The last couple of years have seen Khalid Shafar emerge as a figurehead for Emirati design – one of the few UAE design professionals to be making a name for himself both locally and internationally. So when the Institut Français decided to bring Nouvelle Vague Volume II, a showcase of emerging French designers, to Downtown Design, it invited Shafar to join as a special guest designer. Shafar created a series of pieces for the show – side tables, table lamps, stools and dressing tables that playfully combine marble, camel leather, LED lighting, joining belts, hidden drawers and unexpected storage spaces – and then expanded on them until they became the basis for his 2014 collection, We caught up with Shafar to find out more.
Can you tell us about the new collection?
I looked at two major design movements: the Art Deco period, which started in France and is a period that I really admire and love. At the same time, I can see that a lot of my creations have characteristics from the Bauhaus movement, which features a lot of architectural elements, very industrial materials and a lot of linear details. Although both took place around the same period, they have totally different characters. My new collection is an interpretation of what happens when you mix the two. I’m playing with the contrast between Art Deco glam and the rough, industrial characteristics of the Bauhaus movement.
I used a lot of black, white, light pink and green; metalwork is kept as rough as possible and then mixed with fine detailing and shiny marble. I also introduced very subtle local influences. One was the material used – it is all camel leather and it is all stitched at the Atelier AK. At the same time, the shape I used was the octagon. For me, the octagon is something that I see in Islamic geometric design, but also in the Islamic star, which has an octagon at its heart. But it is very subtle.
Does this represent a departure for you? Your work has traditionally been almost entirely culturally driven – are you consciously becoming more international in your approach?
No – but people started to associate me only with that. For a designer to be international, he needs to be universal as well. I have to show different styles and then the end consumer can choose what they find more appropriate for them.
The Emirati tag is good internationally to represent the country, and I am very proud of it. But I don’t want my style to be limited. If you aim to become an international designer, you will be working with international companies that have different briefs. If they can’t see your portfolio is mixed, they will consider you to be a designer with limitations.
However, I do think it’s very important to show your culture, because people want something unique. A lot of design has become too universal and in many cases is losing any sense of identity.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on my 2015 collection. There is no time to rest. I have been working on a signature fabric and that should be coming to light very soon. I think the next collection will be much softer.
I designed the fabric with a design studio in Osaka, Japan. Although it has a very modern and abstract look, it has a very interesting story behind it that is from Dubai. I’m back to that link to culture, but in a very abstract way. I don’t want it to look too ethnic or oriental.
While events such as this are important because they bring international design into the country, you have also been vocal about the need for the UAE to “export” design and not just import it. What is the issue here, do you think?
Although we are happy to see things like this happening here, there is no excuse for us not to be producing work and taking it out to the same kinds of platforms in other parts of the world. It is very sad to go to big fairs like Milan and see no Arab designers around.
I think there is a problem with local talents here. Dubai is doing as much as it can to create a platform for local talent, but I think it is us, as individuals. We need to move beyond this idea of just having passion and talent, and become professionals. I know many people, personally, that have great talent but it stays as a talent, or a hobby, or a passion.
It is important for us to export design because Dubai shouldn’t only be seen as hosting these great events but not have anything to offer.
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