Literally and figuratively made from the same mold, French-Filipino siblings Lani and Dean Taylor Pasquet share how family and adaptability have become the recipe for success of international design sensation, La Galuche Inc.
Stingray leather or shagreen is a coveted commodity these days. Once a rawhide esteemed by samurai masters and European aristocrats for its exceptional mix of beauty and durability, shagreen has made a comeback in recent years as one of the most sought-after leathers for furniture, clothing accessories, and even fashion.
That makes it a veritable gold mine for La Galuche, one of the few furniture manufacturers in the world that produce their own stingray leather, among other exotic skins. At the heart of La Galuche’s steady rise is the synergy between General Manager Lani Taylor Pasquet and her brother Dean, La Galuche’s web and production manager. But what’s ironic is that the company is older than either one of them. It was their father, Frenchman Jean-Marc Pasquet, who started working with the stingray in 1982.
“He studied gemology so his background is really in jewelry,” Dean said. “He would travel to almost every country to buy precious stones, go back to France, and sell to Cartier and Place Vendôme—the best place in Paris to buy jewelry.” According to Dean, their father eventually started sourcing out exotic skins to make jewelry, a venture that he ultimately expanded to furniture.
“Sometimes he’d stay two weeks in France then leave for another two weeks to be in the Philippines [to oversee the factory in Cebu],” Dean recalled.
Perhaps due to the nature of their father’s profession or his hobby of sailing, their family set-up was not what most would call conventional.
“Every summer we’d live in a boat for three months,” Lani fondly shared. “We’d go to the Philippines, Phuket, Malaysia, and other places in Asia. In fact, my dad wanted us to live in the boat for real but my mom said, ‘No way, I’m a city girl!’” Their Manileña mother, Candy, an English teacher who had met Jean-Marc at a party in Paris, insisted on her preference for the urban lifestyle.
Their father’s laidback vibe seems have rubbed off on the two who drove together to Crimson Beach Resort and Spa on the morning of the photo shoot. Dean was dressed casually in a T-shirt and a pair of shorts whereas Lani greeted us in a flowing maxi dress, her face devoid of any makeup. Not that she needed any; the twenty-five-year-old is a deadringer for Isabella Rosellini and is no novice to photo shoots, having been featured in a few glossies and in the recent ad campaign of Cebu brand Islands Souvenirs.
“I was born in Paris,” Lani said,”but for my first three years, we lived in Cebu. I was even baptized in Liloan [in northern Cebu]. My dad still had the company there at the time.
“When Dean was born, we moved to Paris for ten years. We lived on top of our French grandparents’ arts supplies shop. From school, I’d go to the shop and play with pens. We were always exposed to design and art especially because architects went to buy supplies in the shop.”
Lani looks up to her grandmother whom she said she got her character and taste from: “She is really the one who has an eye for beauty. My grandparents have a beautiful house in Cannes that is so detailed; every room has a theme. She influenced me a lot.”
In fact, Lani wanted to be an architect at first but chose to take up marketing management for more practical reasons.
“France is not like the Philippines where there is a new construction site around every corner,” she said. “In Paris, there is barely any space for new buildings. [Besides,] I really love marketing. My mother used to work in one of the top advertising agencies in France and I would visit her there. I liked the ambience. I would even get paid to see what I thought of a paper and I found that so cool that it stuck with me.”
“When I was 11 [and Dean was 8], our parents decided to get out of city life and move to the south of France in Aix-en-Provence,” Lani said. She eventually moved back to Paris by herself to pursue her college degree at 18. During this time, their father had left for Cebu and reopened the business.
“Her college, Université Paris Dauphine, was really tough,” Dean said. “But it is the best public school in France for business.”
Lani disclosed how having to bounce back early turned out to be a blessing in disguise: “Living alone and adjusting to a new city, I was really lucky the first year because I almost failed. In the summer, I was able to make up for two subjects and because I got better grades than those who did well the first time. My average was better.” This was an advantage for her school’s bidding system, which allowed students to continue semesters abroad.
Out of a thousand applicants, Lani was selected to continue her studies in Singapore and Hongkong, as well as to finish the second year of her master’s degree at Fundação Getulio Vargas in Brazil. However, not long after Lani’s first job as packaging manager in a branding agency, then in a cosmetic company, her father asked her to join him in reviving La Galuche in Cebu.
Only three years apart, it is clear that Lani has the stronger personality between the two siblings. Dean exudes a quiet, easygoing charm.
“We were both spoiled as kids but he was treated like a prince!” Lani chided. “We both had a ‘yaya’—which is uncommon in France— we were very spoiled and lucky to have home cooked Filipino food too.”
Dean admitted that he is very close to their mother. “When Lani left for college and dad went to Cebu, it was just me and my mom in our house in Aix-en-Provence for three years,” he said.
