Hazem Aljesr: Rising star on Arab design scene

Hazem Aljesr: Rising star on Arab design scene
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Hazem Aljesr: Rising star on Arab design scene
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Updated 22 April 2015

Hazem Aljesr: Rising star on Arab design scene

Hazem Aljesr: Rising star on Arab design scene

Hazem Aljesr spent his early years in Lebanon, where he was born and Saudi Arabia where he was brought up. He continued his journey in the US and UK where he set off to pursue higher education, getting a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts with a minor in Art History and an MBA in marketing.
“I’m just someone who is very passionate about art and design, and I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to share what I love with other people and try to provide them with a source of inspiration,” he said.
Starting his career at Tom Dixon Design studios in London, which is a design and manufacturing company of lighting and furniture, Aljesr gained experience in the world of high-end design. His work has been acquired by museums across the globe including leading names such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, Museum of Modern Art New York and Center Georges Pompidou, Paris.
After gaining extensive experience, he felt confident enough to return to the Middle East in 2006 and open his very own branding, Web and design firm, Zoom Creative in Riyadh. Zoom Creative is now one of the premiere design firms in the region, garnering in the process, 18 Pan Arab Web design awards and expanding its offices to Beirut, Lebanon.
“Zoom Creative is an award-winning design firm that offers a variety of services including branding and corporate identity, print design, interactive design, product and promotional design, as well as commercial space branding,” he said. “When Zoom Creative launched in 2006, it presented a different design philosophy to the region, and people really responded to our approach and to our results, so Zoom became popular very quickly. We worked very hard and we have always had a great team. I’m still very proud of the outstanding work that Zoom Creative continues to do today,” he added. We met with Aljesr to talk about his experience, his brand and his future plans.

Cities is a major store for upbeat luxury home accessories and decor. Tell us a little about Cities.
Cities offers art, design and home décor objects for a diverse customer base. We have something for everyone from the casual shopper to the discerning collector. Items at Cities are diverse and distinctive and come from all over the world. Our range of items includes work from up-and-coming-designers, famous designers, regional artists, limited edition pieces, and eclectic and unusual objects that cannot be found anywhere else.
In addition to our inventory, what sets Cities apart is our display. We don’t just rely on unusual pieces; we also display them in an innovative and versatile way. We use our store as an example of how these unique pieces can be combined in a variety of ways and we change the display quite often. So, visitors to Cities have a completely different shopping experience each time. When they return, suddenly, there are new pieces and new combinations of items to offer ideas. In that way, customers can find a new source of inspiration with every visit. People really respond to that aspect of the store because it gives them the chance to learn about different designers and new items. Our staff is also very knowledgeable and able to suggest pieces for different styles and tastes, and give ideas on how to incorporate those items into a space.

As a collector of interior pieces, what makes you choose a certain piece?
I am usually drawn to pieces that I feel a connection to; perhaps something with an innovative shape, or an unusual texture or material. It should also be of high quality and well-crafted. I do quite a lot of research, through the computer and in my visits to different places. So, when I do select a new piece, typically I have encountered it before in my research. But I do find that I favor pieces that contain some sort of narrative, something that shares a story in its appearance.

