It was when Janan Shihadeh’s friend spilled an espresso on her white Balenciaga bag that Janan was inspired to start a new business. Taking the bag from its disappointed owner, the artist transformed the coffee stain into a geisha woman with psychedelic flowers. Her friend was thrilled – as were others who saw her design work. Desperate to paint, but without a studio at home, she saw customising the bags as a creative outlet. That was eight years ago and today it’s no longer just friends that Janan shares her work with, she also takes orders through S*uce boutique in Dubai, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason in London, and various concept stores from Milan to Hong Kong.
The mistake would be in thinking that Janan’s creativity stops at handbags. “I paint buildings, walls, and furniture. But in Dubai, I mainly customise designer bags and luggage.”
The highlight of her career to date, she says, was “painting the town” when she lived in Washington DC. “I worked as a muralist there, so I painted various buildings in areas such as DuPont Circle”. Using the Trompe L’Oeil technique – which creates a 3D effect – some of Janan’s most eye-tricking creations showed people climbing out of the ground, or paintings of water on restaurant kitchen floors, creating the illusion of an overfilled sink.
Without the need for officewear, Janan spends most of her days in activewear (“LA and Venice Beach in particular showed me the importance of comfortable sweatpants!”), with cult-favourite Lululemon her weapon of choice. But when the day or evening calls for something a little dressier, Janan turns to her favourite designers. “I love Valentino, Victoria Beckham, Elie Saab, and lesser known brands like Sacai and Augustin Teboul,” the Dubai resident says.
Reiterating her belief that fashion and art go hand in hand, Janan believes that every fashion piece can be made even more special with an artful eye. And the one thing she’d customise if she could get her hands on it? “I’d funkify the burqa!”
Photography: Richard Hall. Styling: Charlotte Blair. Words: Kerrie Simon-Lawrence. Hair: Anna for Soh Art + Beauty. Make-Up: Sarah-Jane Thompson for Shiseido. Location: The St Regis Dubai