Cane-do spirit

Cane-do spirit
The works of Maison&Objet Asia's Designer of the Year Kenneth Cobonpue include his Halo lighting series and the Lolah furniture range, as well as the design of Z Bar in Cebu, the Philippines.

Celebrity couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and actress Lucy Liu are fans of his work. His hulking Voyager bed became a coveted item after it appeared in pop band Maroon 5's 2011 music video, Never Going To Leave This Bed.

Celebrity endorsements aside, Filipino furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue has won a string of awards and accolades - five Japan Good Design Awards; the first prize at the 2004 Singapore International Design Competition for his Croissant Sofa and the Asia Award of Hong Kong, the region's highest design award, for his Lolah chair.

Which is probably why his reaction to winning Designer of the Year at the recent inaugural Maison&Objet Asia in Singapore last week was pragmatic, to say the least.

"I don't need the label. I don't think someone would buy my product because I'm the Designer of the Year at Maison&Objet Asia," says the 45- year-old, who has been in the business for about two decades and has made a name for himself with his use of natural materials.

But he is pleased about what the award means for Asian designers as a whole. The Chinese Filipino, who is a father of two sons, says: "I think it's not just a recognition for me, but also for future generations of Asian designers. It's important, in that people know this is a region where there is a design force to contend with."

He was excited about the Maison&Objet brand coming to this part of the world, since he has exhibited there for five years. The 19-year- old annual trade show happens in January and September every year in Paris and came to Asia for the first time last week. It was held over four days at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre.

The Designer of the Year award is a regular feature at the fair. Past winners included French architect Odile Decq last year and Spanish artist-designer Jaime Hayon in 2010.

Mr Cobonpue says: "Their European version of Designer of the Year is very prestigious. For them to have it here, too, signifies there's a design movement in Asia, not just in Europe. Often you don't see Asian designers at these European fairs. I can count the number of Asian brands which exhibit there on one hand."

His mission: to change the perception that the Asian market is good for only manufacturing products for the European market.

Talking about his nomination and referring to the fair's Rising Asian Talent showcase, where six young designers were picked to feature their products, he says: "People come to Asia to source for products because they're cheap or there is that stereotype that we make only resort- type and spa furniture. It's not a bad thing, but we have to go beyond that.

"No one thinks of Asia as a source of high design. The scene here is still young and there are Asian designers who are coming home to work here. It's exciting times, especially since Europe has been dead for a while."

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