De­sign in Le­banon

The ar­ti­san devo­tee

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENTS -

Sit­ting in sea­side café Al-rawda over­look­ing the Mediter­ranean, Zeina Klat takes in her sur­round­ings with the same sort of won­der and ap­pre­ci­a­tion you would ex­pect from a first-time vis­i­tor to Beirut’s shore. “I love this place,” she says with char­ac­ter­is­tic brio. “It’s empty now but in the past this café was filled with artists and writ­ers who would come here to re­lax and talk about their work.”

It seems quite fit­ting then, that this is the lo­ca­tion where we sit down to dis­cuss the vi­sion be­hind her com­pany, Comp­toir des Ar­ti­sans, which pro­motes tra­di­tional hand­made prod­ucts cre­ated by lo­cal crafts­peo­ple from all over Le­banon.

A con­nois­seur of eclec­tic taste, Klat is a cos­mopoli­tan, for­ward-think­ing busi­ness­woman who is fiercely pas­sion­ate about promoting Le­banon’s rich cultural heritage. “We have so much ex­per­tise here, so many amaz­ing artists from the older gen­er­a­tion. It’s a shame that most peo­ple don’t even know about them,” she says.

With Comp­toir des Ar­ti­sans she is try­ing to change that, and while she is pas­sion­ate about preserving past tra­di­tions, her brand is not sim­ply about nos­tal­gia. On the con­trary, the prod­ucts she sells – a potpourri of of­fer­ings in steel, rat­tan, Sarafand glass and leather – are very of-the­mo­ment; mod­ern but in­formed by tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship.

In­deed, the com­pany de­fies easy cat­e­go­riza­tion and that suits Klat just fine. “I like to be in­volved in many dif­fer­ent things; I don’t like to be put in a box.” Comp­toir des Ar­ti­sans sells ev­ery­thing from leather bags, hats and jew­elry to cut­lery, can­dles, and home ac­ces­sories. “Ev­ery­one around me ad­vised to fo­cus on just one thing, but that bores me. I like to bring dif­fer­ent things to­gether, to in­tro­duce peo­ple to new prod­ucts,” she ex­plains.

She says that find­ing ex­pert crafts­peo­ple to work with her is of­ten half the fun and that most of her dis­cov­er­ies of­ten rely on a good dose of serendip­ity. “I just look at a map, pick a re­gion, visit it and see who I can find,” she ex­plains, laugh­ing. She prefers trav­el­ing solo in or­der to be open to un­ex­pected pos­si­bil­i­ties.

She has a show­room in Ain Aar, which she opens on re­quest, but the ma­jor­ity of her clients con­tact her through so­cial me­dia. Her pop­u­lar In­sta­gram page fea­tures photos and clips of Comp­toir des Ar­ti­sans prod­ucts, the sto­ries be­hind them and a glimpse into the lives of those who make them. “I es­pe­cially love in­tro­duc­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion to th­ese amaz­ing ar­ti­sans so that they can gain a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion,” she says. “I have been re­ceiv­ing such pos­i­tive feed­back and it gives me an added boost to con­tinue do­ing what I am do­ing.”

An un­fore­seen con­se­quence of her ven­ture has been the or­ganic growth of a net­work of like-minded peo­ple who all be­lieve in the im­por­tance of sup­port­ing lo­cal ar­ti­sans. As her net­work grows, so does her am­bi­tion. “I want to ul­ti­mately ex­port our Le­banese de­signs.”

While she doesn’t have ex­ten­sive for­mal train­ing, Klat has a nat­u­ral eye and an in­nate un­der­stand­ing of de­sign which she brings to the ta­ble in her col­lab­o­ra­tions with ar­ti­sans. “We have built strong re­la­tion­ships and they are very open to try­ing new things. We brain­storm to­gether and all the ideas are born in the mo­ment,” she ex­plains.

The ven­ture is not purely com­mer­cial for Klat. She con­sid­ers Comp­toir des Ar­ti­sans to be, to a cer­tain de­gree, a cultural cat­a­lyst, a plat­form where lo­cal ex­per­tise can be cel­e­brated. Since open­ing a year-and-a-half ago, she has grown in­creas­ingly con­cerned that in the near fu­ture there won’t be any ar­ti­sans left in Le­banon.

“Many crafts­peo­ple have told me that af­ter they pass [away] they don’t want their chil­dren tak­ing over the trade be­cause the mar­ket just isn’t there any­more,” she ex­plains, rue­fully. “But, we can change that by ex­pos­ing con­sumers and cul­ti­vat­ing a cer­tain taste for th­ese prod­ucts. This is the fu­ture. This is the new lux­ury.”

Words by Mehrnoush Shafiei

Ain Aar show­room, open ev­ery Wed, 10am2pm, 70 170636, Comp­toird­e­sar­ti­sans

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