Arts & Leisure

By Susan Claire Agbayani

Leo Sano, by design

Posted on October 22, 2012

NAMED after Lean Alejandro -- the famed Philippine activist -- Leo Leandro Sano was born in 1980, a leap year. It was also the year John Lennon was assassinated; interest in music made a significant shift from disco to rap; and in Manila, landmark movies Manila by Night and Temptation Island were shown in movie theaters.

A LAMP by Leo Sano, seen at the Manila FAME fair.
As the youngest child in a brood of four brothers, and the only one of them who was schooled entirely from grade school to high school in Claret School of Quezon City, he nurtured dreams of someday becoming an architect and designing houses. This while he was very much into football and later on, cinematography and keyboards.

The talent test for the BS Industrial Design baccalaureate degree at the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines however was a turning point for him.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the process of the exam. (Eventually), I had no grades below 1.5 in my major subjects as I took them seriously,� Mr. Sano recalls.

For his thesis, he created environmental lighting fixtures for public spaces using industrial scraps. He ended up being awarded Best Thesis for 2004.

“Right after graduation, I worked full time as in-house designer at Locsin International. I was up by 5:30 a.m., and home by 7 p.m.... very exhausted, as I was more often than not in our workshop in Bulacan. I was hardly in our showroom in Quezon City. But then I understood that everyone who wants to be successful has to go through that kind of process,� he says.

His effort paid off. Within three months, he was promoted as Head of Product Research and Development.

Much as he appreciated his time at Locsin International, he eventually asked for the blessing of owner Roberto Locsin as he yearned for other challenges outside the comfortable cocoon of the company. He was able to convince Mr. Locsin that “I would grow as a designer if I am exposed to the outside world.�

In the next few years, he worked with companies based in Batangas, Pampanga, Iloilo and Cebu. Within six months, Locsin became a client of his, too.

Mr. Sano anticipated that due to the volume and demands of his work, he would soon burn out if he didn’t slow down. So slow down he did “so I could concentrate on two to three exporters, and the quality of my work wouldn’t suffer.�

He also decided to give up dabbling in interior design, for it demanded too much of his time and resources as he was his own designer, foreman, and accountant.

He is now back with Locsin as a design consultant, and creates designs for markets in Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia.

Mr. Sano says he derives inspiration from nature. And indeed, in previous years, he had created quite a variety of furniture inspired by a bird’s nest, a tsunami, and even a tomato.

True to his roots, when he found use in what others would consider scrap or trash, the designer continues to find objects that he could transform into objects of beauty. Among these are corn husks used as lamps.

“We mainly use natural indigenous materials like rattan, abaca, sea grass and water lily,� he said, and these are targeted for European consumption.

For this year’s Manila FAME fair, he thought of simulating the traditional and natural, experimenting with “weaving� designs normally reserved for grass and abaca in baskets or banigs (woven mats), using stretched fabric with fiberfill.

Mr. Sano looks up to fellow designer Tony Gonzales (this year’s winner of Best Production Design for Furniture for his Bagwis Malacca Daybed at Manila FAME), because he is kind and willing to mentor younger designers like him.

He opines that the best artists, musicians and designers are often “underground,� far from the limelight, and definitely not too keen about publicity.

“Design is all about your contribution to the world.�

To see some of Mr. Sano’s early work, check out