Co-founder Ruth Pestana discusses how her family history led to the idea of producing design pieces influenced by Southeast Asian cultures
A conversation with her husband about her family heritage sparked the notion of designing lifestyle pieces that would celebrate the rich diversity of cultures in Southeast Asia. Inspired by this revelation, Forbidden Hill co-founder Ruth Pestana tapped into her multicultural background as an influence for the lifestyle accessories brand.
“The concept for the brand grew out of conversations that my husband and I had about my multicultural heritage, which is a blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian and European ancestry,” says Pestana. “My Portuguese ancestors arrived in Malacca over three hundred years ago. Their Eurasian descendants later moved to Singapore at the turn of this century, about the same time when my maternal family migrated from China to Southeast Asia.”
Together with her husband, David Aumonier, the couple combined their passion for design with their backgrounds in branding and business and launched Forbidden Hill in 2018.
The lifestyle accessories label retails an eclectic array of handcrafted pieces, among which are lacquerware and cufflinks; selected collections are currently available exclusively on Tatler Homes Curates. But the most arresting designs have got to be the brand’s jewellery range.
Made from a variety of precious metals ranging from rhodium to 24k gold-plating, Forbidden Hill’s earrings, silk bangles and silk cuffs feature a contemporary interpretation of details like latticework, referencing the ancient cultures of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and, of course, Singapore.
“Our designs embody the spirit of diversity and inventiveness of the 14th to 19th centuries, as we blend inspiration from the cultural traditions of Southeast Asia with contemporary interpretations of style and material,” says Pestana.
What’s the story behind Forbidden Hill?
Ruth Pestana: We decided to call our brand Forbidden Hill as a tribute to an adventurous time in Singapore’s history and its central role in Southeast Asia. In the 14th century, Singapore was a thriving port that traded with merchants and explorers from across the world.
During this time, the first kings of Singapore lived on Forbidden Hill, which is Fort Canning today. The hill was considered hallowed grounds then, and the remains of work by royal artisans have been found there.
Please tell us more about the historical elements that have inspired your designs.
RP: Our fashion and home accessories have been inspired by the region’s rich tapestry of iconography, architecture and textiles.
Such examples include Sang Nila Utama, the founder of the kingdom of Singapura in 1299. The meticulous line-work illustration in the Utama lacquerware collection depicts a lion framed between the clouds and the sea, and wearing the crown of Sang Nila Utama.
The Imperial City of Huế is one of the great treasures of Vietnam, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the beautiful remains of this citadel are admired by people from all over the world. The mesmerising pattern found on lattice work at the site’s Forbidden Purple City, is echoed in our Huế Bangle design.
What did the research into these cultures entail?
RP: David and I are avid travellers and have made many trips around the region over the years. Additionally, when we embarked on our Forbidden Hill journey, we made regular trips to many parts of Southeast Asia as part of our product development, visiting artisans and learning about craft techniques and local materials.
Where are Forbidden Hill products made?
RP: Our unique creations are designed from scratch by us at our studio, just a stone’s throw away from the original Forbidden Hill (today’s Fort Canning). They are then brought to life by our carefully selected partners in the region, which are all small, locally-owned businesses.
The jewellery collections are made by master jewellers in Thailand and Laos with a family history in their crafts, while our homeware are traditionally lacquered by hand in family-owned Vietnamese workshops.
The Rhodium Silk Bangle is a signature of Forbidden Hill. What makes this a coveted piece?
RP: What makes our silk bangles special is their combination of beauty, quality and versatility. The bangle has a customisable feature which allows you to change the silk slides inside. The interchangeable silk slides come in over 20 colours of different types of pure Thai silk.
Some of these designs are available in two-tone shot silk, which combines two subtly different coloured threads, creating an iridescent shine with the hues morphing subtly with movement.
Other silk slides come in brocade silk, which has elaborate raised textures that give the material added interest and dimension, creating a look that is both ornate and elegant.