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French Version

Lebanese design is 'switched on' in Paris

'New wave' theme of expo provides exposure
New generation of designers, reflecting merging of cultures, basks in spotlight at event billed as the first exhibition abroad of its kind

From concept cars to unusually-shaped tables, calligraphy dresses and even a tent backpack, designers from Lebanon are under the spotlight here in what is being billed as the first exhibition abroad of Lebanese design.

"Switch On Lebanese Design" draws together a crop of about 30 talented designers, many of whom have trained or studied in other countries. Some have since returned home after two decades of civil war. Designs mostly reflect a merging of Lebanese and Western cultures, such as the walnut and mother-of-pearl console handcrafted to integrate letters from the Arabic and Latin alphabets.

"I try to respect the materials we used to work with before in Lebanon, in Syria, in Jordan," said Vicky Haidamous, 36, at the Salon du Meuble (Furniture Fair), running at the Paris Expo until Monday. Lebanon, and its new generation of designers, is part of the "New Wave" theme adopted in 2005 by the fair's organizers, who also point to shifting markets and poles of production. The fair features a collection of "Made in Africa" design too.

Lebanese-born designer and architect William Sawaya, now of Italian nationality, who set up Sawaya and Moroni Contemporary Furniture with Paolo Moroni in 1984, organized the Middle Eastern showcase. For a long time, he said, he was the only Lebanese designer until about five years ago when he began receiving "modern" design ideas from Lebanon as students returned from studying in France, Italy or the United States. Surprised by their energy as well as the strength of their creative identity, he described the Paris display as the first exhibition ever devoted to Lebanese design abroad. "The only problem is that the imagination of these young people contrasts with the over-cautiousness of manufacturers on the ground, who prefer to copy the European models than produce them," Sawaya said. Rabih Kayrouz, a fashion designer, said he would try to use the fair to make contacts with Parisian boutiques. Milia Maroun, 34, had already taken orders for her jersey "calligraphy" dresses, cardigans and tunics. Haidamous said the exposure in Paris was important. "It's still like a baby," she said of furniture design in Lebanon, adding that while the country lacked designers, it had fine furniture craftsmen. Georges Aramouni, a 23-year-old a car designer, is based in Milan. Demonstrating his futuristic "Slider" concept car, he said he would like to work in his home country but lamented the lack of opportunity. "I would love to, I know it's very difficult, and it's almost like having mission impossible but it would be quite interesting," he said, adding that he believed, however, that it would be more than 10 years before Lebanon developed its own car industry. The Salon du Meuble is a professional exhibition that began Thursday and opens its doors to the public on Saturday. It includes 1,200 exhibitors, of which half come from abroad, or about 40 different countries. "When you think of Lebanon you think of war, of cedars but not of design," said Christian de Riviere, in charge of the Metropole sector of the fair hosting the exhibition. "It permits us to see it is a country with something to say in this area."

Paris,01 24 2005
The Daily Star
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