An-A list of visionary talents has already joined the Italian brand UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY, from star architects Giulio Cappellini and David Chipperfield to the renowned design studios Nendo and ZHD-Zaha Hadid Design, through established product designers such as Naoto Fukasawa. Hence, Istituto Marangoni’s Master in Contemporary Interior Design alumnus Patrick James Almera felt honoured when he won the contest launched by the brand with Istituto Marangoni.
Istituto Marangoni alumnus Patrick James Almera at the UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY showroom in Milan when the brand and the school presented the talent’s new ARCO Bag
You might be wondering how that happened. Well, at the beginning of 2021, UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY and Istituto Marangoni partnered to bring the “Design Your Dream Bag” contest project to life by offering the IM Alumni community around the world the opportunity to imagine their dream bag. So, Istituto Marangoni graduates were invited to share their creative ideas while adding a business and communication strategy.
The ARCO bag designed by Istituto Marangoni’s Master in Contemporary Interior Design alumnus PJ Almera
Then, a selection committee was composed of Giulio Cappellini, designer, Art Director and Lecturer at Istituto Marangoni. He was joined by Sergio Nava, Director of Education at Istituto Marangoni’s Milano Design School, and the campus’ Accessories Design Programme Leader Davide Petraroli. With them was Nicolò Gavazzi, founder of UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY.
“Istituto Marangoni and UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY are happy to announce that we chose to produce the ARCO Bag designed by Patrick James Almera,” the committee stated after much deliberation.
PJ Almera posing with his ARCO bag, made from genuine European cowhide tanned in Italy and rattan
A licensed architect at the helm of his design firm Studio Almera, PJ Almera is also a trend forecaster, design consultant and creative director from Manila. The Philippine talent’s career intertwined with Milan when he applied for the Master’s in Contemporary Interior Design at Istituto Marangoni – Milano Design School, where he graduated in 2019. In 2020, Almera launched ACIIID, a trend forecasting company focusing on design research, working hand in hand with Studio Almera’s design process. With an interdisciplinary practice, Almera has always pursued different paths in various arts, new media and design fields.
We met PJ Almera at the UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY showroom in Milan’s Corso Venezia when the brand and Istituto Marangoni presented the talent’s new ARCO Bag while launching the second edition of their “Design Your Dream Bag” contest. We had the opportunity to experience his piece made from genuine European cowhide tanned in Italy and rattan. With European Romanesque architecture meeting Filipino artisanal craftsmanship, Almera’s ARCO bag represents a bold contemporary juxtaposition of both cultures.
The ARCO bag at the UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY showroom in Milan
Your approach incorporates both Filipino and European cultures. What is the inspiration behind your ARCO Bag?
The bag concept stems from my personal experiences in Milan and my hometown, Manila. Wherever I go, I have always dreamed of having a bag I could carry with me that would represent me as a person with a taste for design, architecture and culture. This bag encompasses all this and is also inspired by the holistic architectural styles of the Philippines, Asia in general, Italy and Hispanic countries. This ARCO Bag is close to my identity.
PJ Almera's creation was inspired by his belief that life is an ongoing road with portals along the way
You see life as a series of imaginary arched portals leading you to many different experiences when you enter them. Such a vision informed your ARCO Bag design, didn’t it?
Life is a difficult journey. Many people have used the term rollercoaster: you either rise up or loop down. I see life differently: it’s always an ongoing road with portals along the way that would lead us to a destination. These portals do not have a key; they are usually open. The only things stopping us from entering, or pushing us to do so, are our outlooks, beliefs, attitude, confidence, and passion for discovering what’s behind. Basically, our freedom of choice to experience life is in our hands.
“Life is always an ongoing road with portals along the way that would lead us to a destination” – Istituto Marangoni’s Master in Contemporary Interior Design alumnus Patrick James Almera
Marketing people often match bags to a specific target, or they try to target an age group. Who and what is your ARCO Bag designed for?
