Khalid is redefining Dubai Design


Emirati designer Khalid Shafar, who has pioneered the design industry in the UAE, speaks to us about his upcoming collection, his design process and what the Dubai Design industry needs to reach international level.

When we think of Dubai, we can’t help but think of reinvention and vision. After all, Dubai and the UAE has made it their trademark over the last twenty years to prove to themselves and the world that they are capable of extreme positive change and innovation.

And as Dubai continues to progress that vision has changed. As a shopping destination, we who live here have always had our pick of international brands but as of late the idea that Dubai could have it’s own design DNA, its own authentic fingerprint, an international trademark has captured our imagination.

The road to make a ‘Made in Dubai’ label isn’t easy though. And despite Dubai’s impressive attitude and implementation of making things happen, not now but yesterday, to create a sustainable and authentic label, to ensure a reputation that being made in Dubai means quality workmanship, excellent design and longevity, needs not only innovation but time. Lots of it.

No one seems to know more about this than Khalid Shafar. First we were impressed by his attention to detail, the sleek easy manner in which his objects exist within interior spaces, practical, functional, creative, their quirkiness and playful nature – Khalid knows how to tell a story through design. We were then equally impressed when we sat down with the Emirati designer in his studio and heard him discuss design.

Articulate, honest, passionate, knowledgeable and open, not only did we learn more about his design process and the design industry in Dubai but we left convinced that if the idea of a ‘Made in Dubai’ label was to come to fruition then Khalid Shafar is already a pioneer trailblazing the way for young designers.

Khalid initially studied business at the American University in Dubai and worked in marketing and communication for almost seven years before in 2005 he completed a degree in Fine Arts in Interior Design. He then decided to leave the world of marketing behind to focus on design and studied once again to specialize in Furniture & Objects design, first at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, UK, then at the Centre for Fine Woodworking in Nelson, New Zealand. In 2011 Khalid opened his own studio in Dubai and in November 2012 Khalid inaugurated his first showcase space KASA.

City Times had the pleasure to sit with Khalid Shafar and discuss and discover more about the designers outlook.

How does an idea for a piece or a collection develop for you as a designer? Is there flexibility from initial idea to final product?
It depends. In the beginning of my career I used to just have designs as ideas and we executed them as prototypes and then we launched them. We used to push the market with this kind of approach. Definitely there is flexibility. As designers, when we evolve or develop a product there are a few issues we find with the prototype and sometimes solving these or revisiting those issues again makes us change the design. I think that’s naturally part of the process and I think all of us as designers accept it.

How would you describe your aesthetic?
In the beginning I was. I won’t use the word accused, but I was described as being too culturally inspired. Most of my pieces would be linked somehow to my Emirati culture. It was viewed as limited. I didn’t want people to categories me with this, which would mean I couldn’t do modern design or completely contemporary design. Designers have to be good at many things but strong at one thing. I just wanted to experiment with that side to test my strength in different areas. But I never wanted to stay away from what I was known originally for, which is being culturally influenced as well. And this is how I think things evolved with me. Now, with all my products, I would say it’s culturally inspired from the local environment and the local culture, the Emirati region I would say but it’s very contemporarily presented. You have the feel that its some how ethnic in a way. I like that kind of subtle reference. A lot of my work is culturally inspired but contemporarily represented.

How would you describe that relationship between being culturally inspired and design among the work of young Arab designers?
I think it’s more original. It’s actually evident that current or emerging talents are not trying to get into the culture, they are going the other way. Some might look at examples and might want to explore that direction.
But I would say that most of them are trying to align with this current lifestyle. The current lifestyle is cosmopolitan as a population, we are going toward modernity in architecture, in lifestyle and in clothing and fashion. I think they are moving with this kind of evolution of lifestyle. So I think they are not getting any influence or inspiration from the culture.

Would you say it can be limiting to only seek inspiration from one’s own culture?
I wouldn’t say it’s limiting to get inspired from culture, but it can make you too categorized. If you are so well known by this , people might assume you don’t have the aesthetic or ability to do something very modern. So, I think that’s what makes you miss out on opportunities and it might not show your full strength or full capabilities. But I think it’s very original. I actually advice young talents that their culture is their identity. More or less. But it’s how to reflect it and how to present it that’s their own style. I read a report (which not only applies to product or industrial design but fashion and other types of design as well) that designers who are culturally inspired or are showing their origins or identity within their designs, were more under the spotlight because their work is more individual. You will see different creations out of them. Their work is not generic.

So you do think there is a space where you can be both modern and contemporary and culturally influenced?
You cannot first of all get something from the past and use it as it is or evolve it with your lifestyle. You definitely have to create changes. So we get that story or that inspiration from the past and we rework that and then present a new design. They influence each other but they cannot be completely separated or brought to present as it is. There is definitely some kind of revisiting of that story and at the same time that story can be looked at from different designers. This is the evidence, when you see lots of different designs although their source of inspiration was the same for all of them I think that’s the beauty of how one source of inspiration can be totally different for everyone.

How would you describe the current state of the design industry in Dubai?
Now, if we look to the creative scene it’s a little bit wider. If we take art, art was much stronger and established much earlier. I would say a festival like Art Dubai in its 11th edition has already developed so much and has a certain position now. The evolution of Alserkal Avenue, the Gallery Scene in DIFC has helped a lot. With design, things started, I would say, not much longer than five years back. I think 2012 was the start of the first design fair. From that there was a lot evolving things happening like the initiation of the Dubai Design District and then the Design Councils. Those are a lot of steps happening in only five years, it’s very fast compared to everyone else. For me that design scene grew so fast from an infrastructure point of view. Lots of things happened, establishments put in place. And that’s easy to do for Dubai. But then with design and the creatives to develop, that chain doesn’t involve the infrastructure but it involve, designers, manufacturers, galleries, the audience themselves, institutions, the media everyone is involved – and they aren’t aligned. The speed of growth isn’t aligned. That’s not taking us somewhere positive. They need to grow organically.

How do you think this can change?
We’ve talked about education in the past . It’s nothing about how fast you can build things. And I think that’s where the conflict is happening, they think if they can see an infrastructure coming up, looking at the scene, yes, the opportunities are there. The platform is starting to take shape. Some are on the right track, but I think there is no clear directions yet.

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