Saturday, June 12, 2010 Ref. www.thenational.ae
When the great and good of Cairo mingled with members of the international design community at a chic party in Cairo’s Old Town last week, it was more than just a social occasion: its organisers had hoped that it would be nothing less than a breakthrough for design in Egypt.It may just have been that: in a country that has been long on artisanship and big on furniture manufacturing capacity (cue curlywhirly baroque-style European repro for the most part), the handful of talented, locally based furniture designers and interior architects (notably Karim Mekhtigian and Cherif Morsi) were little more than voices in the wilderness. But last week’s event, +20 Egypt Design, a government-backed initiative organised by Design Partners – the company that transformed Milan’s Zona Tortona into a major design hub – was quite a revelation. It placed the work of Egyptian designers alongside that of several hand-picked European companies in an exhibition that spanned three exquisite side-by-side historic houses just off El Muiz Street.There were talks, too, by such luminaries as Gabriele Pezzini, the design director of Hermès, and Mario Trimarchi, a leading designer for Alessi. The choice of Paola Navone as the exhibition’s curator and art director was a stroke of genius, as she harnessed her long-standing fascination with the mix of old and new, west and east with her talent for creating evocative spaces. She mixed products from Mekhtigian, Morsi, Shahira Fahmy, Dina Shoukry and other local talents with the work of Philippe Starck and Patrick Jouin (for Kartell), Ray Power (for LZF lighting) and pieces from Moroso, Alessi and others – and then added spice to the mix by trawling the local bazaars for traditional furnishings, metalwork and glassware. The result was captivating – and demonstrated the enormous difference that context can make in showing products to their best advantage.
A world of contemporary spice
If you like it, buy it, because these witty, modern yet traditional pieces won’t stay long “I always wanted to start a store, but I only wanted to sell things that I like. And I have stuck to that philosophy,” says Radhika Poddar,the understated owner of Bangalore’s equally understated lifestyle store, Cinnamon. Since it opened in 1999, Cinnamon has become the shop of choice for a certain kind of customer – the kind who prefers minimalist, quiet chic to the highly coloured bling of many Indian homeware designers. Cinnamon’s stock is made entirely in India, but most of its accessories have a modern edge and a New York feel to them, such as the bowls made of concentric metal rings, striking large bronze sunflowers and silver tealight holders. A witty,quirky sensibility is also apparent in zip-up pouches made of coconut shells, classic metal chai glasses in bright colours that tinkle as you drink from them, and plates with an image of a demon on them (the demon keeps away bad luck according to Indian custom). There are also sleek classics that would not look out of place in Elle Decor, but which are actually designed by craftsmen in the heart of India, such as silver and Perspex candlesticks, and Murano-style glassware in greens, blues and reds. Prices range from Rs175 for a chai glass (Dh14) to about Rs1450 for a candlestick and Rs6000 for the large glass vases. “I think what sets us apart is our design philosophy. Everything in Cinnamon is designed by me and my team. I focus only on Indian crafts, because I think they are amazing, but I try to give traditional crafts a contemporary look.