Cities boutique includes handpicked pieces from around the world that you have chosen personally. Which country did you feel stands out in design and why?
I don’t think that there is a particular region that creates better designers than any other. There are so many amazing designers from all around the world, and each one stands out for a different reason. It’s difficult to even characterize design styles by geographic location, because there are so many diverse works being created within any one location. Having said that, I think that the work coming from Lebanon is very impressive. I really admire the Lebanese designers, because they aren’t satisfied just making good design, there is also a real push to maintain craft traditions while also simultaneously embracing modern technological processes in manufacturing. Many of the designers go above and beyond to involve the community around them; they provide education and jobs, and they work to bring attention to the entire world of design. The design community is very supportive of one another, and in the last few years, design has really come to the forefront there through initiatives, fairs, exhibits, and educational events. They also show that they are worthy of all the interest they garner, because they back it up with good design. Nada Debs, Khaled El Mays, Nayef Francis, and Hawini, are all Lebanese designers that we carry at Cities, and they are all doing some amazing work.
Who is your personal favorite designer?
That is a difficult question to answer. I don’t have just one favorite; there are so many designers who create work that I love. I’m very drawn to the work of Spanish designer Maximo Riera. His Millennial consoles are made from the lifeless wood of millennial olive trees. To prepare the wood is a lengthy process, but the result emphasizes the natural beauty of the wood. He creates the consoles to show that the wood can continue to have a purpose and share its beauty even in a different form. I feel a real affinity for that concept and his realization of it.
Nada Debs is always a favorite. She has set the standard for all other designers to aspire to, and she has created a style that is a perfect fusion of all her different influences and experiences. She is the master of creating design that combines clean modern lines with traditional touches and it speaks to so many of us on a personal level.
Finally, Tom Dixon is a designer whose work I really enjoy. I also have great respect for his business acumen. He continuously invents new projects and initiatives to reach his clients in original and innovative ways. I admire the versatility of his methods and approach, and his distinctive style. He has stayed true to his vision through so many changes and periods of growth, and he consistently creates good, solid, well-crafted pieces that look good in any space.

What is your opinion on the Arab design scene?
It’s happening; it’s improving, and many exciting new designers are entering the scene. There seems to be a focus on art over design many times, but they overlap in so many ways, that often one point of interest leads to the other. I think the biggest changes occurring are in the reception of new design; there is a greater openness and acceptance of diverse styles and innovative creations. People are more interested in pieces that are not just made in the classic and traditional styles, and they are favoring works that express individuality and personality in the home, and the market reflects that. There is more available and in a greater variety of styles and approaches than ever before. It’s very encouraging.

What made you take part in Design Days Dubai and what was the impact of being part of it?
The concept of Cities has always been more than just a store. We want to inspire a new way of living and encourage our customers to learn more about the world of art and design. We chose to participate in Design Days Dubai because we wanted to show the extent of what we offer and what we are capable of. We want to expand our influence in any way possible and become an integral part of art and design in Dubai. As such, taking part in Design Days Dubai was a natural choice.
When we announced our intention to take part in Design Days Dubai, we had several of our designers offer to make pieces specifically for our exhibit at the fair. Working with those designers through the process of preparation for the show improved our relationships with them and taught us a few things as well. It was a very rewarding experience to undertake this project, and we were pleasantly surprised by the positive support from the designers and from visitors as well. Several of the designers were also present at the Cities display during Design Days Dubai, and watching them share information about their creations with visitors and seeing the interest that sparked was a great experience.
Our display at the fair was very well received and there was a large amount of interest in the pieces we displayed. It allowed us to show another side of Cities and share the depth of our collection. We had a number of visitors to the display who were already Cities’ customers, and they were pleased to discover that we could fulfill this role, and we gained many new fans as well. It also inspired us to continue on this path, and we already have a few ideas in mind for next year!

What are the design trends of 2015?
One of the big trends of 2015 is nature. We are seeing a lot of unfinished wood, salvaged wood, and designs that highlight wood’s natural beauty. Nature is also reflected in patterns and textures, and as a part of that theme, animal sculptures are a popular trend right now. Either painted, ceramic, or stylized creations using modern materials.

What is the most important advise you would you give our readers about designing their homes?
Don’t be afraid to take chances, and don’t limit yourself to set design styles. Your space should be a reflection of you and it should be comprised of all the things you love. Make it comfortable, make it colorful, and fill it with things that make you happy.

What is your expansion plan for cities in the future?
Right now our big focus is our new location in Riyadh on Prince Muhammad bin Abdulaziz Road, or Tahlia Street, next to Roche Bobois. For many years, we were in Centria Mall, and then in Harvey Nichols department store, but now we are expanding and this will be our first stand alone showroom. Our new store will be opening in June, and the store appearance will be based on the design of our Dubai location. It will offer the same unique and varied collection, but with the larger space we will be able to broaden our range of furniture and art, in addition to home accessories.
We also have a lot planned for our Dubai location in the upcoming months. We have begun a series of installations and exhibits, and we are working on the launch of a Cities magazine. In the future, we are also considering a second Dubai location, or perhaps Abu Dhabi.

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