Dubai-based, Lebanese creative Nadine Kanso is as cool as they come. The photographer-slash-jewellery designer-slash-artist is known not only for her impressive work, but for her fiercely mannish style which keeps her regularly featured on best dressed lists across the region. Her high-end jewellery line, Bil Arabi, based around Arabic calligraphy, has been sort-after by the stylish set since launching in 2006, and this month, the 46-year-old (yes, really!) has launched her first even men’s line. Kanso has teamed up with Milan-based (and fellow Lebanese) product designer and creative director, Samer Al Ameen for the sleek collection of pendants, rings and bracelets. We talk to both about the collaboration launched this month.
What inspired you to do a men’s collection?
I have been contemplating the idea of a men’s line for a year now and felt that not only I needed to create it but as well as the market needed it. The need for a men’s jewellery line in Arabic would be first for us and relatively first of its kind. It is, I guess, a natural evolution to Bil Arabi, and I hope it will be as successful.
How did the fact that the collection is aimed at men influence the design process?
It is a totally different thinking. I felt it needed to be simpler and more contemporary in the use of the font and typeface I work with. I wanted it to be edgy and minimalist. The collection is also in silver which is a material liked by men in general.
Tell us about working with Samer…
We were sitting in a café in Milan discussing design and certain pieces a few months back and the idea sort of came naturally. The best way to bring my ideas to a men’s line was to bring in a fresh pair of eyes and fresh design spirit and ethics. That said, Samer gets my design vision wholly. At certain (many) points while we were creating the collection he would give me constructive criticism and advice on my current pieces. It is always very important for two designers to see eye to eye and think the same, although their design approach can be different.
What is it about Arabic calligraphy that inspires you so much?
There is a certain feeling of belonging and pride. I feel I am on a mission to spread the beauty of the Arabic calligraphy by using it in a cool way; to have it accessible and contemporary.
Exploring your culture and identity is a key theme in all your work, why is this?
I was raised in a household with strong beliefs in our Arab Nationalist identity and I guess at one point in time this had to sort of come out and be expressed, especially after 9/11, whereby we were misjudged. I guess nowadays it’s not any better so I feel I have the obligation to bring forward the positive about who we are and about our culture, heritage and language .
How do you think that common theme transcends into this project?
It transcends beautifully with the use of a new Arabic font created especially for the Bil Arabi men’s line. It is a continuity and evolution.
How would you suggest men wear this collection? Any style tips?
The font we created is very abstract and contemporary. It is a very simple and casual collection, so it would work with everything.
If we’re going to buy one piece of the collection…?
My favorite would be the cuff, as it’s discreet and the lines are neat. It’s works well worn next to a watch or even on its own. I just love it and I will be wearing one myself!
(Above: Samer Al Ameen wearing Berluti)
Samer Al Ameen
How did the collaboration come about?
Nadine and I have been friends since school days (and that’s a long time ago), she is simply a beautiful person and a beautiful creative soul. While visiting me in Milan last April during Salone Del Mobile, she was showing me her new pieces that were still work in progress, and I was curious why she hasn’t launched a men’s line. Her answer was simple and straight forward: “I will only launch a men’s line if you design it”. That was the exact time that we decided to do this collaboration.
How did you work together to envisage this collection?
I know the Bilarabi brand inside out and this helped a lot in defining the men’s line. The first thing that we agreed on was to design a new typeface. A more graphic, slick, simple, modern typeface that is more abstract. I worked on several fonts and we both agreed to move on with this one. My thinking was to transform the letter into an object rather than have an object with a letter. (Especially for the bracelets and rings) And that’s what the outcome was – a letter wrapped around your wrist or finger.
What is it about calligraphy that inspires you so much?
I have been always fascinated by Arabic calligraphy, (although my handwriting is a disaster) and was frustrated by the computer Arabic fonts. As a graphic designer, I recreated a lot of corporate identities where the Arabic typeface was designed and constructed to match the overall identity. I’m also influenced by the great Lebanese calligrapher Mr. Samir Sayegh. He’s always been an inspiration and developed my interest and understanding of the Arabic calligraphy.
What’s the key to reconstructing the Arabic font into a more modern look without losing its identity?
Making sure that the letter is legible, and respecting the proportions of the letter are key factors in the reconstruction process.
How does Arabic culture inspire your work?
The Arabic culture is very rich in patterns and colours and a continuous inspiration. As a matter of fact, right now I’m finalising a line of carpets and a couple of objects inspired from the Alhambra Palace, that will be launched in Milan during the Salone del mobile this April.
Is this your first time working on a jewellery line?
I designed three unique men’s bracelets for a jewellery gallery in Beirut as part of a group exhibition. The design process in principal is very similar and is always challenging and exciting.
If you were going to buy one piece of the collection…?
I will definitely go for the bracelets in the form of the letter S and the letter A (my initials) in different finishes and wear them together. I personally wear bracelets the most.
How would you suggest men wear this collection?
I believe every person should have his own identity, but I would suggest mixing different letters together (whether you write a name or initials. It will make it more playful and personal.