Elevating the Stingray to Luxurious Heights - La Galuche

By Margie T. Logarta

(L-R) Lani Pasquet, Sales Consultant and Dean Pasquet, General Manager

It has always been found in the aristocratic houses and castles of the ancien regime of France. It became all the rage in the 1930s when Art Deco reigned, as well as in the 1970s, especially with couturier Yves San Laurent, whose homes featured it. It actually never really left, and today, adorns stylish living rooms and bedrooms, posh hotel lobbies and restaurants, and even chic vessels around the globe.

Shagreen – skin of the stingray – became popular during the reign of Louis XV and used as a veneer on courtly objects like snuff boxes and wig cases among others by master leatherworker Jean-Claud Galluchat, who bequeathed his name to the craft. Napoleon Bonaparte was said to have had a room all done up in shagreen. In Japan, the hilt of the Samurai sword was sheathed in shagreen, which prevented it from getting slick “even when drenched with the blood of the enemy.”

Wonderful examples of these decoratifs may be viewed in Paris’ Musee de Arts, which showcases the timeless creations of Andre Groult, Alexander Lamont, Iribe and Clement Rosseau among others.

In 2006, French gem trader Jean Marc Pasquet brought the art of shagreen to the Philippines, particularly to Cebu in the South, where the skill of local inlay artisans is world renowned. Since then, La Galuche, the company he launched in 2006 in the Cebu Export Zone, has produced an exceptional range of furniture and accessories for discriminating clients such as King Hassan II of Morocco, actress Brooke Shields and lifestyle maven Josie Cruz-Natori. Pasquet has retired and now lives on a boat traveling the high seas, but his daughter Lani and son Dean have taken over the business that employs around 50 skilled workers, many of them second-generation craftsmen and relatives at that.

Lani, who has a masters degree in Management from the Paris-Dauphine University, is the marketing manager and has been with La Galuche since 2008. Her brother Dean, the production manager, joined the outfit in 2010 and scours the world for exclusive materials to incorporate into their product lines.

La Galuche is a play on French artisan Galluchat, who pioneered the art.

Business is thriving, thanks to designers with unusual flair and creativity, and equally receptive clients. La Galuche operates purely on custom made orders, thus guaranteeing exclusivity of each piece that emerges from its factory. “We never deal with the clients,” says Lani. “We never had a shop. Interior designer from overseas come to us already with an idea of what they want, and they’re confident we can produce it.”

The company has a showroom in a quiet suburb, just off the Ayala financial district in Makati City. It’s also where Lani holds office.

Lani stresses that each piece by La Galuche item backed by rich tradition. On the company Facebook page, she wrote: “There is a person, a story behind each of our products. Most of our inlayers come from a small artisan village called Mambaling in the province of Cebu. Usually, the craft is transferred from a generation to another. In La Galuche, we are happy to count many families, amongst them a three-generation grandfather, dad and son inlayer family working together. Buying La Galuche is being part of the legacy.”

Not only royalty, both authentic and Hollywood types, fancy shagreen in their surroundings. Deluxe hotels among them Four Seasons Hong Kong (its reception counter and accent pieces) and Ritz-Carlton Shanghai (elevator cart panels) boast La Galuche workmanship. Villa ma Resorts, restaurants, yachts and private homes have also ordered beds, wall panels, bar and barstools, art deco pieces and animal lamps from La Galuche. Famous boutique, Asprey carries home and personal accessories consisting of shagreen.

The process of transforming shagreen into usable art starts with air-dried stingray which La Galuche imports from a supplier in Indonesia. Here, Lani emphasizes that stingray is not considered endangered sea life and is eaten. (Think Singapore’s hawker centers, which serve stingray smothered in spicy sauce.) After being processed using traditional techniques, the material is dyed with color pigments specified by the customer-designer. La Galuche has even produced an extensive set of indigo shagreen furniture for a regular client, who resides in a condo in Singapore and Metro Manila. There is a choice of finish, natural or Samenuri, a laminated version for greater protection.

Shagreen may form the base of the commissioned work, but it’s the infusion of a wide range of materials, including cow bone – an excellent substitute for ivory – the Philippine Penshell and young Penshell and Paua and the black and white mother-of-pearl from New Zealand, Paua into the inlay and detailing that sets La Galuche apart from competitors. Says Lani: “Not many countries in Asia do what we’re doing – the are some in Thailand, but they don’t have the technique or skill. To work with shagreen takes a really rare skill.

“That’s why our stuff is more expensive.”

Another material that Le Galuche works with is goatskin (parchment), introduced in the fourth century and used for the paper for books. Designers have used this for wall panels. Then, there is python, which popular in the fashion industry, often in different colors. Again, Lani stresses that python skins are closely monitored and those purchased and resold by the company bear a CITES certificate. Pacol, the skin of the Parrot Fish, tobacco leaves and marble and limestone make up other materials in La Galuche’s gallery.

One doesn’t have to be nobility to enjoy lovely furnishings. Furniture made out of shagreen, somehow, has the ability to turn any home into a palace.