This months Dubai Design Week will be packed full of workshops and art installations with over 200 projects displayed and centred around the Dubai Design District.
With aim to bring regional creativity, such as camel leather design workshop, with internationally recognized names like Swarovski, we expect the edition to be one of the highlights of the month. Returning headline exhibitions include Downtown Design and we chat with Rue Kothari, the Fair Director, about the creative scene in the region and beyond.
You have lived in Dubai a long time, how has the design scene changed?
To be honest, there wasn’t really a design scene 10 years ago. At that time, even the art scene was still in its infancy. When I did my first issue as Editor in Chief of Harper’s Bazaar Interiors, my theme was ‘Made in Arabia’. I wanted to champion the emerging designers of the UAE – but I had a hard time finding them. The designers I discovered then, have now become the backbone of the region’s homegrown industry: Khalid Shafar, Aljoud Lootah, Fadi Sarredine, Taher Asad Bakhtiari. I’m really so immensely proud of what they’ve achieved both here and internationally.
Describe the day to day tasks of your role as the Fair Director?
My role is very wide and quite commercial. I’m responsible for not only selling the fair, but as the guardian of the brand, to curate the presentation of brands to ensure they are all high quality, original, contemporary and relevant to our buyers. I oversee the marketing too, and as the spokesperson and still a journalist at heart, I write a lot of opinion pieces about the regional design industry, moderate panels and participate in talks that cover all aspects of design.
Which Middle Eastern designers are you most excited about?
Providing a platform for young regional brands to connect to a commercial audience, is something I’m passionate about. The instant feedback, networking, contacts they make that lead to sales all give them a real taste of the market. It’s an invaluable experience. I’m excited about them all, and there is such a diversity this year – from furniture makers and glass carvers to ceramic tiles and handwoven carpets.
When it comes to showcasing international brands, which countries have you explored for talent this season?
We always have a fantastic showing by leading Italian brands like Moroso, as well as an Italian Pavilion that showcases artisanal pieces. This year, we have a large presence from Spanish brands, from brands like Kettal and Vondom, while the Portuguese have brought more than 6 brands and a Pavillion of 15 additional brands this year. All these countries are experts in manufacturing design and have chosen Downtown Design as the key platform to access the opportunities of the Middle East.
What is special about this edition of Downtown Design?
This year, celebrate our 5th year in a brand new location in on the d3 Waterfront at the Dubai Design District. We worked with architects LSD to masterplan the venue that’s twice the size of the previous edition, housing 150 brands of which more than 70 are brand new to the fair, most for the first time in the region. We worked with landscape architects Desert Ink to create a large scale garden installation that will really bring the wow factor, Pallavi Dean Interiors to design a concept reception area, and AAC Interiors who have created a bespoke pop up of the popular d3 design destination The Lighthouse – who will bring a truly special F&B and retail experience to the fair.
Dubai prides itself as being the center of innovation, how has Downtown Design evolved?
Downtown began as a very small and specialized fair. Since then we have not only grown by 350% but we’ve expanded the concept to ensure that it’s not only beautifully curated but commercially focused. We work with the buyer community around the region to ensure that make the fair the one Middle East fixture they attend in their yearly design calendar. And with the word spreading globally, space in the fair is sold out early every year. Our concept is truly unique and we’re very proud that it’s based here in Dubai.
Which designers should we keep an eye on?
Definitely ones to watch in the fair are L’Objet – an up and coming accessories brand from New York. CC-tapis a cult carpet brand from Milan, Designed by Hind – a ceramic tableware brand from the UAE, Sophie Mallebranch – an innovative textile brand from France and Apical Reform – an innovative design brand from India.
Where do you look to for inspiration?
I don’t tend to look for it – it tends to find me, and it can be anywhere.
What would you say is the best part of your job?
Being exposed to so much new and innovative design, meeting highly creative people all over the world, and being able to advocate for the regional design industry wherever I travel – is incredibly inspiring and rewarding.
The best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t sweat the small stuff.