Meaningful Luxury: Nez Gebreel Is On Fashion's Frontline

BY Nez Gebreel / Jun 18 2017 / 22:11 PM

During the holy month, former CEO of Dubai Design & Fashion Council, Nez Gebreel discusses why meaningful luxury is the new heartbeat of our heritage

Meaningful Luxury: Nez Gebreel Is On Fashion's Frontline
Efraim Evidor

I’ve always been drawn to the authentic – in what I see, what I buy, or who I am – and the idea of preserving something that is ‘meaningful’ is very important to me. Being a mother has created a further shift in my consciousness towards that. My son is British, born in Dubai, and is part-Palestinian, Irish, Libyan, Greek and Turkish. So this got me thinking about what I want him to grow up knowing and learning about the place he’s living in, about my own roots in the region, and the culture and preservation of it for future generations. 

Craftsmanship, culture, artisans, food, art... these are all things I’m proud of that we have to represent us, but how do we preserve it? How do our buying habits invest in the region and how can we contribute and encourage a trend that reinvests back into our community? Put simply, we love luxury but how do we make it meaningful? A report by management consultancy firm Bain & Company last May anticipated that the global luxury goods market will reach €295 billion in revenue by 2020. It’s important that we make it have a positive impact.

There’s been a recent movement in the Middle East where we’ve begun to think about the things that define us – in terms of what we buy, but also how our heritage shapes us as people. In a time when there’s so much destruction in the Middle East, there’s plenty we could be doing to preserve our heritage, yet I worry that we’re losing the artisans that helped create it. There is no one handing down their craft, so it’s dying out. The more we support and invest in these artisans, the more we help to develop, build and reinvigorate their economy, effectively giving them the tools to protect their heritage – and ours. Another way to look at it is that through their work, we can showcase what a beautiful region we have. Through Islamic design or architecture, the craftsmanship in countries like Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and the beautiful carvings in Afghanistan, it all shows our long history, and communicates to the rest of the world that we are so much more than a troubled land. 

It’s about investing back into the region, but also making your investments count. Hence the term ‘meaningful luxury’, which I first came across when advising Nomad Two Worlds, a socially conscious organisation that collaborates with artisans and supports indigenous and marginalised communities around the world. It also made me think of Hermès, a luxury brand that defines itself through craftsmanship, and other big brands that keep their artisanal communities and heritage alive through crafts. It should become part and parcel of the industry and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same here. People are realising they have a social conscience and they’re looking for something to buy, be it art or a cocktail dress, where they can return something to the region. But to aid this movement, we need more socially-conscious companies to invest in.  

Tashkeel is one that works with local artisans at a luxury level to bring back craftsmanship, and people are really buying into that, as it resonates with them from both a cultural and heritage viewpoint. Elsewhere, Aljoud Lootah’s design work interprets Emirati culture and traditional craftsmanship; Taher Asad-Bakhtiari’s tribal weave project combines age-old weaving techniques with a modern artistic vision; and SeeMe jewellery employs women to learn the craft of jewellery making following ancient Tunisian techniques. Maiyet, a New York-based company with a focus on the Middle East, puts it beautifully: ‘We work hand-in-hand with artisans, we elevate, explore and expand on traditional techniques, breathing life into age-old skills,’ in turn making them relevant to a modern luxury market and consumer. 

But how should one approach their craft with a conscience? It’s about consistency and being respectful to the artisans. If you’re going to work with them, don’t let it be a one off. Invest in, support and develop them, as they are an intricate and important part of our economy. They made us who we are, they are a part of our identity. It’s important not to lose that. At the same time, if you’re from the region, you don’t have to be traditional in what you offer, or too literal. It’s about interpreting what you have, working with artisans, yet updating the product to make it relevant. A modern idea of how it translates. 

And from a consumer perspective, it’s about using your money in the right way – investing it in things that really contribute to your future, your children’s future. High street consumerism is ‘here today, gone tomorrow’, but pieces worked on by artisans or craftsmen are usually pieces that will last forever, to be handed down the generations. Leveraging heritage for long-term value. So why not help create that and invest in pieces like you invest in a Hermès bag? You should be proud of where you live and proud that you’re helping to develop the region – you’re part of the community now.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.

Nez wears: Top and skirt, her own.

Styling: Samah Elmeri

Photography: Efraim Evidor