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International 'campaign furniture' brand thrives on Philippine craftsmanship.

When it comes to doing campaign furniture (foldable and transportable), no company perhaps does it better than P&B Valises Et Compagnie Inc.

As one of the featured manufacturers in the upcoming Philippine International Furniture Show (March 13 to 16 at SMX Convention Center) under architect and creative director J. Antonio Mendoza, P&B, or Prizmic & Brill, has been producing updated and stylized campaign chairs, director's chairs and Kipling desks for several decades now in its factory in San Fernando, Pampanga.

It also provides some of the world's best hotels and resorts custommade and modular furniture pieces and cabinets known for their durability and smart, userfriendly designs.

Campaign furniture dates back to colonial days, when almost every furniture piece the colonizing powers used was relatively light, detachable and transportable. Everything P&B does is inspired by this bygone era. Apart from being transportable, most of its chairs are also foldable.

"No one really does what we do locally," said American Matthew Brill, P&B president and creative director. "People don't see them as made in the Philippines. They have a hard time believing that these pieces were made here."

By choosing this theme, P&B has effectively carved its niche in the furniture market. To get the right feel, the company buys antique campaign furniture pieces that date back to, say, British India or French Algeria.

"We study and derive inspiration from them to produce our own versions," said Brill. "One of our bestsellers is the Kipling desk."

Named after Indiaborn British writer Rudyard Kipling, the campaign desk has been updated in terms of look and function by P&B, to appeal to today's users.

Brill and his team of 150 inhouse employees and numerous subcontractors update their pieces by producing, for instance, leather chairs in such colors as yellow and orange.

They also use such materials as treated wood and metal tubing wrapped in leather to put new twists on classic pieces. P&B imports most of its leather, but the tanning and stamping are all done in Pampanga.

"We can also modify the sizes of our furniture to fit the customer's demand," he said. "We resized our safari chairs, for instance, for a London hotel with small rooms."

Complementary materials such as metal, wood, woven leather and molds are also produced in their factory. That way they control the quality of every component that goes into their products.

"We ourselves add on different materials. At least four types of craft go into every piece we do," said Brill.

Biggest market

P&B saw the American market's share shrink over the decades as demand from Asia, particularly China, grew. But with 30 percent of its output going to the US, Brill's home country remains the company's biggest market.

Under the P&B brand, the company's products are sold by franchises in 15 key cities the world over, including the Middle East and Europe. One of its flagship stores in Europe is in Berlin.

In the Philippines, P&B has two shops in Makati (Greenbelt 5 and LRI Plaza). Only 10 percent of its output goes to the Philippines, but Brill recognizes the local market's importance. He's also happy to note that many Filipinos "understand what we do."

"A growing number of wealthy Filipinos have sophisticated taste," said Brill. "They're well traveled and come to our stores with plenty of good ideas."

That's also one thing that separates P&B from its competitors. The company is willing to listen and learn from its customers to help it produce durable and betterdesigned products.

Brill, who has a degree in psychology, has always been exposed to colors, textures and beauty all his life. His older sister is a designer, while both his parents are in the home and interior design business.

He left New York for Asia more than three decades ago to help his sister establish a buying office in Hong Kong for women's handbags and accessories. Since the company sourced most of its materials in the Philippines, he often traveled to the country.

Then, in his mid20s, Brill saw for himself the richness and diversity of Filipino craftsmanship while traveling to the provinces to beef up his fabric collection. When he decided to establish his export business a few years later, he left Hong Kong for Manila.

"From textiles to handbags, I ended up making my first suitcase made of rattan," he said. "We got really good at producing it, that it evolved into a complete line of hardside suitcases for such customers as Ralph Lauren."

He met his future wife Carol Nicdao at a party in Manila. When they got married, the couple decided to relocate to nearby Pampanga and reestablish the office and factory there.

Carol is now the company's financial officer. From Design Ethnica, Brill renamed his company P&B. Prizmic is in honor of his good friend Mario Prizmic, a Croatian writer and performance artist.

The move to Pampanga also meant a change in manufacturing thrust from contemporary products to more thematic furniture pieces that hark back to the past.

"I'm fascinated by these things because to me they're meaningful," said Brill. "They represent travel, history and cultures. People either relate to what we do, or they don't. There's no middle road with our stuff."
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Feb 25, 2015
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