In my third piece about the foreign creative influences that all designers should be aware of when looking for a fresh perspective, I'm going to talk about THE place that has left THE biggest impression on me recently: Beirut, Lebanon - a city with more texture than diamond-studded sandpaper.
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To say that it has faced a few challenges over the years is an understatement. Indeed, thinking of Beirut as a challenger that has survived against all the odds is the way I like to think of the place. It has literally fought back against terrible adversity and now that fighting spirit is coming through positively in the creative, vibrant and reinvented leisure culture that it has been famous for many times in the past. The 'Paris of the Middle East' is once again a creative and hedonistic destination with its intoxicating mix of Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern glamour and ancient culture being reborn amongst the bullet-ridden ruins.
Here you can find an array of beautifully designed ancient buildings standing shoulder-to-shoulder with European and Middle Eastern influenced brand emporiums. Hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs innovating through an array of brilliantly designed experiences and rivalling the best of New York, London and Barcelona in quality. And, all the time, the stylish and convivial Lebanese citizens mix effortlessly with weekend visitors from the neighboring and more conservative Middle Eastern cultures who come here for a vibrant break and a bit of R&R.
What’s this got to do with design? Well, ideas and creative thinking, turning adversity into an opportunity and packaging it up as something truly desirable. This is a city of focused entrepreneurialism and you see it everywhere especially in the restaurant, coffee house and bar scene. Brands - some local - are emerging everywhere and there's a healthy smattering of the home-grown reinterpretations of Lebanese cuisine, like Al Mandalo, Cafe Blanc, La Plage and the very impressive Al Falamanki. Al Falamanki is a brilliantly evolving multi-zoned space. By day you can take coffee, mezze or water-pipe in the open but shady courtyard, dotted with vintage motorcycles, cars and other collected paraphernalia of the legendary Mr Al Falamanki whilst inside there are several restaurant zones for a cooler gathering. By night the place is transformed to a buzzy, crazy meeting place for people of all cultures and, as you can imagine, there is now always a queue going round the block. La Plage stands on the waterfront and is a great design reinvention of what was once an old pier. The designers have now transformed it to a Soho House style, urban quayside beach restaurant and day club - a great place to see and be seen and enjoy the copious amounts of delicious fresh foods and local wines like the classic Chateau Musar. Lebanon can actually lay claim to be the first wine makers with a historically fertile land as rich as its creative spirit.
Art and design is literally everywhere. Old meeting new, East meeting West, all fusing together to create a mezze of image, culture and style that is on a fast track to make a global impression. One all round Lebanese designer/illustrator we really like at Pearlfisher is
. As in all her work, she is inspired by the everyday life, color and symbolism of the Middle East. She pulls this all together in packaging print and interiors to create such an evocative and sensual design with all the texture and spirit you can imagine. Take a look at the work she's done for Le Comptoir, The V&A and Cocomaya chocolate and you'll see what I mean.
It's an inspiration to us and, I hope, an inspiration to you and another reason why we should open our minds and eyes to the really powerful and positive creative influences of the Middle East – a territory bravely making its mark by fusing elements of its heritage and cultural civilisation with a no holds barred contemporary edginess.
Jonathan Ford, Creative Partner
Jonathan leads the overall creative direction of Pearlfisher, and has built up a global reputation for design excellence and effectiveness from the Pearlfisher studios in New York and London. He is fervent about the value that fearless thinking, great ideas and design can bring to brands and in short, believes that great design, sells.
Pearlfisher was co-founded by Jonathan in 1992 and is still an independent design company, working with iconic and challenger brands around the world including The Coca Cola Company, Cadbury, Kraft, InverHouse, Jamie Oliver, Green & Black's, Innocent Smoothies, NUDE, Fortnum & Mason and Unilever.