As she speaks, a small group continues to gather around Bea Valdes and the showcase of her one-of-a-kind accessories.
Valdes is a study in effortless style, her elegant sleeveless dress providing the ideal backdrop for one of her own necklaces.
The venue is AsiaStore, the eclectically artistic retail spot nestled in the lobby of the Asia Society on Park Avenue in Manhattan.
Valdes, a designer in from Manila whose first name is pronounced Bay-a, captivates those in attendance not only with her vibrant, intricate handbags, necklaces and vests but also her vivid words and charmingly soft-spoken delivery.
She apologizes at first, saying she will be reading from prepared remarks but will indeed meander off-script as she takes us along on an abbreviated journey through her life. We hear of her earliest design inspiration — a tablecloth, no less, in her native Philippines — all the way through her contemporary work as a designer making strides on the global fashion stage.
It all comes back, though, to her heritage and long having been an “admirer of embroidery and beadwork,” she says at one point.
And while BEAVALDES hand-beaded and embroidered pieces shine with evident artistry, it is the story behind the work that shines most brightly. It’s an unwavering commitment to time-honored traditions and fine craftsmanship — “We speak through needle and thread,” she notes — that forms the most lasting impression.
Anne Godshall, chief merchandising officer for AsiaStore at Asia Society, first came to know Valdes some 10 years ago during travels for the museum and proudly features her designs.
As she tells us, “I was captivated by Bea’s work when she was just starting out, but am now truly amazed at the depths of her artistic vision and inspired that she continues to shine a light on the Philippines as a design hub as she supports local artisans and their craftsmanship.”
AROUND THE WORLD
Valdes just has that something special.
“Bea’s creative aesthetic is immediately recognizable,” says Godshall, who splits her time between Manhattan and her home in Fairfield County. “She has a distinctive design sensibility that has captured the attention of a global audience.”
Indeed, BEAVALDES designs have made the pages of outlets ranging from Philippine Tatler to Forbes, plus Vogue, Allure, Essence and People Style Watch, not to mention countless runway and celebrity sightings.
But throughout the process, ties to the Philippines remain integral, as the Asia Society so clearly demonstrates in “Filipino Design Now.” BEAVALDES creations are featured in the pop-up exhibition showcasing “works by top designers who embrace the rich and colorful craft traditions of the Philippines.” It’s also a celebration of how these designers — including past WAG cover subject Josie Natori — draw on indigenous materials and techniques as they employ their decidedly modern approaches.
And, in a most fitting way, visitors can also trace the historic elements of Valdes’ story by wandering through “Philippine Gold: Treasures of the Forgotten Kingdoms,” which like the pop-up continues through Jan. 3.
A couple of days after the trunk show, WAG has the pleasure of sitting down with Valdes at JUJÚ The Showroom. The Chelsea space is filled with a wealth of BEAVALDES designs, including selections from her SS ’16 collection.
As we await Valdes’ arrival, we are dazzled as we look around, eyes darting from one bold bag to another striking necklace.
It’s a mix of styles, materials and techniques rarely found within a single collection. Valdes’ jewelry might include crystals, satin, tiger’s eye, druzy and resin, while the bags can also feature leather, silk, metal alloy, suede, plastic, cork, crystal, tulle and more.
Time and again, the seemingly disparate elements come together in the most artistic manner.
HONORING A TRADITION
Valdes says she was quite pleased with the appearance at the Asia Society.
“I think it was special for us because of the context,” she says, settling in to chat.
It also gave her pause to reflect on how her company, in 10 years, has grown from working with one artisan to now supporting a workshop of 45 in a very hands-on collaboration.
“I don’t sketch,” Valdes says, “What I do is I actually have to sit beside them.”
This one-on-one work yields both busy days and one-of-a-kind creations that are shown in two collections each year. She shares that she is currently creating oversize embroidered panels for a new hotel in Manila, an example of her ever-expanding reach and custom work for private clients.
“It really is bespoke — projects or events,” Valdes says.
Allowing Valdes to forge ahead with confidence is the presence of her equally striking sister Marga, here on this day as at the Asia Society. She handles much of the business end of BEAVALDES.
Their connection is palpable — they agree, with only a few giggles, that they don’t fight — with Marga’s firm guidance clear.
“We’re all trying to get to the same place. We keep our eye on the ball,” Marga says.
That inherent trust also means that Valdes can devote her energies to design, letting inspiration come and ideas play out.
“It’s very loose,” Valdes says. “And, I think Marga would attest to this, I’m playing around.”
The process though is no game, Valdes notes.
“It’s hard work, anything that’s worked by hand. We don’t do a lot of metals. It’s a lot of embroidery.”
By example, she holds up a clutch, pointing out its intricate elements.
“It might take say four or five hours just to do the edges,” with all the countless, “small details.”
With that observation, Marga adds, “That’s also what we consider luxury. It’s the time to create the piece.”
EVERYTHING AS INSPIRATION
Valdes, whose family has a three-generation history in the world of fine jewelry, draws her inspiration more from personal experience than precious gems.
She remains influenced by her studies of creative writing — she has written for newspapers and magazines — and interior design. Through the latter, she says she realized the power of layering and that “You can mix materials.”
She doesn’t monitor fashion trends, though.
“I don’t follow fashion very much, only because I find you might reference it and the work belongs to someone else.”
This tends to keep her focus fresh. An example: Not many designers would incorporate the simplest of shoelaces picked up on a routine shopping trip into their work, as she has been known to do.
“I said ‘I can use these. I just don’t know in what form.’”
That ingenuity is seen at every turn, notably in the seemingly simple warrior-vest design that yields pieces that would elevate anyone’s beloved basic black into something memorable.
“We like to bead things but we don’t necessarily know how to make clothes,” Valdes says with a gentle laugh.
AN EYE TO THE FUTURE
For Valdes, it’s always about looking ahead as she continues to create what she hopes will be considered heirloom-quality work.
“People always ask what’s your favorite piece, and I say ‘the next one.’”
It’s a sentiment that seems to translate into her own life, one that seems to be in constant motion. Her time in New York has included a family wedding — a brother and another sister are now based here — and plenty of artistic inspiration.
Her showroom stop will be followed by a museum visit later that afternoon — and then a family excursion deep into the Hudson Valley, with the Storm King Art Center the destination for the following day.
New York, it seems, has been a success.
“I think we’re always going to be building. I think in just all ways I’d love for the collection to become more visible,” Valdes says.
And in doing so, she also shines a light on her own heritage and its time-honored traditions.
As Valdes says, holding up another of her creations, “If you look at it, a lot of things before were made this way. I think it would be a pity if it were completely lost.”
With Bea Valdes around, it seems like there’s little chance of that happening.