Neil Felipp San Pedro is an animated storyteller.
We are huddled inside a room at the Oakridge Executive Club one fine Wednesday afternoon, all ears as we listen to the 29-year-old minaudiere designer talk about his beginnings, his craft and how the 2018 blockbuster film “Crazy Rich Asians” made his life crazier, busier, and even more exciting.
Nine years ago, Neil Felipp was a Fine Arts student at the University of the Philippines Cebu where he met and eventually apprenticed for internationally known furniture designer, Kenneth Cobonpue.
All he knew then was that he wanted to work in the industry of design but had no idea yet what specialization to focus on.
“So I tackled fashion, interior design and product development,” he says.
It was his mom–whom he fondly calls his “forever muse and biggest critic to this day”–who inspired him to create his first ever minaudiere, the Siren.
He shares the backstory with a bit of filial nostalgia.
“She was attending a formal event and she was wearing a pair of beautiful sapphire earrings, an off-shoulder emerald gown by Philip Rodriguez, and let’s just say, the bag didn’t do it justice,” he declares with a hearty laugh.
“I made it a challenge to myself to create a bag for her and I thought, ‘How do I design something that inspires my mom?’ So I thought of how every weekend she would bring me to the beach and at the same time, I also thought of mermaids! So, the Siren is a homage to my mom and the island I call home,” he says.
Fast forward to August 2015, a client brought one of Neil Felipp’s creations–the black Suzy Wong–to the book signing tour in Manila of bestselling author, Kevin Kwan. Fresh from the massive success of his 2013 debut novel, “Crazy Rich Asians,” the Singapore-born writer was in the country to promote “Rich China Girlfriend,” the second book in the trilogy.
A tribute to the book and film character, Suzie Wong, the shell minaudiere with a dragon clasp in gold-plated brass, caught Kwan’s watchful eye. He posted a photo of the “dragon purse” on his Instagram, Neil Felipp sent a message to thank him and that’s how these two creative minds got connected.
Neil Felipp would later find out that Kwan was intrigued why he named the minaudiere “Suzy Wong” because the author’s aunt, Nancy Kwan played the role in the 1960 Hollywood film.
This would begin a series of correspondence between designer and writer. Kwan asked Neil Felipp if he would be open to being a part of his third book, Rich “People Problems.” Neil Felipp, of course, said yes and his name is now immortalized on a page of the bestselling novel.
Then came the ultimate Hollywood exposure. As soon as the film adaptation for “Crazy Rich Asians,” got the green light, Kwan–who is also the movie’s executive producer–asked Neil Felipp if he would like his bags to be part of the project.
“I told him it would be an honor to be part of such a monumental film,” says Neil Felipp. After all, “Crazy Rich Asians” is the first Hollywood romantic comedy film to star all-Asian cast.
Neil Felipp presented his brand to the film director Jon M. Chu and the head costume designer Mary Vogt and within 48 hours was told: “Neil, we want your bags!”
And that’s how the Siren minaudiere made it to that dreamlike wedding scene of Colin and Araminta, with no less than the stylish and dignified socialite Astrid Leong-Teo (portrayed by Gemma Chan) clutching it while walking down the aisle alongside Ah Ma (Lisa Lu).
On March 23, the Siren minaudiere as well as the rest of Neil Felipp’s collection will take centerstage in his pop-up boutique at the Bamboo Room of Oakridge Executive Club (12th floor of the Oakridge I.T. Center 2 at Oakridge Business Park). The event will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Neil Felipp is pulling out all the stops so that the affair will be extra special for his fellow Cebuanos and all bag lovers. The minaudieres are already captivating by themselves but the designer made sure the setting is equally memorable by working closely with master gardener Jaime Chua.
“It’s going to be a little bit of an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as you enter the lounge and the pop-up boutique,” he tells us.
We wrap up that Wednesday afternoon by asking him if we’re going to see more of his bags in the trilogy’s second and third films, and like all good storytellers, he gives us a knowing smile and a cliffhanger: “I can’t comment on that … for now.”