Published February 27, 2021, 4:00 AM

by AA Patawaran

Maximalist duo Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo launch their first book The Art of Window, Display, and Design

DREAMS OF APOLLO The 2009 Christmas window of AC+632, Once Upon A Dream, was inspired by the Fairy Tale King, Ludwig II of Bavaria. The tableau features an imagined fantasy of the king, who from his Gothic bedroom in Neuschwanstein Castle daydreams of his sleigh pulled to the heavens by dolphins and the winds of Zephyr and Aura as his idol, the Sun King Louis XIV, gives his blessing as personified by the rising moon (Photo by Patrick Uy)

More than a shop or a lifestyle and home furnishing store, AC+632 or Firma is a destination, a portal to otherworlds, time compressed and preserved in a room, whether inside or out through the shopwindow.

But that is because behind these stores and their exquisite shopwindow display is the design duo Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo, whose eyes, especially if you know them personally like I do, are a window to the world in all its magnificence and splendor, through eras and epochs.

DESIGN CHRONICLES The authors Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre (Photo by Patrick Uy)

In a virtual tertulia organized in memory of Esther Vibal, co-founder of Vibal Group and its philanthropy arm Vibal Foundation, Chito and Ricky recently launched their book The Art of Window, Display, and Design, featuring their creative masterwork not only as designers but also as design connoisseurs, as expressed through the window displays they have created over the years at any of their stores, present or past, such as at Juno, a by-appointment boutique with which they started, stuffing it with finds from their travels as well as with some of the things they themselves made like couture pillows and ostrich egg lamps.

I knew neither Chito nor Ricky when I first set foot at Firma when it was on Nakpil Street in Malate, right beside Sala or People’s Palace, when Malate was the place to be, a street that would turn into a club at night with all sorts of characters, mostly bohemian, sometimes, such as every weekend, in flamboyant costumes, like feathers in their hair or neon yellow on their lips.

DANCE IN GRAY From The Four Continents, a chapter on fashion: Chito Vijandre’s Philippine Spanish Colonial Señorita inspired by Filipino baro’t saya, the Spanish maja, flamenco dancer and toreador. (Photo by Clyde Gabriel, styling by Noel Manapat, hair and makeup by Henri Calayag, courtesy of Red Charity Gala)

And although that part of Nakpil Street was long ago and far away, and Firma has long moved to arguably less historic Greenbelt in Makati City, my first experience—I was going to say visit, but visit would be too tame a word, so yes, experience would be more apt—of Chito and Ricky’s Firma to this day remains akin to my first encounter (exclusively through books because travel was only a dream to me then) with the colors, textures, shapes, and sizes in which culture would find expression among the vast grasslands of Mongolia or the Himba women of Namibia or the handweaves and embroideries of the Aztecs or the chaos of Moroccan souks.

My Firma expedition may be likened to my introduction to the Ballet Russes and Diaghilev or the extravagant hats at the Royal Ascot or Marie Antoinette’s Reign of Mirrors (sorry, I was looking for a word that near-rhymes with terror). I haven’t told Ricky and Chito this, but since I was born too late for Diana Vreeland, I think I am blessed enough that I have this duo in my life to introduce me to what’s beautiful and refined in the excesses of life.

EDEN’S GARDEN The July 2015 AC+632 window, Paradise Regained, featuring a Baroque garden party in a jardin à la francaise or French formal garden, inspired by the garden parties at Vaux-le-Vicomte and Château de Chantilly, with gardens designed by André Le Nôtre and parties mounted by François Vatel in the seventeenth century (Photo by Ricky Toledo)

Then and now, Chito and Ricky are disciples of maximalism that, to me, is the more natural option compared to its opposite, given the length and breadth of world culture as well as human nature, memory being among the few things that make us human. After all, no other animal in the whole kingdom will ever think of erecting monuments or museums or shopwindows to remembrances of days or millennia past.

“Maximalism is an art form that you cannot abuse,” warns Chito, and already I feel that raving about their work, I must put a limit to my admiration. “It’s hard to pull off, you need proper editing in your mix of textures, colors, and periods. That’s why I brand myself as a maximalist because I like rising to this challenge.”

