Due in part to one woman's efforts to represent French craftsmanship in the GCC, the expanding collective opens its first store in Dubai this month.
Faubourg Design showroom brings French design into focus
The shisha sets steal the show. There's the jaunty Chechia, with its angled, blue, yellow and black body topped with a red, fez-shaped bowl. There's the voluptuous Disco Pipe, in in-your-face pink and slate grey, and there's Smoke Me, the cute, colourful mini-me of the narghile world. Created by the French company Airdiem, these items - delightfully contemporary manifestations of the most traditional of products - set the tone for the new Faubourg Design showroom in Dubai's Business Central Towers.
The new showroom is modestly sized but brimming with unusual finds. Fixtures by Les Fourmis Bleues, delicate orbs of light engulfed in swathes of silk paper, hover overhead. Sumptuous fabric swatches line the wall. And there are table settings fit for a king: crystal glasses, handmade porcelain plates and beautifully sculpted cutlery laid out as if for a feast.
The showroom is the brainchild of Jane Long, 30, who has created a collective of French brands that showcase the craftsmanship of her native country. It will open its doors to professional designers on September 27, and to the general public on September 30.
After graduating from art and then business school, Long began her career working for the French ministry of the economy, where she managed the Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant label, a mark of excellence awarded to French firms with expertise in traditional and industrial know-how.
"I worked in this field for two years and I realised very quickly that there is a lot of French know-how that is not at all well-known outside of France," she explains.
When Long moved to Dubai three years ago, she wanted to introduce some of this French expertise to the UAE market. Unfortunately, it was August 2008 and the financial crisis was just beginning to take hold, so the companies she approached were understandably cautious.
She targeted four interiors brands and enlisted the help of the French government. "In France we have a special position called VIE. Small brands can enter into a contract with the ministry of the economy where they send a young person off to promote their products and the salary is sponsored by the ministry. This means it's a limited cost for companies, it's a good opportunity for young people and the ministry gets to push exports. So I suggested to the four companies that we should start like this and see what the market here was like. It meant they wouldn't have to spend too much money to be here."
The four brands were Airdiem, of the designer shisha sets and accessories; Cub-ar, a company that specialises in decorative items made out of obsidian, a rare volcanic stone; Cristal & Bronze, which produces taps and accessories for the bathroom; and Odiot, a French silverware company that has been in existence for more than 300 years.
Long started promoting these brands in March 2009, covering the GCC from her base in Dubai. "We started well, in spite of the crisis. It was a time when the market was being cleansed, so a lot of people were leaving. But I find with this market that if people like you, they want to help you. And they talk to each other.
"I was getting a lot of requests from interior designers but they were saying, 'Four brands is not enough. It would be good if you also had tableware products.' They also said that some of my products were too classic and that they would like to have some more contemporary products as well."
Long responded by inviting a number of other, complementary French brands to enter the fold, including the porcelain specialists Haviland & Parlon and J.Seignolles. In March 2011, her VIE contract ended, so Long decided to strike out on her own. Faubourg Design was born.
Deciding on the right name for the company was the first challenge, Long admits. After much to-ing and fro-ing, she found herself listening to an old song by one of her favourite artists, Edith Piaf, and the word faubourg jumped out at her. It roughly translates to mean suburb, but when broken down to its Latin roots means "out of" or "away from", which is fitting given that the company is trying to move away from traditional design, says Long.
The company now represents 15 brands, covering tableware, linen, lighting, cutlery, glassware, crystal products and general accessories. With the opening of the new showroom, it will move into a new market segment, fabrics. Among others, Faubourg will be representing the high-end Prelle, which specialises in ornate damasks and has been creating elaborate woven fabrics for five generations. Next month, Long will introduce another new brand, Dar En Art, a French company specialising in contemporary, Moroccan-style furniture and accessories.
The showroom is a fitting reflection of Long's desire to offer a varied mix of products, in terms of style and pricing. "For each type of product we try to have at least two brands, one contemporary and one classic, and one mid-range and one high-end. More and more people are thinking more carefully about what they spend. Famous brands have always worked well, but a lot of people don't necessarily want to spend money just for a brand name anymore. They want quality, they want good design and they want something different. That's the value of Faubourg Design. If it is expensive, it's because of the materials, not because of a brand name."
While the new showroom is the number-one priority at present, Long also has her fingers in other pies. She is becoming increasingly involved in the development of new concepts for weddings, and plans to launch a high-end luxury goods website for the region by the end of the year. She has also recently been recontacted by the ministry of the economy in France, and has been asked to become an ambassador of French know-how and craftsmanship in the region - which should give her ample opportunity to discover more new and unusual French brands in the near future. Here's hoping.
The Faubourg Design showroom is located in Unit 1101, Tower B, Business Central Towers and is open from 8am to 6pm from Sunday to Thursday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment; www.faubourgdesign.com