Fashion

We've Found the Perfect Fun, Tropical Minaudieres for the Summer

Rafé New York’s clever minaudieres are the fruit of memory, inspiration, and nature.
IMAGE MICHAEL GIRMAN
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It was the French jewelers Van Cleef and Arpels who first introduced the minaudiere, a fancy evening clutch whose main characteristics are that it usually appears as a geometric fantasia and, more importantly, is carried by hand, without the use of a strap. A traditional shoulder bag or your voluminous satchel might ruin the lines of a slinky column or a full-on princess gown, whereas a hand-held minaudiere maintains the integrity of a dress’ design and allows it to shine.


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Sophie Sumner models pieces from Rafé New York’s new, tropical-inspired collection.

So even if your minaudiere were to present an embroidered scene of a pink flamingo amid a tropical habitat of blue skies and lush flowers, it would still be a sensible match to a flower-covered Tracy Reese number. The bag held in hand is a highlight, a punctuation to the statement-making outfit.

Such vivid creations are made by the New York-based Filipino designer Rafe Totengco, who, staying true to tradition, continues to make clutches that evoke fancies, whether it is a face of a jungle tiger rendered in mother-of-pearl shell, or a Rem Koolhaas-designed building made in miniature.


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This season, he puts together a vision from a pastiche of favorite things. “Spring/summer ’18 was a melange of images from Slim Aaron’s book, A Place in the Sun, Yves Saint Laurent’s muse Loulou de la Falaise, a Fauvist painting by Andre Derain titled Madame Matisse au Kimono, Victor Vasarely’s geometric art, and a recent trip to Holbox in Mexico to see the flamingos in their natural habitat,” he says.


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And how the many and seemingly disparate references become united under one collection would be the magic of Totengco. Inspiration is central to the designer, who looks for it always (“There is no start and end”) and, having been in the fashion industry for more than two decades, knows how to parlay it into something that works. “If I can view my collection with a few glances and be able to know what it’s all about then I’ve succeeded,” he says. “These days you only have a few seconds to catch someone’s attention so it should be impactful and memorable.”

Certainly, a blue-, pink-, or orange-plumed bird is eye-catching as well as the perfect messenger for what Totengco wants to express: the joy of the sun and the fun and play that come with it. “I chose a flamingo, a cockatoo, and a macaw because visually they immediately transport you to a tropical paradise,” he explains. “I’ve always loved tropical birds. I used to have a green parrot growing up, and he was such a smart and funny creature with tons of personality.”

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Threading together the story of spring and summer, the return of life, is really “second nature for me due to my upbringing in the tropics,” says Totengco. The designer is familiar with the wonderful warm elements that signal the season such as straw, shell, and snakeskin, all things he loves working with and materials that can be found in the Philippines; however, Totengco stresses, he doesn’t “consciously inject a Filipino motif in my work.” Nevertheless, it is present in the homespun textures and island spirit that some of the bags evoke (one embroidered flower looks very much like the gumamela). “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so if people see a Filipino motif in my designs I have no issue with that. It’s all open for interpretation. I suppose it’s unavoidable, because what I do comes from my heart and I’m proud of my heritage,” he says.

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Having said that, the minaudieres of Rafé New York are most certainly global and, well, social, too. In these days of social media, Totengco does not have to imagine what kind of woman carries his handcrafted bags. “She tags me on Instagram: where she is and what she’s wearing. It’s amazing, and it validates that I’m doing something that she loves and wears!” he says. “I’ve seen my minaudieres worn with jeans and a leather jacket, a summer dress, and an evening gown. It really depends on the woman’s personal style.”

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And isn’t that the goal: to have your magical creations, woven from memories and made from the harvest of nature, used in the real world. Creation does not exist in a vacuum. A painting needs to be seen, a gourmet dish consumed, and a minaudiere clasped by the hand on some wonderful night in order to truly exist. Rafé New York is available at Rustan’s.

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Photographed by Michael Girman; Modeled by Sophie Sumner; Clothing by Tracy Reese; Hair and makeup by Akihisa Yamaguchi.

This story was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Town&Country Philippines.

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Clifford Olanday
Senior Fashion Editor, Esquire Philippines
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