Hicham Lahlou famous designer calls on Arab leaders to create the “Arab Touch”

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A tender heart in a tough envelope – that’s the signature of Hicham Lahlou – renowned designer of French Moroccan origin. Photo provided

Hicham Lahlou already stands among the world’s elite designers. This young French-Moroccan designer – a voluble, dynamic, ever smiling, generous and optimistic personality – is not only very talented but he is also very funny. So much so that he could be a one-man show artist in another life! He has concentrated his talent on creativity, which never ceases to surprise many. Hicham was born on the 6th of February 1973 in Rabat. After he graduated from the prestigious French Charpenter Academy (Diploma of Architect & Interior Designer obtained in 1995 in Paris) he began to create, design, and exhibit his innovative artworks. From one stage to the other, he eventually imposed his style to suit his signatures and is now well-known and recognised by his peers.

The famous international website design Canadian Ego Design has again elected Hicham Lahlou as the “Industrial Designer of the Year 2012” within the framework of the “International Year of Ecological Design”. After  receiving the same prestigious trophy in 2011, young French-Moroccan fashion and interior designer took the honours as a strong mark of recognition and hopes to serve as an ambassador of Moroccan culture around the world. 

Arabian Gazette’s Rahma Rachdi shares her candid conversation with the talented French-Moroccan artist. Here’s the script:

Rahma Rachdi: Hicham Lahlou, tell us a bit about your background?

Hicham Lahlou : I do not come from a rich family at all, contrary to what my name may suggest. I made everything myself, and single-handedly braced the toughness of life under the supervision of my father who taught me values. When I was 12 and a half years old, I found myself in a boarding school after the divorce of my parents. 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Morocco. My parents enrolled me at “Descartes French High School” in Rabat, and then I continued my studies in the Pas de Calais, northern France. “The Chtis” (northern inhabitants of France) are my best friends! People in the north of France are very warm. But I have to admit that I was homesick as well… 

Is this what has boosted your creativity?

Certainly, I was deeply passionate about Morocco and this is how I developed an obsession to represent my nation on a global level.

Boarding school away from your parents throughout the year, wasn’t that hard?

Yes and no. It allowed me to reach maturity earlier than expected in any case. I was autonomous since I was 17 years-old and did everything from household chores to cooking until today at forty years! 

Is this how a strong personality was forged?

(Laughter) I have a strong character, but I’m a very sensitive and simple person. And the more older I get, the more I care about people. I tend to be more and more humanist with time … and I start to ask myself this question: Why are people happy or unhappy?

Has that change reflected in your work?

I’m renowned for an atypical design!

Do you think there is an “Arab” design as much as there is an Arab architecture?

Yes there definitely is a circle of Arab designers which I am fortunate to be part of. I enjoy strong ties with the leaders of Arab architecture like Nada Dub, Zaha Hadid and Karim Rashid who proudly represent designs of Arab origin. 

How was design established in Morocco? Does it belong to the economic landscape in its own right?

In Morocco there are two levels – on one hand are the outsourcers who have actually signed contracts on bus shelters in Rabat, Agadir and Casa Blanca and highway signage. On the other hand are the atypical aesthetes who appreciate and understand my vision. 

Is there any artwork you’d love to realise?

There are many. The new department of Islamic Art from the Louvre, mainly financed by the Arabs was designed by non-Arab architects and designers. I would love to participate in this project. Even if I succeeded internationally, this doesn’t seem to be enough to me!

You sound unsatisfied. What is lacking in your international success story today?

I’m reaching the critical phase of my business. Artists like me at some point need to be supported by either an investment fund or a rich partner who understands and loves their work. If so, I could then have the luxury to only devote myself to my design, creativity, and avoid managing my business, because that’s what I do with the least of passion.

moroccan stairs
Staircase of a store designed by famous French-Moroccan designer, Hicham Lahlou. Photo provided

Why is this a critical stage?

Because it’s been 18 years that I’ve been doing this. I became an international designer, living in Morocco and celebrated my 40th birthday this year. This is a crossroads that I should not miss, and I’ll take the opportunity to develop a future strategy.

Are you sure this is how your business would be managed in the best way?

Yes, because at some point even the largest and most famous designers and creators, have become what they are because they were well supported and well managed. Yves Saint Laurent would not have become a fashion icon if he hadn’t been managed by Pierre Bergé. Karl Lagerfeld has never been so creative since he was signed up by Chanel!

You were elected as the “Industrial Designer of the Year” by the site Ego Design in 2011 and 2012. Is it a consecration?

It is always an honour to be awarded such prizes by professionals. EgoDesign is a Canadian site that is working to detect and communicate the design talents of the world. It is also interesting to see overseas there is such openness and a growing interest for emerging talent from countries like Morocco.

You have acquired supreme recognition for your country of origin. Do you agree?

No, not really. I’ve never been decorated by HM the King of Morocco, despite all the awards I received abroad. This is pure frustration. I am also disappointed because the principal Arab leaders do not take us as a priority. They rather give utmost importance to the English, French, Chinese etc…

Still nice recognition through these awards and your rising international fame?

Yes, recognition came through the media, with TV broadcasts such as “Stars of Science” in Qatar where I’ve been recruited as a jury member. However, the best for me would be to have a decoration by HM the King of Morocco. That is the supreme recognition for me as a Moroccan citizen working in my country, for my country and being an ambassador of my country abroad. 

And today they are signing Hicham Lahlou. Is it a brand?

Yes, but there is no sign like “Made in Arabia” which is as prestigious as “Made in France” or “Made in Italy”. The French know how to maintain their expertise and export. Jean Nouvel is an ambassador of France, it is part of the French diplomatic strategy to sell the ‘French Touch’ all around the world. And it works!

And as a French-Moroccan, you are obviously part of the “French Touch”?

I am French but I’m primarily an Arab. However, I am frustrated with the exercise of my profession and passion. Why the Gulf countries do not value an Arab designer offering, for example, the possibility of a superb hotel to be designed by Arab talent to display the “Arab Touch”? Look at the French: they only swear by Philippe Starck and Jean Nouvel and this way they do not only export the person with their talent, but it is the “Made in France” that they export, the famous “French Touch”. That’s the best recognition and at the same time most strategic approaches to present the national heritage to the rest of the world!

Where does your inspiration come from?

From the people of course!

What are your ongoing projects?

I develop projects in African countries such as Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Cameroon. I was the first designer to be contacted by Cotonou. I am very happy because I am convinced that South-South exchanges are the future, because Europe is breathless at the moment. As for the Arab countries, I’d be proud to serve them as their ambassador to display a powerful picture of the “Arabic touch” as unique mix of culture and talent, worldwide. Qatar, by unfolding its wings in the world, is a good example of this.

What are your projects for 2013?

I’ll be based in Morocco, and will continue to sign projects of various sizes in urban design, interior design, concepts for stores, restaurants and hotels on behalf of private and institutional investors. Otherwise, I juggle between several countries, most of the collections that I sign for brands, to start the artistic direction of private clients internationally. 

What is your dream?

To go to a spiritual retreat in Bhutan, because I am fascinated by Sufism and Buddhism.

To know more about Hicham Lahlou, visit www.hichamlahlou.com

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