Buro 24/7 Middle East Exclusive Interview: Bil Arabi's Nadine Kanso and Samer Al Ameen
Meet the Lebanese design duo who prefer to keep it in the family...
Keeping things simple and beautiful, Beirut-born designer Nadine Kanso – a master of fusing Arabic calligraphy in her designs – has now turned her attention to men's jewellery. Working with family member and fellow Lebanese creative Samer Al Ameen, Kanso's first men's jewellery line, features bracelets, necklaces, cufflinks, and rings, and will be a part of Kanso's Dubai-based jewellery brand Bil Arabi.
The new collection, which debuts this month, perfectly translates Kanso's love for the Arabic language and art of calligraphy, along with Al Ameen's modern approach to design – bringing a new artsy aesthetic and modern wearability to Bil Arabi and men's accessories.
Buro 24/7 Middle East sits down with the dynamic pair after their recent launch in Dubai to find out more...
Over the past decade Beirut has really become a power-house for creative design, did both of you come from creative families?
Nadine Kanso: Well I have my aunt who is a painter but not really anyone who really specialised in design.
Samer Al Ameen: We are cousins, so my family is her family – no creatives now that I think of it: It's just the two of us to be honest.
Nadine Kanso: Samer and I both studied at the same university in Lebanon and we both have done advertising and design and I did communication arts.
Samer Al Ameen: I also did fine arts at the time.
You don't live in Dubai do you Samer?
Samer Al Ameen: No I live in Milan, I used to live in Dubai, I worked in advertising for a long period of time. I then quit the advertising world and opened my own brand and corporate events company, and six years later I designed a chair that became quite a huge success, it was from there that I focused more on design. After, I moved to Milan went back to school and did my masters in industrial design. I then stayed in Italy and launched my studio in Milan.
"we have always been involved in each others lives, as friends and family we have always commented on each others work and given each other advice." – NADINE kanso
What brought you to Dubai Nadine?
Nadine Kanso: Well I left Lebanon 20 years ago, got married moved to Montreal, started working in the fashion industry, then went to the Czech Republic with my husband. Then I had my children and came to Dubai. We have been here for 15 years now, so it really is home. Every summer I go back to Lebanon though with my children.
Samer Al Ameen: I go back to Lebanon every two to three months.
This is the first men's line that you've both ever designed, what made you decide to design for men and collaborate?
Samer Al Ameen: The thing is, we have always been involved in each others lives, as friends and family we have always commented on each others work and given each other advice. When Nadine was in Milan last April she was showing me some of the new pieces she created for Bil Arabi, and I said "Nadine, men's accessories are now a really huge trend why don't you do that," and she looked at me and said "I would only do that with you!"
Nadine Kanso: It was over a coffee before the Marc Jacobs show if I recall...
Samer Al Ameen: It was very organic the way it happened, there was no pre-planning or anything, we are both very spontaneous people anyway so it was perfect.
What was it like when you both started the creative process? Did you hit any bumps along the way or was it a smooth collaboration?
Nadine Kanso: We have been so lucky because we see eye-to-eye on a lot of things when it comes to art and design – how we like certain fabrics or details on things and we are always looking for something different and new. Whenever we are together, whether we are shopping or just going around a design fair, whatever catches my eye will also catch his, we know each other really well.
Samer Al Ameen: It was super smooth, I mean ridiculously smooth.
"THE FUN THING ABOUT THIS COLLECTION IS THAT YOU CAN TONE IT UP OR DOWN, YOU CAN WEAR SEVERAL LETTERS TOGETHER OR JUST ONE." – SAMER al ameen
Can you tell us what is your favourite piece in the new collection?
Samer Al Ameen: When it comes to men's accessories in general, my favourite items are bracelets. I love the bracelets in this collection especially, they are my go-to accessory.
Nadine Kanso: I have to say that I love these bracelets too, I usually wear a lot from the previous Bil Arabi collections as well. Although I have to say the rings are really cool and if you try two different letters together they look really funky and slick.
Samer Al Ameen: The fun thing about this collection is that you can tone it up or down, you can wear several letters together or just one. They also have different finishes, it depends on the person and how they play with accessories.
Nadine Kanso: We've done them in different styles, some in matte and some in shiny materials. We have also just done a couple of pieces in rose gold. Some of the letters on the bracelets really stand out, like the letter 'S' because of the sharp edges – it looks like a crown which makes it really cool.
Samer Al Ameen: And for the letters that have dots above them, the dot would be a black diamond or a sapphire. People really have a lovely collection to choose from.
Now that you are both finished with the first collaboration, do you have anything else in the pipeline?
Nadine Kanso: Oh...It is just the beginning!
Samer Al Ameen: You know during the launch night we were discussing and saying: "You know what, we can even do something else with this or how about we did this with that?" For me design is always an evolution, everything can be pushed and evolve more and more.
If you could collaborate with anyone else, who would it be?
Nadine Kanso: It's a tough choice. I really love Dries Van Noten, that would be super interesting if something were to happen with him.
Samer Al Ameen: There is one Italian product designer that I am a really a big fan of, her name is Paola Navone, she always introduces new colours and materials, and it's not about the object that she is designing but the new textures and colours – there is always something very interesting about her work.
Do you have any advice for the up-and-coming creatives in Dubai?
Samer Al Ameen: Yes, first you need to have a story. For any design or project or brand, you need to have a story behind it, there needs to be an identity – it has to have offer something new. It's not about being pretty or ugly, it's about aesthetics and novelty. Something different.
What are your favourite spots in Dubai?
Nadine Kanso: La Petite Maison.
Samer Al Ameen: The One & Only Royal Mirage hotel on Jumeirah Beach Road. I love that place, it has so much character and it's so peaceful.
The Nadine Kanso x Samer Al Ameen Bil Arabi men's collection will be sold at Sauce Rocks, Dubai