“...Who I am as a designer is neither a fashion designer whose canvas is clothing, or a fine artist whose canvas is a cloth canvas, my canvasses constantly change and evolve and are not restricted by traditional mediums, I use art differently – and the Areej Art Café is a manifestation of that.”Tell us about your vision of Areej?
My vision of Areej has been an organic process, a series of ups and downs, lessons learnt and new experiences, drawn from my time studying in the UK, the advertising agency and interior design firm I founded 17 years ago, the exhibitions and shows I’ve taken part in, The Art Market, my restaurants, my paintings, my travels – everything I have learnt along the way has culminated in who Areej is today and the culmination of that is the Areej Art Café which literally exposes every element of my creativity and desire to create an interactive space for people to come together in and appreciate art and design. Areej Art Café is like a ‘life canvas’ because who I am as a designer is neither a fashion designer whose canvas is clothing, or a fine artist whose canvas is a cloth canvas, my canvasses constantly change and evolve and are not restricted by traditional mediums, I use art differently – and the Areej Art Café is a manifestation of that. I am very excited about it.
Many years ago I stopped painting because of my immense business interests, and I later realized that it was art not business where my passion lay. I also realized that mass-produced clothing, or anything mass-produced wasn’t for me, and after my time in Paris where clients insisted on bulk orders, this wasn’t who I was, so I decided to limit my pieces to 60 or 70 of each. I constantly re-evaluate myself, and after showing Brush Strokes in Dallas and Las Vegas, I re-evaluated myself again. This time, I looked to home. My first show in Riyadh was sold out in one day! Because I’ve never been keen
“Many years ago I stopped painting because of my immense business interests, and I later realized that it was art not business where my passion lay.”
On too much publicity, people were surprised to see that I was a designer. I was invited by the Governor of Qaseem’s wife to incorporate the work of traditional, Arabic embroidery into my designs – I had about 6 weeks to prepare for that show, but I managed it and to this day it’s been a great partnership success – we still do a show together once a year. I remember the feeling of selling out in a day, and it was a wonderful confidence boost.
Focusing on my home city felt like the right thing to do, and the right place to be. My focus very much remains at home in Riyadh.Where does your inspiration come from?
I find inspiration everywhere, from nature and wildlife, and from general life experiences in various places. For example, recently I was on vacation in The Maldives with my children and my son became interested in the vibrant sea life, I too was struck by the intricate patterns on the fish and started to sketch. I was also deeply inspired by calligraphy, hence my alphabet collection, Love Letters some time ago.What do you think has been the most significant change in Arabic women’s fashion during recent years?
Like many women, after I graduated I couldn’t find a job, the Saudi advertising industry wasn’t hiring women. Nowadays women are graduating from places such as The Art & Skills Centre Institute, getting jobs and are exhibiting their work at annual exhibitions. Some are launching collections independently and others are designing for larger, mass produced labels. Incidentally, more shops now stock Saudi lines, so there has been a significant change for the better in the industry.Who do you admire most in the world of fashion?
No one individual or brand name, if I like the fabric and cut, I will buy from unknown as well as known brands. For me, it’s about the beauty & artistry of the garment not the brand name.When did you realize you wanted to become an artist & designer?
From a very young age, at school. Although not creative professionals, my mother and father have strong artistic senses, which I am sure inspired me and perhaps runs in the family. After I finished school, I was overcome with the desire to experiment and learn more about art, so I went to Cambridge College in the UK where I particularly enjoyed painting. I learnt so much. Even now, I continue to learn as many new things as possible, each summer I attend courses in Paris, and I am starting my Masters of Fine Arts degree at Academy of Art University in San Francisco in January 2012.What goes through your mind when you start to create something?
Once I am inspired and engaged in a new creation it takes over me, and I work on it continually until the visualisation I have in my mind is created, there to see and touch. Then I can relax, however it’s not unusual for me to have strained my wrist or back during the intense process!How do you intend a person to feel when she/he wears an Areej creation?
Comfortable, cosy, beautiful & artistic – my collections are casual in essence but can be worn during the daytime or at night.Tell us about your unique fabric combinations?
I am continually researching, wherever I go! It's taken years but we’ve created our own unique fabric mixes that vary depending on the requirements of the garment. We also have our own colour palettes. I have a Production Manager, an Indian gentleman who has been with me from the start, he continually searches for & researches an assortment of companies and their exquisite fabrics - combined with my own knowledge gathered during the years, including a trip to LA to discover the intricacies of screen printing and various processes – he and I have been able to devise what are now uniquely Areej standards. It has taken us many years to achieve that, but we are proud to confidently offer our customers, high-end, unique fabrics that feel fantastic to wear and cannot be bought anywhere else.What are your favourite pieces in the current collection?
Personally, I like them all. I couldn’t single out one as my favourite.Women are not covered in your collections, are you applauded or do you face criticism because of this?
In the early days of my career, my collections weren’t in any way revealing or too showy, so neither, really. Saudi has moved on, and it’s not uncommon to see uncovered women in magazines these days. There are limits, low bust lines, for example can’t be published.What are your thoughts on fashion as a voice in a social context? Should fashion be used to express, rebel, celebrate or address concerns that people have?
Yes, I think it’s perfectly acceptable for people to express themselves via what they wear – if they wish to make a statement by wearing something that expresses they’re different, that’s fine.Did your time studying overseas influence who you are as a designer today? How?
Yes, Saudi didn’t have fantastic art schools back in the day, so I went to Anglia Polytechnic, part of Cambridge College, in the UK – and I still use some of the techniques and processes I was taught there. The teachers were incredible. It wasn’t all easy, though – I found it hard to make friends and connect with people, and when I did it was time to go home again, which was difficult for me but it made me a stronger person.Who has made you the most proud by wearing one of your designs?
My kids. They choose to wear my designs of their own accord. One day I asked them: “Why are you wearing one of my designs?” and they said it was because they felt comfortable. That made me extremely proud. My kids inspire me all of the time.You travel a lot. Do you carry notebooks or a camera and record inspirational experiences?
I used to carry a camera, however my iPhone suffices these days, along with a sketchbook, which I always have with me wherever I am.Areej Art Café, your new concept café… how important is it to you to bring appreciators of fine arts & fashion together? How will that enrich you as a designer?
It is extremely important, the aim is to appeal to similar people as myself, those who appreciate the finer details, exquisite beauty in all they see, hear, smell, eat and touch. Knowledge and learning is also important, the Areej Art Café will also have rare books & magazines and it will host Arabic & Saudi art classes at a later date. The café boasts unique and ever-changing crockery, cutlery, interior elements, installation art showcasing our latest collection, candles and home ware from inspirational designers around the world in addition to offering fine food & refreshments – it’s my way of sharing what brings me joy with others. There’s no greater feeling than when like-minded appreciators of art come together to talk and exchange ideas. Not only is being in the café creatively enriching for me, my vision is that everybody who visits us becomes a part of its identity now and in the future.How often do you paint these days?
I go through phases, I stop and start – it depends on how inspired I feel and if the mood takes me. I have a small studio, and although I occasionally work alone, I don’t particularly enjoy being isolated.What does the future hold?
My first fine art painting show, and the ongoing development of the Areej Art Café, which will see us introduce a lot of new and exciting offerings over the coming months.