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Chito Vijandre, Ricky Toledo: The little shop window of pure imagination

Their book unboxes their experiences, thoughts, learnings— a respite from today’s cut-and-paste Google

Window of AC+632 store, titled 'Conjuring Dreams of Africa'

House interiors of Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo—’Joyous Cross-Cultural Encounters’

In this present life space peppered with mind-boggling and altered digital platforms, sensory palpability is sorely missed, specifically when it comes to reading material. Whether it be the act of leisurely turning a page, the smell and feel of the paper, or the thought that in your hands, you hold a compilation of words and pictures, a treasure trove of ideas, inspirations, and images, that printed piece of literature becomes a cherished keepsake. And when you close that book, you may even stroke the cover, or fall asleep with it in your hands, close to your head even, sans the danger of radiation from an electronic gadget.

These could be ruminations of an older generation that lived through this tangible experience. With the release of the book, The Art of Window, Display, and Design, it would, at first glance, be unimaginable that this piece of literature would fulfill the quota for pure imagination.

Cover of the book ‘The Art of Window, Display, & Design’

But it does.

Authors Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo are graduates of exclusive all-male colleges, coming from genteel backgrounds, circulating in fashionable social circles. They are well-travelled, cultured, cognizant of good food, and well bred. From their looks, neither of them would pass off as a history buff nor a scholarly nerd. But of this first book of theirs, it can be said that the length and breadth of the research that went into their work reads like an abstract for a master’s thesis, conjuring up fantasies and beautifully twisted narratives in a most unlikely medium, a mundane aspect of commercialism: a shop window.

Chito Vijandre (right) and Ricky Toledo: They conjure beautifully twisted narratives in a shop window.

From the book’s lay-out alone, one sees a careful plotting of information, starting with historical narratives and travelogues gleaned from their extensive travels, for the sole purpose of getting themselves inspired. First-hand information from experience is supported by a wealth of research from volumes of hardbound books, magazine and newspaper clippings carefully organized in folders or envelopes, movies, documentaries and even postcards. A surprisingly eyebrow-raising detail is the litany of footnotes from rare and unusual sources, that adds one more fractal of scholarship to the book’s content.

Vignettes, like the scuffle between Salvador Dali and the store Bonwit Teller, exemplify Vijandre and Toledo’s fondness for zeroing in on little-known facts

Their introduction reads like the history of visual merchandising, from the early shop windows in the world’s forerunner of commercialism, America. Vignettes, like the story of then struggling artist Salvador Dali, whose interview they quote verbatim in the artist’s gnarled English with regards to the scuffle between Dali and the store Bonwit Teller, exemplify Vijandre and Toledo’s fondness for zeroing in on little-known facts which add more spice and context to the narrative. Dali’s work on shop windows, as well as Robert Rauschenberg’s and Jasper John’s, are but little asides that pale in comparison to Andy Warhol’s embracing of visual merchandising, turning the tide for some kind of conceptual art form to piggyback on commercialism and marketing. Nevertheless, Dali’s interview makes for an interesting aside.

Their introduction alone overflows with information this present generation may not be aware of, as they close the first part of the book that touches on the Philippine’s own history of retail and display. They significantly mention the famous Crystal Arcade designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of arguably the most famous Filipino artist, Juan Luna, then map out Philippine mall genealogy to present-day descendants in Bonifacio Global City.

AC+632 window— ‘Cabinets of Memories’

Having trekked through history, the book then goes into detailed descriptions of the tandem’s favorite shop windows which have graced two Ayala malls for almost two decades. Typically, not one shop window described carries a sole thought, but rather, a smorgasbord of mini narratives and side ideas. Like the hybrid cultures that attract Vijandre and Toledo, their shop windows have a main plot, supported at length by their attendant sub-plots.

In curating their favorite shop windows, they not only describe their design concepts, but also  in the book, include intricate details of their inspirational sites or objects. One portion reads like a travel guide, but is meticulously specific, a far cry from Lonely Planet. And to cap a bookworms’ delight is a suggested reading list that coincides with their design purpose.

