Karim Mekhtigian is not new to the field of design in Egypt. On the contrary, he has for quite some time played a large role as one of the three partners of design firm Alchemy Design Studio.
Alchemy has been responsible for some of the North Coast’s most novel beach homes, and in Cairo, designing home interiors and furniture for clients who vie for that subtle touch of modern cool that Mekhtigian and partners Rania Loutfi and Mohamed Fares know how to deftly apply so casually yet with much impact.
From his collaborations with local furniture producers in Egypt and his great campaigning efforts for a contemporary furniture design expo (which recently came to fruition with the exhibit +20 Egypt Design, highlighting local talent), Mekhtigian has, so to speak, become an advocate for Egyptian design and furniture production that can compete in the global market.
The brainchild and head designer behind the firm’s new furniture line Alchemy Cairo, Mekhtigian spoke to Daily News Egypt about his collaborations with international designers and brands.
The fruits of labor between Mekhtigian and French designer Christophe Pillet, Oluce lighting brand, the husband and wife design duo Harry and Camilla as well as Italian designer Francesco Rota were revealed during last month’s opening at Alchemy Designopolis.
The store at Designopolis also carries accessories by brand, hand-selected by their store partner Salma Mamiche.
With a new Alchemy outlet in Designopolis — the firm’s third in addition to a store-in-store outlet in Zamalek’s Amuse, and their store in Maadi — there was much to ask the designer about.
Daily News Egypt: What is the philosophy of the furniture brand Alchemy Cairo?
Karim Mekhtigian: Presented in a series of scenes, the collection groups different furniture items that reflect Alchemy’s vision for “living spaces.” Aiming to communicate a specific lifestyle, the company is presenting its own take on design with a culture that includes innovative stories, human-tech and an emotional quality.
Inspired from the conflict, the chaos and the extremes in our city, this collection is the first attempt to tell the story of how it all started. Being in Cairo — the city of hidden treasures — allows us to express personal attachments and memories through sensorial landscape and poetic minimalism. Alchemy seeks to establish a distinct design identity through the creation of timeless pieces that doesn’t follow norms or trends and could be considered as antiquities of the future.
What pieces in particular did you design for Alchemy’s new brand?
The Infinity Kato Sofa, Yabasri Sofa, Modular Sofa, Soheimi Chair, Basic Stools Collection among others… The current pieces that I designed can be considered a basic collection; they are more of the prêt-à-porter of the brand. I’m still working on the ‘haute couture’ collection.
How did you stumble upon Rania Loutfi and Mohamed Fares? How did they become your partners at Alchemy?
I met Fares 10 years ago, when I talked to him about what I wanted to do and achieve, he said that he would do it with me so we became business partners. He and Rania studied at the same university, this is how she came into Alchemy and she became a partner later.
What is the division of roles?
If we take the human body as an analogy, then I would be the heart, the vision; Fares the blood, the energy; and Rania the aura or soul, the conscious.
How did you go about selecting the designers you wished to work with?
With no plan, we met on the same road and we became friends. Some of them proposed to me to collaborate, and others I proposed to them. Ten years ago, I met Christophe Pillet, who was already a recognized designer at the time. When we talked about what I wanted to do, he was the one who pushed me to work with him and back then he showed me that it was possible for a start-up company to work with international designers. If it were not for him, I would’ve never thought to work with international designers.
What has interested you so much about seeking out collaborations with foreign designers?
I’m always interested by the fact that there are always different solutions and approaches for a case or a company like Alchemy. If we take any situation or subject, people always have different ways to approach it. It is the diversity in the dialogue regarding one subject; the designs are the illustration of the different point of views.
If we take the example of the Stainless Stool designed by Christophe Pillet, it is inspired by the Pharaonic headrest and shows how an ancient form can be transposed into a modern icon with a contemporary function. However, the Soheimi Chair — which I designed — was about designing the intangible and it was a totally different approach towards the same culture and background.
What about this collaborative process has been inspiring for you?
The diversity in the approach, background and styles of each of the designers with their different personalities. They each looked at the creative brief from a different perspective, from their own point of view.
However, they all created pieces that were their own interpretation of the story that is behind the brand Alchemy Cairo, and above all, the foreign approach by the designers and their observation from the outside and the different solution for your case.
It’s different for me being the founder of Alchemy, I have a clear vision of how the brand should look like and what it is about. I wear different hats and play different roles, visionary, designer, among others, to make it work.
What are your personal ambitions with regards to design in Egypt and the work that you do specifically with Alchemy?
With regards to design in Egypt my ambitions are very high. I’m not sure one life is enough for that. The initial goal is to bring [a] culture of design and production [to] Egypt. That is why I always talk about brands, because only brands have a story, culture of production, and philosophy.
After achieving all this we can start to talk about quality. Not only quality of design and production, but also the elevated quality of our perception as it makes you appreciate the products more and makes you adopt them into your lives to make it better.
As for my work in Alchemy, it is a very simple and modest portion of what I believe design should be in Egypt. When I say how design should be in Egypt I mean that we should, as a country, find our own take on design.
It’s all about how you work with what you have. If you take the Italians for example they emphasized innovation and discovery, while the Scandinavians capitalized on the ‘less is more’ through minimal/sleek design. On the other hand, you have countries like Brazil, which is heavily stressing on social or environmental design and has been doing very well. It’s how you put your own little twist to what you have.
This is why I think it’s important to get inspired from the conflict, the chaos and the extremes in our city. You never know what might come out of it! We should just have a process that comes from Egypt. I’m not saying to imitate Brazil, but like them it should come from inside, and from our culture.
With a store-in-store in Amuse and now the new one in Designopolis, what does it mean for you as a designer to have your brand in these ‘design concept’ locations?
Very happy! Design should always be in places with strong concepts. The design scene is very important and it should be dramatic, theatrical, performance like — like an opera interaction to create the right atmosphere. You need strong concepts to do that and we need to put the audience in action, they have to participate and react.
I think that the concentration of all these brands definitely represents a force that hopefully, with the right audience, will be quiet a show to watch.
Alchemy Designs Studio
15A, Road 6
Tel: (02) 2751 4137
6 kms after the Cairo toll station
Cairo-Alex Desert Road
Infinity Kato Sofa (design by Karim Mekhtigian).