Design as an Insignia: A Talk with Kenneth Cobonpue, Budji Layug and Royal Pineda

  • December 12, 2018

The philosophy of world class architects and an internationally-known furniture designer determine not just their artistry but also their fashion choices

Whether it’s a crisp white shirt or sleek interior design, there’s no one better to talk about what makes something visually pleasing than a designer. Carolina Herrera’s new Insignia collection looks beyond the fashion world, engaging renowned creatives to share their ideas of an insignia, use it to trademark and inform their own practices.

Budji Layug, Royal Pineda and Kenneth Cobonpue are locally grown but internationally known. Budji and Royal are the architects behind the eponymous Budji+Royal Architecture+Design firm, which puts great emphasis on “total design.” The approach marries architecture, interior design, landscaping, and furniture into a holistic package. Kenneth Cobonpue is the internationally-renowned furniture designer, whose rattan chairs are akin to artwork.

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Kenneth Cobonpue

Good Design is Universal

“Fashion and furniture design, from my point of view, are very similar,” Kenneth says. “A lot of my work is inspired by fashion. There’s a lot of garment construction, weaves, knits; it’s tactile and warm, and there’s an element of human touch.”

Having a guiding philosophy is key for Royal and Budji. Budji rightly points out that there are distinct practices when you talk about architecture, fashion, and other forms of design. Royal adds that “when you live by philosophy, it informs everything that you do. From architecture to design to even the way we dress every day, it all ends up coming together.”

The philosophy as a guiding principle makes good design stand out but finding that signature piece is never easy. Kenneth says the process can take years, but it is an important one nevertheless because “a brand is nothing more than a story you tell over and over again.”

Budji agrees. “It evolves through time. When you’re starting your career, you’re still figuring out who you are but also where you want to go.” It changes, he says. Being open to modernity and changes helps him. “At a certain point, once you really know who you are, you start to find something that makes you feel good and you can stick with.” Credibility rings in the advice from this man, who moved to interior design from a prolific career as a hairstylist.

Does the World Need Another Chair?

The constant push and pull between modernity and rootedness is a tale as old as time, and is also a tension that keeps these three on their toes. “It’s difficult to offer something you’re not sure of, which is why the process of being a designer is really daring to discover your philosophy, trying to understand and challenge yourself,” Royal says.

“Whenever I design a chair, I always ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this? Why does the world need another chair?’” Kenneth laughs, as he expresses these questions that compel him to find a reason behind every new piece he makes.

Sureness of self, Royal says, allows you to send your design out into the big, wide world and accept the challenges and criticisms. “Being consistent with who you are and how you feel is so important,” Budji says. “Whatever you do, you have to make sure it’s something you’re comfortable with and something you can represent.”

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Royal Pineda & Budji Layug

Black Shirt Staple

Comfort determines the fashion choices of all three designers, each a snazzy dresser in their own right. They gravitate towards pieces that always work, favoring palettes of whites, blacks, and blues that create a polished, presentable look in less than five minutes.

When asked what is the first thing they consider before dressing up, all three say they dress according to what they have planned. “It’s very important to consider what your day looks like, but it’s also important to feel fresh,” Budji answers. “I have very simple taste, which means I don’t have to think too much,” he adds, laughing.

They share an inclination for that which is simple. “I always check where I’m about to go, and who I’m going to meet. But if I had to pick a fashion staple, you can never go wrong with a black shirt and skinny dark jeans,” Kenneth answers.

Jackets are Key

Achieving simplicity, however, is a complex process. The best minimalists know how to repurpose a garment and make it work for several functions. “I always love blue, white, and grays, and jackets are key,” says Royal. “With jackets, you can put them on and be instantly formal, but take them off—you know how Philippine weather gets—and still feel comfortable, still look casual.”

Kenneth sees leather shoes the same way. “They’re durable, looks great, and can be either formal or informal,” he says.

The emphasis on easy, snazzy dressing shows that these three men can work a fashion campaign as well as any design project. Each of their individual practices is rooted in a deep understanding of who they are and what they have to offer, an insignia they carry with them and share with the rest of us.

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