Sometimes you meet someone who you not only “click” with, but you just know that you want to be a part of this person´s life somehow. I first met Valerie when she popped along to a Mums in Heels event a while ago. She walked into that room and I could not take my eyes off her. Not in a creepy kind of way (I hope), but in a “I have to talk to this woman right immediately now” kind of way. Valerie looked so effortlessly cool, calm and collected I felt I needed to know her secret. Said and done, I was after all one of the organisers, so if it turned out that she was a total witch I could just make my welcome short and move on. As you may have guessed, Valerie was not a witch, she was almost an angel. So softly spoken, so sharp, so amazingly pretty and chic, and my favourite, so funny!
Turns out Valerie is from the Philippines but now lives in Zurich with her Swiss husband. What a journey! And what about her fabulous jewellery? Seriously, you should have seen her jewellery. Not diamonds as big as boulders, but cool, understated jewellery with a message. Ah yes, the hand made jewellery is imported from designers in the Philippines, handpicked by Valerie.
I hope you too can see why I needed to do this interview. I really wanted to know about Valerie´s journey, not only geographically, but emotionally too:
Anna: First things first: What made you move to Switzerland of all places? Please tell us about your journey, both geographical and otherwise, from “there” to “here”.
Valerie: I left my home country, the Philippines in 2005 to take up an exciting diplomacy job based out of Singapore. It involved a lot of travelling between Asia and Europe and meeting all sorts of fascinating people who shared an interest in the exchange between these two regions. This would prove to be telling of what I would eventually be doing in my own life.
The move to Singapore was the start of my life overseas and just as I was about to leave the city to take up a scholarship in Paris, I met my Swiss future husband, Manuel. A flurry of long-haul flights and Skype calls at odd hours ensued. Soon after I finished graduate school, Manuel and I got engaged. I still remember my TGV ride from Paris to Zurich, loading two massive suitcases with all my worldly possessions into the train. A kind old man helped me lift each of them and asked, “Why are these so heavy? Are you moving to Switzerland?” It occurred to me right there that Manuel and I were no longer doing the long distance commutes between Zurich, Paris and Singapore and were finally committing to being in the same city at the same time. We got married in 2011 and (truly, as your home is where your heart is) Zurich has been my home since.
A: How has your life changed since moving to Switzerland?
V: The fresh mountain air and amazing landscapes of Switzerland might have something to do with it, but I have grown tremendously over the past years through my experiences both personally and professionally. Indeed, “you grow through what you go through.” Since moving here, I’ve embarked on a career advising families about the responsibilities of wealth. I also worked for a social enterprise in fairtrade agriculture. On the personal side, I’ve met amazing people, many of them women, Swiss and otherwise, with whom I have deep friendships with. My married life – six years old – has also shaped me.
What Switzerland – and a very supportive marriage – have been able to offer me is a stable and nurturing environment from where to launch my own dreams. The quality of life we have in this country allows me (and surely many others) the space to think about and live out our bold pursuits. Being a Filipino living in Switzerland and in Europe, I am in constant dialogue with a different culture and I realised I wanted to convey my roots and heritage to my new home. This led me to launch VERA, an accessories store featuring Filipino designers and labels.
A: You are such a stylish girl, what inspires you? Has fashion, or style, always interested you?
V: I don’t consider myself particularly stylish, but I have always been keenly aware how colour, texture, proportion and a sense of occasion can all come together to create something beautiful. I believe style is something one cultivates – by immersing one’s self in art, music, travel and nature – but is also a journey to the self, of self-knowing. Over time, one develops a true sense of one´s own style. I tend to get overwhelmed and bored when I see fashion on social media or in magazines, but I am always excited when I see a dazzling woman in action, dressed in a way that totally brings out her sense of self. That’s when style inspires me, when I see it in the flesh.
A: Have you always been “into” accessories?
V: For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an arm party – a loyal battalion of cuffs, charms and bracelets – hanging off one valiant arm. I have since moved on to tassel earrings and other statement pieces. Because I am often a neutral dresser, accessories are key to bringing everything together. To me, accessories are like punctuation marks: you don’t have to use them, but you certainly know something is missing.
Beyond the sartorial benefit of accessories, I am fascinated by how they are associated with personal moments in our lives, perhaps even more than clothes or shoes. When I ask different women where they got the accessories they are wearing, expensive or not, they’d refer back to a moment or a milestone like,
“My husband’s push present for the birth of our son”
“Got it on my first job promotion”
“The flea market when I travelled solo to Tel Aviv”
“It was among my grandmother’s old stuff.”
Accessories often remind us of a significant moment in our lives and that’s what I’m hoping my shop VERA, can also communicate.
A: What made you start the artisanal jewellery brand VERA?
V: In 2013, I quit my job without the luxury of having a new one waiting for me. It was the first time since I started working, at 21, that I was faced with the prospect of not knowing what to do next. I took this time to reflect deeply on what I had learned from my journey so far, wearing different hats and living in various countries.
What came out most clearly is that I am a Filipino living in Zurich, who has been away from my home country for nearly a decade. Who am I now? Where are my roots? I realised very quickly that I wanted to do something that brought me closer to the Philippines again. In a sense, VERA has been my way of coming home. Having been inspired by my experience at a social enterprise, I wanted to create a platform to bring the best Filipino accessory designers and labels to Europe.
On the other hand, like many women, I didn’t want yet another retail store that sold anonymous, mass-produced, poorly-made accessories. We have enough of those. Rather, I built VERA to be a shop where you get to know the designer or label who created your piece, which is often handmade, of limited quantity and unique.
A: And what about your amazing skin?! What are your skin care secrets and tricks? Please tell us!!
V: As an avid sunbather, I’m certainly not the best person to dispense skincare advice. Despite my own self-destructive habits, I dutifully slather SPF 50 sunscreen on most days and wear a hat when under the sun. I use very few products: a gentle make-up remover, a soap-free cleanser, a serum and day and night moisturisers. I apply them religiously, no matter how tired I am. I also exfoliate twice a week. Zurich weather is rather dry, which can be challenging for someone used to humid weather and all its dewy effects, so I’ve become a huge fan of oil-based moisturisers both for the face and body. They are perfect after coming out of my bedtime shower.
A: This feels highly unfair. I´m just going to put this one down to genes. At least the envy green sheen on my face covers the redness. Always something!
A: The pieces you choose are anything but bland, what inspires your choices? Are the pieces you choose typical Filipino?
V: Enthusiasm is infectious. I know that when I’m most excited about a piece, it’s a lot easier to convey their charm to others. When I select pieces, I always have to picture this mythical VERA woman who is elegant, confident and playful. I take a lot of inspiration from other women – entrepreneurs, creatives, mothers – and imagine how VERA can fit into their universe.
Not a lot of people know about Filipino design and fashion. Through VERA, I hope to convey that well-made, beautiful and wearable creations are coming from the Philippines. They’re usually colourful, bold and with a certain flair, pretty much like the people who make these pieces.
A: What are your dreams and achievement goals with Vera?
A: Why do you think women should wear jewellery?
V: Jewellery, and accessories in general, are an exciting extension of personal style. They can punctuate a certain look and add the element of colour or proportion to anchor it altogether. They add to the story.
VERA artisanal jewelery is available on Mums in Heels Boutique with exclusive 10% discount…go on, give yourself a treat and don’t be shy!