Untarnished, unassuming, and undulating.
Jewelry designer Ann Ong has an understated presence that draws the eye without yelling for attention.
The same can be said of her portfolio of handmade pieces that continue to collect intrigue in distant points of the globe. Having established her name and brand, Ong still takes every opportunity to present in fashion shows worldwide.
Risks are all part of the game. And she’s ready to take them for her country at any given moment.
“When I started my journey, I really made it a point to be in the global arena, to compete in the global market. That Filipinos, we can compete and we can deliver. So I’m happy to always be in New York and in Paris. I’m the only Filipino designer there. And even in the shows in New York, I’m also the Filipino designer to be there,” Ong tells Lifestyle Asia.
The woman behind fashion world-renowned handcrafted clutches and jewelry believes that representing the Philippines abroad is the best way she can promote Filipino craftsmanship and create jobs for her people.
To compete with the best, all she needed was to stick true to her local artisan instinct.
“What we do is really the heart and soul of a Filipino artisan. That’s how I promote. Because number one, when you go to New York and you go to Paris, your competitors especially the French, they do fine jewelry. If I do fine jewelry, everyone does that. Hong Kong; I did a show in Dubai, they’re very good in fine jewelry. But one thing that I can compete with… What I do is very different. It’s very hard to make. I’ll keep my focus on that,” Ong contextualizes.
In Paris, she had met an accessory designer for Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. They were surprised that Filipinos still produced handmade pieces whereas the rest of the competition had transitioned to casting with metal already processed.
“That’s my niche market. I have a market for that. Rich people have all kinds of jewelry, fine jewelry. But when they see something, an Ann Ong, they would really be fascinated. They will try to buy something that they don’t have,” Ong observes.
The designer has flown in and out of New York and Paris to partake in fashion week.
Between managing clients in the Big Apple to presenting her show at the fashion capital’s Premiere Classe, she has been quite booked.
During downtime, she finds herself appreciating the leadership and effort in promoting fashion and trends despite the planet’s somber expression.
“We see ourselves as positioning in the global market, because we feel that in time, the world will open again. And in times of this pandemic and war, we all gathered together, come together as one, promoting the works of different countries, different global designers. So I like the energy that we have to always keep on moving in spite of what’s happening with the world,” Ong comments.
She believes that the fashion workforce’s best investment right now is their creativity. This is reinforced whenever she meets her fellow designers who discuss current events and inspire each other, because working is still what they know to do best.
Though they may come from different countries, they all serve different clientele who give them the “edge,” a confidence to keep going in their journey with the knowledge that their practice is right.
“I cater to that kind of market, because along the way doing trade shows like every year, and going to Dubai, to Paris, to New York, it’s like for me it’s like taking a master class every time I do a trade show. I learn from my fellow designers,” Ong reveals.
She says they all know at heart that they are simultaneously friends and competitors. Regardless, she studies their respective strengths so that she can also compete in the global market.
“That’s the only way you can sustain. Because a design is not a design if someone will not buy your designs. It’s very, very challenging. In my part, I like challenges. It brings out the best in me as a designer,” Ong declares.
Even during the height of the Delta variant, she risked coming to New York’s newly opened trade shows to exhibit the fact that Filipinos are alive and active.
“Because when I do shows, it’s not only for me. Especially for my artisans. That keeps me going. It’s the only job they know and they know what to do. I think as a designer, it’s also my job to promote not only my design but their work also. Everything is like a marriage. You cannot just turn back. It’s like you have to go forward all the time,” Ong vows.
Fresh from fashion week, she observes a unifying trend: to be different.
This reflects in her sales, with New York and Paris alike hungry for new collections and new ideas, all with the same distinctly Filipino appeal.
The list of clients has grown to include the likes of chief executive officers, insurance leaders, and interior designers who have made an impression with her jewelry and minaudière collections, even without donning designer clothes.
“My clients want something that they cannot buy anywhere else. So that’s the kind of market that I was able to establish in New York and in Paris. The people who have money in New York and Paris, they’d rather go to boutiques who have very, very special pieces that they cannot see anywhere else,” Ong notes.
Her advocacy continues with her latest passion project, a collaboration with Party List Rep. Shernee Tan (Kusug Tausug) to promote the Pis Siyabit handwoven cloth of Sulu’s Tausugs.
During her time abroad, the designer collaborated with Philippine Consul General in New York Elmer Cato to arrange upcoming textile and fashion show exhibits at the Philippine Center, featuring the Pis Siyabit.
“The Filipino touch is still there. It’s very handmade, it’s very organic. It’s like walking art. And it speaks for the Filipinos, and also for the heart and soul of an artisan,” Ong concludes.
Banner Photo via Ann Ong