RED FOR DANGER, RED FOR PASSION Conjuring Dreams of Africa, the AC+632 window inspired by Karen Blixen’s tale of adventure, lost love, and tragedy in her 1937 autobiographical book Out of Africa, which was also made into an award-winning film (Photo by Ricky Toledo)

But the warning, elaborate as it is, a challenge as Chito has put it so succinctly, is not enough. Ricky assents, “Contrary to the common notion that it’s just a pile-everything-on-and-mix-everything-together aesthetic, maximalism requires a lot of thought and experimentation to get right.”

‘In our artistic practice, we have sought to break down borders, surpass our deep-seated prejudices and preconceived fears, and avoid the pat, the insular, the trite, and the simplistic in order to see and appreciate the intrinsic value and contribution of any world culture, no matter how distant or even seemingly foreign.’

And so their book—their first, I am surprised to know—The Art of Window, Display, and Design, more than godsend to the design aficionado, is proof of our humanness, our natural attraction to and our innate desire to create beautiful things or memories thereof.

ART ON TEXT The book cover

There, in the pages, you can ogle at their interpretation of the riotous field of flowers “with a color palette reminiscent of the sight of thousands of pink flamingos wading in Kenya’s Lake Nakuru,” the inspiration behind “Conjuring Dreams of Africa,” a window display arrangement, which debuted in the window of AC+632 in the second quarter of 2015. The sumptuous scene, featuring furniture, accessories, and taxidermy animals arranged at different heights to mimic the resplendence of the African wild, was drawn from Isak Dinesen’s (real name: Karen Blixen) memoir Out of Africa and its Hollywood adaptation.

At Firma in 2005, in time for the holiday season, the shopwindow at Firma paid tribute to Mas’uda al-Wizkitiya, popularly known as Lalla Masuda, the beloved 16th-century Islamic saint, also called “The Lady of the Return” because she traveled extensively through the Moroccan countryside to do humanitarian work. To be worthy of her, Chito and Ricky imagined how they would set up the place to welcome her, creating a tableau where she could recline on a divan, as if, at last, to rest on the laurels bestowed upon her for having established mosques, schools, and roads to benefit her people.

ARTISTS IN ART Portrait of Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre, pencil on paper by Pablo Orendain

My personal favorite is their ode to the Mad King, the Swan King, the Fairy Tale King, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, with whom, since my first visit to parts of Germany where he reigned in the late 1800s, I’ve been obsessed, concluding for myself that he was pronounced mad only because he was way ahead of his time, dreaming up among other things carriages that would fly in the sky. To Chito and Ricky, a visit to Neuschwanstein Castle inspired the ultimate fantasy, which led them to create “Once Upon a Dream.” This became the Christmas window design worthy of Ludwig’s unbridled whimsy at their store in 2009, where fairies and zephyrs were caught dancing in the king’s head as he dreamed among the intricately carved wooden spires of his Neo-Gothic bedroom.

All these and more, including 500 breathtaking pictures of objets d’art, sceneries, and landmarks around the world, are in the book The Art of Window, Display, and Design, published by Vibal Foundation, all at ₱550 per copy.

ROOM FULL OF ELEGANCE From Joyous Cross-Cultural Encounters, a chapter on the interiors of the authors’ home:  A Qing carved and lacquered opium bed, Turkish lamps and Persian carpets mix happily with French Rococo furniture and portraits at the Orientalist peacock salon (Photo by Ricky Toledo)

“What a steal!” I tell Ricky, mentally calculating how much of a treasure this book is, and how much it cost to make this book in terms of air fare, hotel stays, museum tickets, and a lifetime of study, not to mention design sensibilities that are priceless.

But Ricky says, “We want the young people to be able to afford it.”

I’d go as far as calling their book a legacy. More than design, theirs is the art of worldmaking, a suggestion that there exist—parallel to this world we live in—other worlds that are only as splendid as we can imagine them to be. And maybe one of the readers will get the point and keep the legacy alive, but first what do Ricky and Chito have to say to the young reader who dreams of creating such worlds in the future? How does one arrive at such concepts?

WATCHING CULTURE The authors at the Prague opera house

“You start with an idea, a person, or a place that inspires you, then you research images that are related to it and also look for objects and merchandise to complete it,” says Chito.

“You have to be open and explore other ideas so that it’s not too predictable,” says Ricky.

Easier said than done, but that is what The Art of Window, Display, and Design is for.

Order the book from AC+632 at Greenbelt 5, Makati City. Call +632777582564 or on WhatsApp and Viber at +639454557878. Follow AC Greenbelt on Facebook or @ac632 on Instagram.