ORI­ENT 499

THE AR­TI­SANS OF LE­BANON

Lebanon Traveler - - FRONT PAGE -

Fac­ing the iconic shell of the Hol­i­day Inn ho­tel in Minet el Hosn, Or ient 499 was es­tab­lished in 2006 by Aida Kawas and Frank Luca, both lovers of ar ts and craf ts from the Mid­dle East. The bou­tique has gar­nered a deser ved rep­u­ta­tion for of fer ing unique ar ti­san and de­signer pieces, show­cas­ing items that per­fectly cap­ture a fu­sion be­tween tra­di­tion and moder­nity and re­flect the char­ac­ter of the Or ient. Fea­tur ing the work of around 200 ar ti­sans who work in wood, cop­per, mother of pearl, glass and fur­nish­ings, Kawas is proud of the fact that nu­mer­ous fam­i­lies are able to live from Or ient 499. The bou­tique has helped breath life into the ar ti­san work of the past, while re­main­ing rel­e­vant for the fu­ture. Kawas set­tles down at a mother-of-pearl in­layed ta­ble and pours Ara­bic cof fee from an Or ient 499 cop­per cof fee pot and del­i­cate tray, and shares her stor y.

HAS LO­CAL HAND­I­CRAFT AL­WAYS BEEN A PAS­SION?

It’s been my in­ter­est since I was a young girl – at 18 I bought a car­pet with the first money I re­ceived, which you could say was un­usual at that age. I have mem­o­ries of go­ing to an ar ti­san shop with my mother, in an old house by the sea; though it closed a long time ago. These are my first mem­o­ries of how and why I fell in love with hand­i­craf t. I worked in a shop in Par is, with some fr iends, called Lay­moun from 1985 to 1994, sell­ing hand­i­craf t from Le­banon, but I moved back to Le­banon the same year.

ORI­ENT 499 GOES BE­YOND THE T YP­I­CAL LE­BANESE ARTISANAT – HOW DID YOU REACH THE FU­SION OF TRA­DI­TION AND MODERNIT Y?

I am ver y tra­di­tional in a cer tain way, but I’m also ver y young and mod­ern in my head. Or ient 499 is a re­flec­tion of the way I live – this mix­ture be­tween the two. My par tner Frank Luca, who is Bel­gian, also has this feel­ing for the Or ient, but is ver y mod­ern. It is this mix­ture be­tween Frank and me that made what you see to­day.

IS THE MOD­ERN­IZA­TION OF LO­CAL CRAFTS A WAY TO PRE­SERVE THEIR HER­ITAGE?

The times have changed; we don’t live in tents any­more and the In­ter­net and tech­nol­ogy has trans­formed the world, so it would be stupid to re-do the same things we have al­ways done. When kids see their par­ents liv­ing well from hand­i­craf ts they come back to it. They see it is a bet­ter liv­ing – you are in­de­pen­dent and are not work­ing in an of­fice all day. We helped many ver y small ar ti­sans to be­come big, be­cause we be­lieved in them.

HOW HAS ORI­ENT 499 EVOLVED SINCE YOU OPENED?

We cer tainly grew in size; we used to oc­cupy just half the space; when the own­ers pro­posed to us to rent another par t of the build­ing we took it im­me­di­ately. I love the area; I can’t imag­ine mov­ing from here. We are in the midst of the ho­tel distr ict, the sea is also close by. It’s a mixed neigh­bor­hood that I call the golden tr ian­gle. I love look­ing out on the old Hol­i­day Inn; when they say they will de­stroy it my hear t aches. It’s a piece of his­tor y, so we work ver y well to­gether.

WHAT DE­SIGN­ERS DO YOU WORK WITH?

Gen­er­ally I work with ar ti­sans be­cause their way of work­ing is closer to my own, but there are a few de­sign­ers who I al­ways work with. We have fea­tured the work of Karen Chek­erd­jian since we first opened; there is Hu­bert Fat­tal, an in­ter ior de­signer who also makes ob­jects; the jew­elr y of Nada Zeini and the work of Ab­dal­lah Ha­toum, who also does the win­dow dis­play and dec­o­ra­tion. I of ten col­lab­o­rate with Ha­toum; he is a ver y close fr iend. I love fabr ics my­self and since I can’t find them in Le­banon I have brought them from Paris, In­dia, Egypt, Turkey and Syr ia. I have de­signed the clothes of Or ient 499 since the be­gin­ning.

IS THERE A GROW­ING TREND TO­WARDS RE­TURN­ING TO THE ROOTS OF LE­BANON’S CUL­TURAL PAST?

Roots don’t have a lot of mean­ing in [the mod­ern] world, where ev­ery­thing is open and roots have be­come mixed to­gether. What’s much more im­por­tant nowa­days is to have the feel­ing that things are done with spirit. You need to be able to see that pieces have been hand­made and are not just mass pro­duced in a fac­tory in China. We should be proud of our cul­tural her­itage and this is why a lot of peo­ple come to Ori­ent 499. We are proud to show peo­ple that we are main­tain­ing our cul­tural her­itage; the her­itage of Le­banon and the re­gion.

Ori­ent 499

499 Omar Daouk Str., Ham­moud bldg, Minet El Hosn, Beirut, 01 369499, 03 411624, or ient499.com

Iron cal­lig­ra­phy with gold leaf 1m, LL1,140,000 ($760)

Tea glasses with cop­per saucers and cop­per bird cover, LL49,500 ($33)

We are proud to show peo­ple that we are keep­ing our cul­tural her­itage

Em­broi­dered hand-wo­ven na­jaf abaya, LL1,425,000 ($950)

Hand­made cop­per sugar bowl with spoon avail­able in sil­ver, LL67,500 ($45) and yel­low cop­per, LL57,000 ($38)

An­tique iron bed, LL6,450,000 ($4300) with Cop­per Stools from Karen Chek­erd­jian, LL1,950,000 ($1300)

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