What She Wants

On Good Taste: 'You Aren't Born With It But You Develop It, Cultivate It'

Modern artist and craftswoman, Yola Perez Johnson, reveals how she loves doing the unexpected.

Modern artist and craftswoman, Yola Perez Johnson, reveals how she loves doing the unexpected.

Yola was but a child when her renegade streak began manifesting itself. At age 5, she stirred panic in her household by disappearing for hours to watch the festivities at the Santa Ana fiesta. In school, she was equally impetuous. Asked to color an image of an owl in class, she upset a teacher by painting it green. When told to paint it in a realistic way, she shot back, “If you want a brown owl, go and paint it yourself!”

The resulting trip to the principal’s office didn’t dampen her spirit, as the principal recognized Yola’s talent and nurtured it. “She even brought me to view my first exhibit, one by Fernando Zobel at the old Luz Gallery in Manila,” recalls Yola.

Yola took up Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines, where she first encountered the late Roberto Chabet and Constancio Bernardo, whom she regarded as her mentors in art. Upon graduation, she worked at the Museum of Philippine Art headed by Arturo Luz. To further her knowledge in the arts, she applied for a scholarship in France. “During my studies in museum procedures, I got to see the different galleries and museums all around France. That was an eye-opening experience,” she says.

When she came home, though, she realized she didn’t want to document other people’s artworks—she wanted to create them. As an artist she did well, taking part in several solo and group shows, but the realities of life—by then she had separated from her first husband—led her to become an entrepreneur instead.


You aren’t born with taste but you develop it, cultivate it.

She found her niche by specializing in products made from natural fibers and set up Fibex in 1984. “It’s so corny, but our name just means Fiber Export. We became known internationally for our woven abaca carpets and baskets.” So well known, in fact, that Prince Charles became a customer, ordering one of Yola’s patented abaca rugs.

A fortunate series of events then led her to become an interior consultant. At a function catered by a friend, Yola was asked to decorate the buffet table. Lizzie Zobel happened to be at the party, and was intrigued by how Yola threw things together. “She asked my friend to introduce us. And that’s how I ended up designing one of the rooms in her house,” effuses Yola. After that, the requests for Yola’s decorating touch came flooding in.

“You aren’t born with taste,” she says of her talent, rather nonchalantly. “But you develop it, cultivate it. It comes out through your environment, the people you grow up with, and the people who influence your life.”

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Earthenware and pottery collection at Yola’s Makati home.

Greatest source of inspiration
Nature, nature, and nature. I like to describe my work as clean, natural, and good—by my standards, at least.

Biggest professional influence
I wouldn’t call myself a professional—I’m very unprofessional! But as an artist and in my craft, my most important influence was Roberto Chabet. I admired him as a person and for his art. Need I say more?

Favorite object that I’ve created
Favorite is always a difficult word for me. But there is an object that I made when I was in college, a cameo brooch, that when I created it, I discovered something about myself. I found out that things I liked might be objectionable to my friends, that I was different.

Ways to discover new products/ designers
Exposure. You have to go out and search for new things, be open. Travel is one way and reading is another.

Various sets of glazed pottery in the cupboard

City I love to visit
I always savor the last one and look forward to the next.

Places I’ve never been but would like to visit
The moon!

Travel must-have
Something that’s indispensable for me is a bottle of water. When I travel, I always look for something to drink. My body needs water constantly.

Ideal vacation
Being amongst strangers. When I go to a place I love to meet new people, learn their customs, discover new languages and cultures, and immerse myself in their way of life. I was just in the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya, and I was fascinated and inspired by seeing a completely different world.

The dining room contains many rustic touches.

My daughter, Popi Laudico.

Style icon
One whom I admire for who she is and the way she dresses up is Lizzie Zobel. She has “it.” She has the personality, and the ability to carry any kind of outfit. Another one, but I don’t know her personally, is Tessa Prieto Valdes. I love the way she composes herself, the way she looks.


Way to rejuvenate
Water. I drink lots of water and every morning I take salabat, a mix of tumeric, ginger, and honey. I don’t take vitamins, I get my nutrients the natural way. I have this “C.C.C.”— carrots, cucumber, and celery. I chop it up and ferment it with muscovado sugar. You press it after two weeks and take a shot. Natural nutrients and good microbes, that’s all I need.

Fitness regimen
Walking– whether brisk or slow—is something I try to do every day for 30 minutes in the morning.

Many vegetables and herbs are picked from Yola’s garden.

Guilty pleasure
A martini with olives. I glaze a glass—it has to be crystal— with dry vermouth, and chill it for about 3 minutes. Then I pour in some nearly frozen Talvisota vodka, and drop in two olives. I take a sip, and I think, “ah, this is life!”


Favorite chef
Rolando Laudico, my son.

His sinigang. It’s on the cover of the Bistro Filipino book!

Wine of choice
Chateau Siran. I discovered it only by accident. I was in France on a scholarship and experienced a case of mistaken identity. The owner of the Chateau Siran estate somehow heard that Mrs. Landicho, a friend of her son, was visiting from Manila, and so she prepared a feast. When I told Victoria Miailhe that I was Mrs. Laudico—I was still carrying the name of my first husband— she said, “You’re not the friend of my son? Never mind, you are now my friend!” We had a most memorable wine dinner at her estate and we had a blast.

A gift of Kohl from an Egyptian friend

Chocolate cake made by Jackie, my daughter-in-law.

Most used cooking utensil
My knives.

No-fail recipe
For me, it all starts with the gisa. It’s so fundamentally Filipino.


Items on my desk
Sketches, drawings, photographs, and books.

Memorable cultural experience
I saw a performance of Kaggel, a music and dance troupe from Germany many years ago at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and I still remember it vividly. They came upon the invitation of Lucrecia Kasilag, and they were phenomenal. It was an amazing sonic and visual experience. I was just dumbfounded.

From the guest bath, just beyond the trees is a view of the Puerto Galera coastline.

Writers and books
I love the poetry of Pablo Neruda. I also enjoy Nikolai Gogol, the Russian writer. Then there’s Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis—I am fascinated by the absurdity of it all. I also like Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. She gives titles to her books that are the opposite of the stories they tell.

Roberto Chabet and Constancio Bernardo.


Work of art
I will always treasure an installation Roberto Chabet made for me. It’s with a silk parachute that dangles in one of my rooms.

Leonardo DiCaprio, he’s so versatile. And Sophia Loren. She doesn’t have to say anything, her face says it all.

Advocacy that I champion
Go back to nature, save the Earth.

Best gift ever received
Love, from my husband Patrick.

Happiest moments
Now. I make it a point to always enjoy the present. I feel happy.

Words to live by
I believe there are no mistakes, there is only life, and it goes on.

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Pierre A. Calasanz
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