Both siblings spoke highly of the small city near Marseilles where the famous Montagne Saint-Victoire towers in its east. Lani even referred to it as “the most beautiful city in France.” Dean, who played American football in high school, especially likes the Aix’s weather and terrain: “Growing up in the south was nice. It’s always sunny and the lifestyle is relaxed. It’s also ideal for extreme sports. It’s close to the sea. The Alps are accessible and you can ski. There’s even a lake if you want to go wakeboarding.
“I studied business/advertising in Ecole de Management Léonard De Vinci in Paris,” Dean continued. “Lani and I shared a flat for a year when I was a freshman and she was in her fourth year, but she traveled a lot because of her studies.” In his third year, Dean chose to complete his six-month internship abroad at La Galuche in Cebu where he was reunited with his father and sister.
Working for their father’s business for the first time garnered mixed reactions from Lani and Dean. Said Lani, “My father is not the type to delegate or teach [since he is used to being a one-man trader] so I had a lot to figure out at first, including creating my own position. I worked on a company policy and started handing out a memo whenever someone was late. It was a challenge because some of the factory workers who came back from before have known me since I was in diapers!”
Culture was also an initial obstacle for her: “Before then, I had never worked in the Philippines and had to adjust to the local work practices. Looking back, I’m proud of how I gradually broke in but at the time, I was a young girl who didn’t know anything about furniture or stingray but at the same time had to tell everyone what to do. I’m stronger now.” Recognizing Lani and Dean’s creative talents and drive to grow the company, their father felt confident entrusting La Galuche to them, which allowed him to fulfill his desire of sailing and traveling the world.
When Dean entered the company in 2009, he said that La Galuche already had a good system in place and was doing very well in the market as a high-end furniture player. Much credit is due to their father who has built valuable and long-term relationships with suppliers and clients over the years.
Today, Lani and Dean complement each other in managing La Galuche. “We have a common trust,” Dean said. “If she goes on a trip, I cover for her and vice versa.” Of the 22-year-old, Lani said: “I may be more organized but he has the swag, the people skills. The employees love him. He gets along well with everyone.”
Lani recalled what Dean had texted her only two months after he started working for the company: “I’m with Chris Burch [Tory Burch’s husband.] He just bought the showroom.”
“I swear I was ready to retire at that point!” she joked.
“Eighty percent of our production is custom-made or exclusive for clients,” Dean explained. “The rest is our own line, which is influenced by the styles of 1920’s art deco French designers, like Jean Michel Frank and Clement Rosseau. As much as we would love to make new collections, with the demand from clients who outsource from us at the moment, we can’t squeeze in those items.” La Galuche only has a total of 50 employees including the Pasquets but has been catering exclusively to major international design labels like Ralph Lauren, Asprey, and Tory Burch, to name a few.
“The main key of our business is the raw materials,” said Dean. “Shagreen is our number one product and is also the most expensive because it is rare. Shagreen comes from a specific ray with a scaly, hard skin in the Indian Ocean. A piece inlayed in stingray will last forever. I can say that we produce best-quality skins in the world.”
La Galuche also uses other raw materials such as the skins of python, crocodile, shark, ostrich and goat, combined with shells, cow bone, ebony, cedar and other exotic woods. There are almost no limits to what their skilled workers can handcraft from the combination of these materials and from the dyeing process that produces every color imaginable. One client wanted a bedside table to match his curtains so he sent a swatch of cloth from the drapes for La Galuche to recreate the exact same color.
“Only a few designers carry our pieces,” Lani said. “Most of the people who order from us want something special and every piece is different. For instance, we once customized a cabinet for Brooke Shields with a special color and with skull heads as handles.
Their biggest project to date was for the The Ritz Carlton in Pudong, Shanghai. The hotel property, which was named as 2011’s Best Hotel in the World by an international travel magazine, has walls of shagreen in the elevators and presidential suites.
La Galuche’s continuous string of achievements has resulted in the siblings’ settling in Cebu for some time now. Lani has been in a relationship with Cebuano businessman Jay Chiongbian for the past two years and the two even collaborated together on a new lifestyle lounge GILT, of which her boyfriend is the owner.
Dean has also blended well with the local scene, having made a lot of friends himself. As for the business, whether they decide to expand the factory to accommodate more orders or to seek new materials to diversify their product line, it is only a matter of time and choice. Between these two young go-getters, who knows what else they are capable of accomplishing?
by Pia Echevarria
sittings editor Katsy Borromeo
production manager David Jones Cua
production assistant Danica Ronquillo
photography Anne Lorraine Uy
creative director Mikey Sanchez
grooming Ramil Solis and Hyatt Laurel
locale Crimson Resort & Spa