KENNETH COBONPUE, Filipino industrial designer par excellence, has reached for the stars in a new collection inspired by the popular movie franchise Star Wars. And the Universe of Marvel may not be far behind.
The movie franchise, launched in the late 1970s by George Lucas, fired up the dreams of millions of fans. In 2012, Disney announced a deal to acquire Lucasfilm (and thus the franchise) from the director. Disney, holding the rights to the series, approached Mr. Cobonpue to design a collection inspired by the movies.
“I was very skeptical in the beginning of the whole project. I didn’t want to make things with characters on them, or replicas of machines,” he said during an interview in his showroom last week. But according to him, Disney told him to “interpret the world of Star Wars through a Filipino designer’s lens.” Mr. Cobonpue explained: “They approached me, and I think the Vice-President of Disney in Asia has seen my work,” recalling how the ball for the deal started rolling.
The partnership is extraordinary because the movie franchise and Mr. Cobonpue’s name are mentioned at the same time in a co-branding deal: in deals like this with such a huge conglomerate, the designer’s name is usually invisible.
“Actually, the whole world of Disney is open to me,” said Mr. Cobonpue. This means that Mr. Cobonpue will have access to use Disney characters for further collaborations. “I can pick any character from Disney, and take off from there,” he says, and, yes, even new Disney subsidiary Marvel Entertainment can be in the mix, so fans can watch out for that. In the meantime, “I think next year, they have Mulan and Lion King (coming up).”
Mr. Cobonpue is himself a fan of Star Wars: “Yes, but I’m not a geek; so to speak,” he said. “I’ve always loved Star Wars — of course, it’s good versus evil. When I was small, I always wanted to be strapped into one of those things,” he said, trying to seek the word for one of the space vehicles in Star Wars. He said that in his spare time, he drew cartoons and comics about the Star Wars movies.
While the collection is inspired by Star Wars, it took a concerted effort on his part not to take the series too literally. “There’s a point when you become too literal. It then becomes cheesy, and kind of corny. Maybe I’m glad that I’m not a geek who follows Star Wars [religiously]. I look at it the same way everybody does: we love it, we understand it.” He says that he won’t be able to rattle off the top speed, of say, the Millennium Falcon, but, “I love it for what it is.”
A highlight of the collection, on view at the Cobonpue showroom in Makati, is the Vader chair: a black cocoon in the shape of Darth Vader’s helmet, with a canopy and a small swiveling desk. It’s perfect for plotting schemes in your office, and sitting on it, when one’s face is enveloped in shadows by the woven canopy, might give the owner the same fearsome aura as Darth Vader when he strode into Princess Leia’s Tantive IV.
The chair’s partner, appropriately, is the Sidious chair, named after Emperor Palpatine’s Sith alias, and Darth Vader’s master. The armchair’s back points up, taking the shape of the peak in the Emperor’s hood.
Two chairs in black and white are called the Imperial Wings, taking flight from the TIE fighters of the Imperial fleet. Other pieces include a lamp made of several jedi wielding lightsabers, fighting against a Sith Lord, as well as a rocking stool inspired by Han Solo’s sidekick Chewbacca, his fur interpreted in suede, and draped with his ammunition.
Prices range from P68,000 to P213,000.
“I teach design, and I always tell my students to never be too literal,” said Mr. Cobonpue, and viewers bear in mind that the furniture only took certain memorable visual cues from the characters and themes that inspired it. “You take what’s beautiful about it, you take what’s universal: a common language. Try to find what we all understand. Take that, and you simplify it, and you abstract it.”
With every designer, a battle arises whether to put form or function first — the paradigm exists because things don’t always fulfill their purpose. With advances in technology and discoveries in good design, everything is now expected to work as they should, from whistling kettles to rocking chairs. “I always say it’s form. Because before you try it out, it has to attract you,” Mr. Cobonpue said. “I always tell designers: form is your domain, and that has to come first. Otherwise, if it’s all about function, be an engineer.”
What designers need to seek now, beyond form and function, is a little something extra. Maybe it’s a combination of form, function, or emotion; maybe something else. For Mr. Cobonpue however, that little extra goes back to something that has always been there. “Those are always by-products of form — sexiness, emotion; you draw out from Form. Never from Function.” — Joseph L. Garcia