Award-Winning Designer Ito Kish On His Seasonal Retail Space And His Return to Manila FAME

Courtesy of Ito Kish

Courtesy of Ito Kish

Throughout Ito Kish’s design journey, one thing remains consistent: a deep love for Filipino culture and craftsmanship. Two decades since the launch of his brand, Kish continues to champion these through his new collections and business ventures.

When Ito Kish closed the doors of his store along Nicanor Garcia in Makati, people thought that it was the end of his eponymous furniture shop. However, the slower and quieter pace of life only made Kish’s passion stronger. Moving away from his semi-retired lifestyle, he returned to the scene with the launch of his seasonal space and the opening of his concept café. From being a local furniture shop that curated collections sourced around the world, the ITO KISH brand is evolving into a lifestyle brand that everyone can take inspiration from.

Furniture and home goods inside the ITO KISH seasonal space.
Courtesy of Ito Kish

Drawn to the art of visual storytelling and design, Ito Kish spent years of his life designing and interpreting Filipino motifs for the ITO KISH brand. Kish’s furniture line made headlines when he first joined the 2012 Manila FAME exhibition, where his booth won Best Design and his Gregoria Lounge won Best Product Design for Furniture. ITO KISH then went on to receive recognition and praise internationally, bagging prestigious awards such as the A’ Design Award for Best Design for Furniture, the Gwangju Design Biennale Icons of Asia for his Gregoria Chair, and the Asia Talents Designer Award from FORM Magazine Singapore and Interni Magazine Thailand.

Now, Kish is focused on launching new collections and pursuing other projects, such as the brand’s return to the Manila FAME exhibition, the opening of another concept cafe, and the release of new pillows in collaboration with artisans from Lumban, Laguna. While busy preparing for these upcoming projects, Vogue Philippines caught up with the designer to talk about all things ITO KISH.

Furniture and home goods inside the ITO KISH seasonal space.
Courtesy of Ito Kish

In 2017, the ITO KISH year-round physical store closed down and transformed into the ITO KISH Retail Seasonal Space. What has it been like to manage a seasonal store?

The seasonal space was the result of the pandemic. We opened the night of the announcement of the lockdown. It was an excellent way to create a grouping of new products and releases on a seasonal basis. It’s like watching Netflix. And now that the situation is back to normal, we decided to continue. We also realized that the Friday to Sunday operation is efficient since we do not have foot traffic; a visit must be planned. About 95% of clients’ visit is a sure sale. It was also an excellent way to bring down our operating costs.

ITO KISH is also returning to the 71st edition of Manila FAME after seven years. What has changed since the brand’s last participation in the event?

This year is about elevating the Filipino style. Our heritage and culture firmly influence my collection; my design language is Filipino. I now look at my pieces differently and distinctly at how we mix things. I have more than 50 items in my collection, and it gives me the privilege to elevate things for the eyes to see that it is indeed a Filipino style. We are releasing two new creations. We can not wait to welcome everyone at Manila FAME.

Dining table inside the ITO KISH seasonal space.
Office table inside the ITO KISH seasonal space.

Last September 15, you launched the ITO KISH Season 7 collection. What’s the story behind it? What were you inspired by?

We brought in a small collection of African pieces for the first time. This time, the dining room is a highlight, as new vintage dining tables and chairs are available. And our culinary titles from Phaidon are the widest since we started carrying books ten years ago.

Beyond offering interior design services and home furniture products, you have also opened the ITO KISH cafe. 

It is a store that offers coffee. So, we opened for our store clients who wish to sit with their designers and discuss what to consider from the collection. Then TikTok happened. Do not get me wrong about TikTok, but we were unprepared for the heavy inquiry and visits that we needed to slow down because we were losing that essential storytelling of how simple it is to enjoy a coffee under the trees, how I used to enjoy it when I was growing up in my hometown of San Pablo, Laguna which was the basic concept of the cafe.

Furniture and home goods inside the ITO KISH seasonal space.
Courtesy of Ito Kish

You recently shared on Instagram that you’ve been drawn to “everything classical in style” lately. 

I did my buying trip for the first time in four years last January. I went to Paris, then to Copenhagen, and visited warehouses with many classical pieces. It was beautiful to get that momentary feeling of being surrounded by such beauties. I brought some, and seeing them in my store is just incredible.

Could you tell us more about the craftsmanship and visual elements of your new pillow collection? What does it mean to you to work with the artisans of Lumban?

We are working with artisans from Lumban, Laguna my province. The throw pillow is an intricate mix of Calado (piercing), a method of decorating a textile by pulling out threads, and Burda (embroidery).  It’s my time to work with [Lumban] artisans and fabrics and it gives me joy to learn [their] artistry.

Furniture and home goods inside the ITO KISH seasonal space.
Courtesy of Ito Kish

The ITO KISH brand has gone through quite an evolution over the past two decades. Beginning as a retail store, offering interior design services, and launching your own furniture lines — what can we expect from ITO KISH in the future?

A cafe is opening this 4th quarter somewhere in Salcedo Village. I am very excited as it will have the ITO KISH DNA. It is not just coffee and pastries, breakfast and lunch, dinner and drinks with stories and all.

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