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Lebanon’s Ambassador of Design: Nada Debs

Nada Debs

Nada Debs is a Lebanese designer known for her unique and innovative approach to design. She has made significant contributions on the Arab and international scene with her unique approach of Far East meets Middle East. Debs is celebrated for her ability to seamlessly integrate diverse cultural influences into her designs. Her work often reflects a harmonious fusion of Japanese minimalism and the rich aesthetic traditions of the Arab world resulting in distinctive and culturally resonant creations.

She has gained acclaim for her contemporary furniture designs that often incorporate traditional craftsmanship techniques. Her use of materials showcase a deep appreciation for both modern and traditional design elements. She is known for experimenting with a wide range of materials and pushing the boundaries of design and creating visually stunning and functional pieces.

We spoke to the Lebanese designer during Tanween, Ithra's Season of Creativity about the influence of the region on her designs.

AM: How would you describe your design DNA?
ND: I celebrate Eastern craftsmanship with contemporary design, it's like I say, East and East; a fusion of the Far East and the Middle East. It's about the exercise of finding the essence of things, because that's how the Japanese are. They remove and they eliminate, and everything is so minimalist that you get to the deep meaning of things. That's what I wanted to apply to what we have in our part of the world. When I arrived to the Middle East, everything was so overly decorated so I couldn't see the essence. I wanted that the geometry and the pattern to be enough to express. Other little mottos I use is like local is the new global, or slow is the new fast.

AM: As a designer, where do you get your inspiration from?
ND: I don’t start with thinking about the end product. I start with a craft or a technique and I collaborate with a craftsman. Sometimes that little sample sits on my desk for a year, and while I'm looking at the sample, I eventually decide what I'm going to do with it. I wait for the right moment because I want things to come to me. I don't like to force things too much.

AM: You have so many achievements, what's your proudest accomplishment today?
ND: What brings tears to my eyes is when people come to me and say that I make them proud. Like when someone from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait who I don't know. And when they tell me that I brought out something that touched them.

AM: What is something you would like to pass on to the new generation of artists?
ND: It's funny because wisdom creeps up on you just when you're still learning. Now I find myself giving and sharing. A lot of people don't know certain business aspects which I think are really important to learn. Perseverance is key, because it's so easy to give up. I always put myself in challenging places, I never sit in the same place. I am all about what's next? I like to push my boundaries. With that comes a lot of pain and growth which are endless yet necessary.

AM: You mentioned that a change in your company has happened recently…

ND: My two sons decided to join my company. So, it’s going to grow into a family business. Before they joined, I was thinking of letting go, to allow more designers to flourish and pave their ways. I felt like I was free to leave the industry. But then my son quit the corporate world. I realized that I will have a legacy and that I should give it a second chance.  

AM: And how does it feel to be a design ambassador of Lebanon? And what does Beirut represent to you?
ND: When I first went back to Lebanon no one believed in local manufacturing, so my work opened many doors. Unfortunately, we don't have real ambassadors that represent as well. For me, Beirut is one of the rawest cities with all the contrasts in front of you; you the see good days and the bad days and there’s many opposing forces. That is actually where all my creativity comes from. We have very traditional people with super contemporary individuals all living together, anything goes together in Beirut. No laws, no rules, I feel like it’s an organized chaos. Also, there’s something really interesting about that sense of hope. We are always pushing ourselves, it's not only to compete with someone else, but to compete with our own selves.

AM: What brought you to Ithra and Tanween season this year?
ND: I have always wanted to visit Ithra. I was really interested in being here this year because I feel that it’s the right time to share my story. I've just celebrated 20 years of my brand and in the Arab world it's quite the milestone. When I moved to Lebanon 23 years ago there was no real design scene. And now you look around and it's the place for design. I love how Ithra is bringing design and our past together and in providing a platform for all young people to have a creative outlet. I grew up in Japan, as an Arab there, I wanted to express my identity but I didn't know what it was, and my journey back to the Arab world showed me that there's a way. I used furniture to express my identity crisis. I'm sure that everybody here has something to say.

AM: Tell us more about the sold-out workshop you have prepared…
ND: My workshop is actually about identity. I presented how my brand started, and how I discovered the creative moment where I could combine what I grew up with in Japan, with my roots. I wanted the attendees to tell me their identity. And if they didn’t know it, we developed it together. It was a workshop for them to find their brand character. I asked them that if we did a collaboration, which product would we come up with? I hope that each one will be more confident with who they are. A lot of people search for things outwards, but we might have these things within. We need a form of an internal exploration and we're very lucky to live in a culturally-rich region, there's a lot to be inspired from.