The ARCO Bag is a bag of unbounded lifestyle, which means it’s for anyone and everyone as long as you choose it to be part of your journey. The design concept of this bag focuses mainly on one thing: our experiences. As consumers with different lifestyles, we create our destiny, leading us to opportunity. This bag doesn’t create a lifestyle; it joins you through your venture in life.
Alumnus PJ Almera with Cristina Cancer, Group Head of Alumni, Career Service and Industry Relations at Istituto Marangoni
The arch represents a portal of experience in your designs, but it is also an architectural element that connects the Philippines to Milano.
Architecture has always been my go-to inspiration. I believe it portrays history and heritage in a very sophisticated way while showcasing the uniqueness of each culture through intricacy, details, and design elements. Through my journey and research on design, I’ve always been fascinated by “portals.” Since I studied Contemporary Design in Milan, I’ve been exposed to every city’s design elements. I noticed that in different parts of the world, there is always a classical Arch in a historic structure. It is usually present in museums, government buildings, and heritage sites and comes in different shapes, details, and sizes. Returning to Manila made me appreciate the beauty of arched portals, reminding me of all my travels and adventure. The arch has always been part of my design language, and I treat it as an essential element in any design, an entrance to wonder instead of just a faddish shape.
PJ Almera at the launch event for his ARCO bag
How does multiculturalism inform your creativity?
As a contemporary designer, I always seek ways to reinvent heritage and reinterpret culture. My creative vision is not bound to the past but takes inspiration from it in a way that showcases a nostalgic and empathic value.
“My creative vision is not bound to the past but takes inspiration from it in a way that showcases a nostalgic and empathic value” – Patrick James Almera
What do you feel are the essential qualities of a designer working today?
Being able to see and connect past, present and future. We are in a period of Modern Renaissance, which could help designers create something purposeful and original.
Istituto Marangoni graduate PJ Almera presenting his ARCO bag
One piece of advice you would give to Istituto Marangoni students?
Experience and enjoy. Don’t be bounded by rules, traditions, and labels. I learnt at Istituto Marangoni that you have to explore new possibilities and not limit your creativity. Make sure you get the most out of every subject and topic your tutors teach you. Finally, always put yourself out there and let people know about your work.
“I learnt at Istituto Marangoni that you have to explore new possibilities and not limit your creativity” – Patrick James Almera
As your latest bag proves, you are a multitalented creative who covers everything from architecture to design, from trendsetting to fashion. What makes your work stand out?
When I design, I make sure I put my passion and emotions into it, accompanied by research and analysis. I never think about making my work stand out when I create, as this puts me under pressure as a designer. However, one thing I have noticed that helps me create recognisable work is the multicultural contrast infused with a contemporary stylistic approach. I play a lot with shapes and colours. I usually play with reds or colours on trends that make me euphoric.
Some ARCO bags at the UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY showroom in Milan’s Corso Venezia
What’s been the biggest pinch-me moment of your career so far?
The past five years have been very overwhelming for me. I would say that starting my multidisciplinary studio and a trend-forecasting company that now consults and designs for different brands in Asia will always be one of the most significant moments for me, especially during the pandemic. And, of course, the bag design contest by UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY and Istituto Marangoni. To have been selected to design an iconic “Made in Italy” bag that is now in-stores alongside the likes of Zaha Hadid Design, Nendo, Elena Salmistraro, Giulio Cappellini, Marcel Wanders studio – and many more of the designers I look up to – is definitely my latest pinch-me moment.
People attending the launch event for the ARCO Bag designed by PJ Almera
“My latest pinch-me moment was winning the Istituto Marangoni and UP TO YOU ANTHOLOGY contest to design an iconic “Made in Italy” bag that is now in-stores alongside the likes of Zaha Hadid Design, Nendo, Elena Salmistraro, Giulio Cappellini, Marcel Wanders studio” – Patrick James Almera
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
That I can’t say yet. I usually do a career and life plan per decade, which started when I was 19 or 20. And it’s so thrilling to see all the boxes checked one by one. I’m about to turn 29, so I have yet to plan my next decade. But if I were to dream and manifest, I would want my design studio to grow and branch out to different parts of the world. I would also like to create more objects to shape future design movements.