The African window essay starts with the scripted dialogue by Meryl Streep in the film ‘Out of Africa’: ‘That’s my Limoges!’

They spotlight eight of their window displays. In the description of each display, the root of each design concept is divulged by Vijandre and Toledo. In the Moroccan window, for example, they focus on the mixture of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish influences in Morocco and the exoticism of Moorish-Hispanic cross-breeding, taking into consideration the shared heritage embraced in Morocco. The African window does not dwell on ethnicized tribal fare, but rather, the British colonial influence in Africa using Karen Dinesen, the Baroness Blixen, as their muse. The African window essay starts with the scripted dialogue by Meryl Streep in the film Out of Africa, where she starred as the Baroness: “Shoo! Shoo! Get away from there! That’s all my crystal, my Limoges,” addressing pesky African children threatening to tinker with her prized crystal. And that pretty much sets the tone of the display.

Among the items in the store are real animal heads preserved in the famous taxidermist shop in France, Deyrolle. For them, it doesn’t have to come from Africa. It would be a shame to dissect the six other shop windows right here and now, as it would be a spoiler for readers who would like to experience for themselves unboxing the thoughts of Vijandre and Toledo as they read on. The examples given herein heavily suggest the drift.

AC+632 window—’Paradise Regained’

The last two chapters of the book move into more personal arenas: their own home and Vijandre’s work as a designer. Their ethos in these two areas is unwaveringly repeated, where their living space could very well be a window display and where Vijandre’s fashion design dominates an area of their home. Confusing as this may sound, their design concepts fit in snugly with their purpose. Their home is a space with innovatively curated objets d’art, furniture, art works, floral arrangements, plants, all fearlessly occupying the most unusual places, in strategic positions one would not normally think of.

At the same time, the space accommodates movement, the furniture is comfortable and cozy, even for sitting for an evening of drinks and hors d’oeuvres or a sit-down dinner, for lingering cups of tea or coffee for more after dinner banter. Despite the organized, teeming collection in their abode, the overall look does not remind one of an Old World setting, from which an overdressed, pale recluse would emerge. On the contrary, because of the unconventional juxtaposition of the old and the daring, the space throbs with energy in its combined Neo-Baroque antiquity and innovativeness.

It comes at a time when cookie-cutter patterns, cut-and-paste Google scholarship, and shallow, thoughtless derivatives are the norm

This same compliance with design directives is obvious in Vijandre’s famous fashion pieces; dare I call them pieces, because they are not at all for the faint of heart to wear? When Vijandre was chosen to be one of the featured designers at the Red Charity benefit gala first in 2016, then again in 2019, he “accepted these benefit shows not only as a personal challenge, but also a means of rekindling his love for his first artistic practice,” writes Toledo, referring to Vijandre’s early foray into the fashion design world.

From Chito Vijandre’s ‘The Four Continents’ fashion collection

But on these two occasions, Vijandre did not exhibit a wearable collection as he did in the Hyatt luncheon fashion shows of the ’80s, where his clothes were modelled. True to form, the cross-cultural influences were now more pronounced in his two versions of the collections’ theme of the Four Continents. Fearlessly ornamented, with color palettes that defied color theories, Vijandre’s two fashion collections did not fail to floor the audience, though not too many were brave enough to wear them. They are works of art, to say the least: art installations for a perfectly proportioned human body, with the strength to glide gracefully across the room without missing a beat.

The Art of Window, Display, and Design comes at a time when cookie-cutter patterns, cut-and-paste Google scholarship, and shallow, thoughtless derivatives are the norm. Reading through the book, the well-placed, well-thought-out convolutedness of artistic elements and patterns are like a breath of fresh air amid today’s boxed faces in Zoom meetings.

About author

Articles

She is a multi-media writer, a strong advocate of the conservation of Philippine heritage and culture, and actively pursues restoration art.

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