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Kristine Dee: Steely Dee-Termination |

Young Star

Kristine Dee: Steely Dee-Termination

- Paula C. Nocon of the Philippine Star’s YS -
I’m so lucky that I found my calling at such a young age. Now all I have to do is make it perfect, to be the best at what I do. And I have the rest of my life to do that!"

These are strong, brave, inspiring words to hear for any human being, from a strong, brave, and inspired 26-year-old designing woman named Kristine Dee.

Her foray into the arts began in high school, when she dabbled in oil painting. "I enjoyed painting for a while, but I stopped because I didn’t find it satisfying for me. I wanted to make something more useful, more practical, something functional."

Following this realization, she took up Industrial Design at De La Salle’s College of St. Benilde, and graduated with honors. "There’s not much demand here for industrial designers, since we’re not really an industrialized country yet. So that was how I started wondering what my future would be as an industrial designer."

After working for her family’s furniture company doing "mostly modular stuff," Kristine began to feel bored and restless. "I wanted to learn more. I wanted to explore. So I asked permission from my parents if I could study abroad. I picked New York ’cause I thought that it would be exciting. And I went to Pratt Institute and took my master’s in Industrial Design while taking up metal smithing since I was also interested in jewelry design."

After taking her designs to exhibits around New York as well as Europe, the September 11 disaster forced Kristine to return to the Philippines. She put aside her jewelry design as a hobby in the meantime and then put up Duo, her design studio, with her partner and boyfriend.

Now, Kristine is taking her jewelry out of her hobby chest and is ready to show it to the world. Crafted from her own hands, her bracelets, rings, pendants and necklaces can only be described as inventive, original, intelligent and truly refreshing, bearing a stamp of all that is unique about Kristine: Her education in New York, her training as an industrial designer, and her life outlook in general.

It’s the unique stamp of a Bright Young Thing.

You’re basically an industrial designer by training. What is it about jewelry design that attracted you?

It really takes a long time just to make one chair, since it’s a big piece. But with jewelry, the process is faster. You draw, you design, you make it yourself, and you see the results right away. So when I studied metal smithing it really relaxed me. It got me really excited.

What’s your creative process like?

With jewelry, it’s like I think about a concept, a design. And then I draw. I make a little mock-up because I don’t want to waste material. Then I do the actual thing. It takes about two days to finish a piece, depending on how intricate the design. And I find it really fulfilling to go through all that. Especially when people see it, and then they like it. That’s so satisfying. It makes me happy. And it’s the same when I make chairs, lamps.

What inspires you?

When I sit down to design I usually have images in front of me. It could be anything — buildings, bridges, nature, plants, seeds, stems, sea life, children’s books, the inside of a leaf! And from there I get my ideas.

What’s your design philosophy?

I start with the shapes. And then I do the connections. I’m more into connections, movements, tensions, how I connect separate pieces together. I always like to have something interesting. There must be a reason behind every component. I’m not into trinkets, charm bracelets. I’m more streamlined. As an industrial designer we always focus on function, and then form. I always keep that in mind when I design things. So I do away with the unnecessary. There’s depth in each piece, but the effect is delightful and surprising.

As a designer, are you affected by your surroundings, be it Manila, Denmark or New York?

I don’t think so. I could be anywhere. When I was in NY I would be in my apartment all by myself, at two in the morning, then I’d get an idea. In Denmark, where I lived and studied for a while, I was exposed to Scandinavian design, which is a different thing altogether. Very modern, very functional. I was very impressed.

Are you afraid that people might not understand your pieces or that the market might not be ready?

Yes. People here are into the regular Italian jewelry. They’re used to it. But I was looking through magazines and looking at people, and I’ve seen that people are fashionable, they can appreciate art. Fashion is becoming bigger, people are more open to new ideas, new designers.

What kind of woman would wear your jewelry?

Someone simple, practical, someone who’d wear only one piece of jewelry because she believes that one good piece would speak for itself. I want the wearer to be unique — she picked this because she thinks that it’s her.

I’d like people to be more adventurous in their style, not to just wear what everybody else is wearing. To be more choosy, more critical. That means you’ve elevated your taste, your choice. You’re more refined. You know what you want.

How did you feel about coming back home after living in New York?

Coming back home is good. If I were to stay in NY I would just be one of the many people who are doing the same thing. But being here, I want to make other people, other young designers, realize that there’s a chance for us. It can happen.

I think people like us who are educated abroad should come back, because that would enrich our culture. We can bring in more beautiful things for people to enjoy; it’s not enough that people here just appreciate stuff from abroad. It’s better that we learn to appreciate the things that are made by local talent.

As a woman, what do you have that men don’t when it comes to design?

Sensitivity. I use more of the senses. I feel more. Like, how do you feel when you’re using that jewelry, or sitting in that chair, or carrying that tray? What’s the effect on you? Women know how to design from the feeling level.

Do you have to change your work ethic to fit in here?

No, I shouldn’t. I’m my own boss, so I have to apply what I learned in the States. To be on time, to be on schedule. Whatever has to be done, will be done. Be professional. Follow deadlines. I want to teach others here also the same thing so that they could be more productive.

What would you like to do for the country?

If I could, in the future, I’d like to be able to get my stuff out in the international market. I’d like the world to see that this is a Filipina doing this sort of thing. Then people here would see that we can do it. And maybe that would inspire them.

What’s your greatest challenge now?

The greatest challenge is to be better than what I am now.
* * *
Kristine’s "Metals in Motion" jewelry exhibit at Izukan, 141 Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City, will be open to the public from March 13 to April 12. You can send your BYT nominations to

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