time for people who buy my bags,” she says.

 

Ready for the world

Last year, Mai Mai came out with her first collection,  introducing her three key staples, exclusively for Idée Clothing; hence the Demetria + Idée label. And once again, within this special line, the Demi, the Bucket and the Sempre find themselves reinterpreted in her latest major trunk show at Silverlens Galleries.

The Demi, an oval-shaped cross body purse, is a lovely piece perfect for the modern woman’s wardrobe, as it keeps her hands free and gives her the freedom to move. Delighting the fashion faithful, the stylish bag’s strap can also be unclasped, instantly transforming it into a chic evening bag. “I got fed up with bags that could not fit my things or which would get deformed if I put too many stuff in it,” she says, explaining the inspiration for the Demi. A lot of times, Mai Mai reveals, the bags that could fit the stuff she needed to bring were big and flat, not at all appropriate for a night out in the town. “So this is my solution—a bag that looks small but is actually big!,” she beams.

 

 

Her next beauty is the roomier Bucket Bag, which stands out with a little more fun personality, as it is tied at the top with a one-of-kind-silk scarf. Finally, there is the well-loved Sempre—which means “always” in Italian—remains to be a shopper’s favorite as it fulfills women’s need for an elegant bag for the everyday.

Looking at the well-curated collection, Demetria’s aesthetic is clean, modern and elegant, with defined lines and beautiful materials that are worked into challenging constructions. Production is kept small intentionally to ensure that the quality is maintained to the highest standard and that factor of exclusivity is closely guarded. “There are many beautiful things out there done by other brands and other people, but I think what’s lacking is the idea of uniqueness and exclusivity, which I bring through my brand,” she smiles.

 

 

 

When it comes to her luxury designs, Mai Mai explains her design philosophy: “I’m a firm believer in practicality, luxury and longevity—not only in bags but in everything that I use. Those are the very things I myself look for as a mother. I know right away if something is made well and is worth my money.” As a mom to an eight-year-old, she also shares the woes of many other fashionable women who seek a bag that’s practical and functional—hopefully beautiful as well. Most of the time, she admits, one has compromise. But not anymore.

 

Going big by going small 

While still a very young brand, Demetria is fast gaining the attention and admiration of the stylish elite, but Mai Mai commits to protecting that concept of “exclusivity” for her brand, only producing a few pieces at a time. That being said, what does this designer envision for Demetria in the next five years? She reveals excitedly: “Definitely going global. I’m not interested in opening up shops and boutiques. I want to go online.”

Without revealing much, Mai Mai states her definite ambitions with a straight, assured tone, as though a matter of fact. In which case, we consider ourselves fortunate to catch her in the early stages of her endeavour; after all, this is the point which defines a brand’s true identity and place in the dynamic, global fashion community.

 

 

“I, as a mother and entrepreneur, like many other women, want to carry something beautiful and not have to compromise what I need," says Mai Mai. “That’s why as a designer I’ve always believed in: ‘Create the thing you wish existed,’ and I did just that.”

She continues, with coolness and confidence, “I truly believe in luxury, and every woman deserves luxury. When [people] ask me, ‘Wouldn’t it be more practical for women, who want practical pieces, to get something cheaper?’ I say to them: ‘Why do you have to choose between luxury and practicality, when you can have both?'”

 

[photos]

 

Produced by Jenica Chuahiock 

Art direction by Butchie Peña 

Photographs by Dix Perez

Styling by Maita Baello of Qurator Studio, assisted by Alex Castillo, Carl Pabilona, and Paul Cenizal

Makeup by Xeng Zulueta 

Hairsyling by Mong Amado 

Special thanks to Maricel Pangilinan, Idée Clothing, Andrea Quiachon of Cafe Via Mare