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Mixing East and West

Asiaphile adds a modern American twist to classic Asian traditions in craft.


Gail DeLoach, owner-designer of the Glendale-based firm Asiaphile, applies her own contemporary American slant to classic Asian craft traditions. "To combine traditional Asian materials with contemporary designs is to encounter the past and present of Asia," DeLoach says.

Asian echoes remain in the work, from bone toggles and silk frog closings to lacquered trays and vases. What's different is the contemporary zing she gets from iridescent fuchsias, purples and golds and her new uses for ancient materials, including palm fiber CD holders and bamboo birdcage vases. Asiaphile's products can be found at such local boutiques as Santa Monica's Zero Minus Plus at Fred Segal and Pasadena's Folk Tree; the company imports bamboo and lacquer products from Vietnam, Capiz shell dishes and buntal pieces from the Philippines, as well as silk and soaps from Thailand.

DeLoach updates her designs every six months. Her love of both Eastern and Western design dates back to her childhood, when she traveled to Asia often with her family. Those memories, combined with a study of art history, encouraged her to open an Asian antiques store on Melrose called Asiaphile 15 years ago. After five years in the retail business, she'd had enough, however, and she closed the store to focus solely on the design and wholesale aspects of her business.

"Japan was my biggest design influence because of the way they revere their crafts. I guess the younger generation is not as interested in old crafts," she says. "That's what gave me the idea to take an old craft and give it a modern twist through color or shape."

The impetus for her design-wholesale business came from some woven place mats found in a Hong Kong boutique. "I thought they were great. I tracked down the Philippine woman who wove them out of buntal, an indigenous Philippine palm fiber. She is a gifted, self-taught weaver. I helped her expand her one-woman business, and that started my wholesale business as well." The place mats are still a part of the line, and today the Philippine weaver employs more than 100 people and has become a national treasure because the business helps so many in her village.

In working with local artisans throughout Asia, DeLoach often has to teach modern techniques to go with their traditional methods, such as kiln drying and the use of different finishes.

Darrylynn Kaun, owner of Zero Minus Plus, says the Capiz bowls are particularly popular. The oyster-like shells are found in the warm ocean waters of the Philippines and Indonesia and, after harvesting, are molded by hand and individually painted opalescent colors and covered with a food-safe polymer.

New this fall are lacquered spun bamboo vases, which required teaching Vietnamese craftspeople how to kiln-dry objects. "They already knew how to make vases for their humid climate, but not for our drier one," says Kevin Gaylor, general manager of Asiaphile. "The bamboo is cut very thin and soaked in a bag in the river for 60 days, then the pliable bamboo is molded into vases using the same concept as throwing pots. It's sanded down, kiln-dried and lacquered." All the work is done by hand, and each piece takes at least 90 days to make.

DeLoach recently returned from a two-week trip to Asia developing her spring collection. "I met a Philippine man who works with mother of pearl, ebony and shell. He's the most original craftsperson I've run across in years. I'm going to incorporate some of his designs in my boxes," she said, adding that she may also develop some small furniture pieces such as lacquer stools.

"I like the human touch," she says. "That's what I got from Japan. If it's made by hand, it's somewhat imperfect. I'm a big believer in beauty in imperfection."

Asiaphile imports can also be found at Studio City's Architexture and Les Interieurs in Newport Beach, among others. Prices are $10 to $175.

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