Nadine Kanso collaborates with bespoke carpet maker Iwan Maktabi on a special collection inspired by the Evil Eye.
Artist and jewellery designer Nadine Kanso has always been inspired by Arabic culture, calligraphy and symbols. Her jewellery line Bil Arabi features creations that incorporate Arabic symbols and letters combining heritage and modernity. In 2018, Kanso collaborated with Beirut-founded Bespoke carpet creator Iwan Maktabi on a luxury carpet inspired by His Highness Sheikh Zayed.
Now the partnership returns with the new “All Eyes” collection of carpets that combine Iwan Maktabi’s heritage with Nadine Kanso’s love of calligraphy and symbols. Here we meet with Nadine and Mona Maktabi, Managing Director of Iwan Maktabi in Dubai to discover more about the collection as well as the continuing partnership between the two brands.
Tell us about this collection and how the partnership came to life?
Mona: Myself and Nadine are old friends and we are very close so it’s something that was bound to happen. It took some time to get it right but here we are.
Nadine: When Iwan Maktabi first approached me in 2018 we created our first carpet; the Sheikh Zayed inspired carpet which was a beautiful handmade wall hanging carpet in silk. After that, we saw that we could actually work together in a number of ways and that we had great synergy so everything has gone very smoothly. When you have a collaboration like this it’s always a big job.
Mona: We started with the carpet that featured a raised heritage technique, then we put the effect of the evil eye on top in silk. So it is a combination of modern and old. In terms of colours, we chose an electric orange which was very daring but looked very nice, and we paired it with greys and blues as well as introducing rainbow colours.
Nadine: We decided to incorporate the Evil Eye into our designs as we saw a lot of demand for that kind of style and we know that people like to have the Evil Eye symbol in their homes.
Tell us why you decided to use the Evil Eye symbol in the designs?
Nadine: The Evil Eye is a cultural symbol that many people can resonate with. I use it in my jewellery designs, and I actually hand draw it myself. I decided to use the design in the carpets in this collection as it is both cool and practical.
Mona: Yes, and these are not your regular carpets, they are perfect for summer, they can be in chalets, you can even place them outdoors so they are perfect for this time of year. We first created a “Keleem” carpet which is a flat weave, and then we added mohair or precious yarn on top to create a three-dimensional texture.
Nadine: We have also created a specific “All Eyes” jewellery collection for Bil Arabi that is inspired by the carpets and it is exclusively available in THAT Concept store in Mall of the Emirates. I decided to bring back the old Arabic font that I used from the beginning of the brand and I added stones and incorporated the evil eye so you can actually have the eye inside the letter.
Mona: One more point on the Keleem is that we stitched the words “Ya Ein” which means “wow” in Arabic on every carpet. The words are in Nadine’s handwriting.
Tell us about the creative process and how you worked together on this project?
Nadine: For the Sheikh Zayed carpet I did the design and sat with Mona and the team and went through all the colour options. For this one, I did the design and then I handed it over to the brand and they took it to their manufacturer to apply it.
Who is your target customer for this collection?
Mona: The Keleem is affordable so anyone can have one in their home even in the small size. And then as you go bigger they increase in price but they are still very accessible. People like them because the Evil Eye is something that’s nice to see every day in the home and it’s very decorative. The colours that have been most successful so far are yellow and white and the natural tones.
Iwan Maktabi as a brand has a long family history, how did you express the DNA of the brand through this collaboration?
Mona: When we saw the production of the Sheikh Zayed carpet that Nadine designed we thought that the eye resembles the new generation and it combines both contemporary and traditional style. It goes well whether you are in a living room, family room or a formal setting and it goes well with tribal designs as well.
Bil Arabi has always incorporated Arabic Calligraphy into its designs, what inspires you to use letters and symbols in your creations?
My brand name “Bil Arabi” means “in Arabic” so this was always the identity. Being from the Middle East I always thought that we needed to have a voice when it comes to our language and culture and this is why I started to play with Arabic letters. I started with the letter “N” for Nadine and since then it’s always been about making a statement that has to translate to everything I do. I like to incorporate an element of culture or calligraphy and its beauty in all that I do.
What is something you would still like to do that you haven’t done yet?
Nadine: The sky is the limit and we’re still young so we will see!
Mona: We keep trying to be creative because the carpet industry has become very essential, not just for the home but also in galleries that want to display the carpets as art. If you go to a luxury store they will always have carpet, so it’s not just about the home and this is something we are really proud of.
Throughout the pandemic people have been spending a lot more time at home, have you seen a greater demand for carpets throughout this time?
Mona: Yes this is something we noticed. We were very busy throughout the pandemic especially in the UAE because people weren’t travelling, they were spending more time at home and they wanted to find new ways to customise their homes. People were looking for something different so the customising element became very popular. We created a lot of bespoke pieces through this period.
How does the design process work when customers come to you?
Mona: Often an architect or interior designer will visit our studio in Dubai and they will have their own image of what they are looking for. We try to guide them and adapt the design to match their space. Sometimes we are asked for very unusual things, like a child’s painting as a carpet or something that uses special colours that you wouldn’t expect, so our design studio team will work hard to accommodate all of these requests. One of the most important aspects is finding the right materials that are of the best quality because the world of carpets has so many directions, you can have something very basic made from wool then you can add cashmere, viscose and make it whatever you want it to be.
Where do you source your materials?
Mona: We tend to source them from all around the world, trying to take the best materials from the best locations. Wool from New Zealand for example is always of the best quality, Indian wool is good, also Chinese wool and silk is great.
Do you think this partnership between Nadine Kanso and Iwan Maktabi will continue?
Mona: We still have so much to do so just be patient!
What does Ramadan mean to you and how do you usually spend it?
Nadine: Ramadan is a time for family and a time to slow down and gather over mealtimes every day. It’s a good time to think of other people and spend time with friends.
Mona: For me, the days are slower and it’s a time for gathering and spending time with family.