JEDDAH: Cherine Magrabi began as a store manager and worked her way up to become creative and communications director at Magrabi Optical, a well-known family brand in the Middle East.
Born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, Magrabi is also the curator and founder of House of Today in Beirut, a non-profit organization that helps to launch Lebanese designers onto the global scene.
“I was born in Jeddah and moved at the age of 16 to Switzerland for schooling with four of my best friends. I keep having fine memories related to my life in Jeddah ... my father used to take me fishing in the Red Sea.”
She said: “Moving to Switzerland was a good preparation for life.” While there, she felt it was important to reflect a good image as a Saudi, while adjusting to her new environment and learning to do things by herself for the first time.
“It was also a good preparation for college, and I don’t think I would’ve done it any other way,” she added.
Magrabi went to study at Chelsea College of Art in London, where she met her future husband. After they married they moved to Beirut in 2002 and she started working for Magrabi Optical.
“We were just opening our first store in the Lebanese market and my brother asked me to help set it up and manage it.”
She worked as a store manager, which helped her to understand the family business and learn about their customers’ needs. “It gave me the opportunity to learn from the store level, understanding our weaknesses and opportunities directly from the market,” she said. “Today, as creative and communications director at Magrabi, I relate to what’s really happening on the ground.”
She made a significant stamp on the firm when it came to rebranding the company, changing its logo, and reworking the display and merchandising. The rebranding stressed how the company’s products marry fashion and medical expertise. The company’s marketing campaign focuses on empowering women, a move which was led by her vision.
The eyewear business inspired her to found House of Today in 2012. She said: “I was always in the search for great designers in Beirut and faced difficulties in reaching out to them. I saw great potential in Lebanon, but there was no supporting system to introduce them to the world. It happened quite organically that I decided to showcase their work as an active member of the art scene.”
She works closely with designers. House of Today identifies, nurtures, mentors, curates and showcases local Lebanese designers and to help them raise their profile. It also gives promising young designers — between the ages of 17 and 34 — a chance to study product design at a university in Lebanon or abroad under its scholarship program.
She said: “We are helping designers to develop their own business plan, connecting them to galleries and in creating sustainable images for themselves while supporting the next generation of designers through our scholarship program.”
Every two years, HoT curates an exhibition showcasing the collaboration between experts and emerging designers. So far four exhibitions have been organized, including at Athr Gallery, the Jeddah art gallery, in 2015. Exhibitions aim to present a stellar collection highlighting the best work of young Lebanese designers.
Commenting on the reform in Saudi Arabia, she said: “I’m happy to witness my country taking real steps toward long-overdue social reform. I think there would be a grace period with people waiting to see the true results of the ongoing changes.”