In the Beginning, There Was A Pair of High-Heeled Shoes
I think I always wanted to be an architect, but monumentality didn’t really do it for me. I was born in Egypt, and you’ve got to admit, the Pyramids are a hard act to follow. So I became a banker, not far away from here. Same postcode actually.
Still, my passion for design needed a trigger. In the event, I got two. One was my sister telling me to check out some furniture making cluster in Egypt. She knew I loved furniture, but I was sceptical. The other was this shoe, or to be exact, one almost like it. I remember I was in Italy looking through the shops in Milan in 1999 when I was struck by lightning. There it was, a gorgeous shoe, but to me it was an edifice just as magnificent and towering as Notre Dame or the Empire State Building, and it bore amazing similarities to a chair or a chaise longue, being the interface between our bodies and the ground. Therein lay my inspiration for better furniture. I spent the following weeks giving more than usual attention to women’s shoes, and an idea began to form in mind. I wanted to make furniture AND the shoe was telling what I didn’t like about contemporary furniture.
What did the shoe do? Well by reducing it to its most important functions, it carried weight, and it looked good. Now let’s hold on that thought for a moment. To my mind, two other human constructions satisfied the same functions. One was buildings. The other was furniture. Both have as basic functions A/ to have aesthetic content and, B/ to be structurally cogent and carry weight. It all began to make sense. I had found both the problem with furniture and the solution, but at a different scale. Shoes were nothing more than small pieces of furniture, and both were nothing more than buildings at a small scale.
But women’s shoes confirmed to me once and for all that I didn’t want to make buildings. Some buildings may look like carbuncles or eyesores, but their functionality is rarely in doubt. And women’s shoes are aesthetically very appealing, but carried out their functional duties very well, being more comfortable than they actually look, and some do look very uncomfortable indeed. However, in contemporary furniture, I had realised, the opposite was often the case. The design element had beaten the functional element. I had found my mission. I wanted to make furniture where functionality was just as important as their very gorgeous looks. Just like with shoes, I wanted to make furniture that people could wear. I wanted to create beauty, the beauty that comes from the inside. It is the inside of the shoe that matters far more than the outside, as far as your feet are concerned. I wanted to make pieces by hand in the most obsessive manner possible. The hand is far better at sensing discomfort than the eye ever could. The human touch was key.
Art as F(unctional)urniture ® was born. The beauty about being an outsider means that you can ask questions that nobody else asks to wants to ask. My new confreres treated me with the patience accorded to a dilettante, while I asked all sorts of embarrassing questions. For example, where does it say that in design furniture or “luxury” furniture that the undersides of drawers need not be finished to the same demanding standards than the outside? Why buy all this expensive lingerie to put in a designer chest of drawers only to have them snagged by a very cheap splinter? Why are some chairs made for posing, not sitting? Tavola Rasa means starting from scratch. My philosophy evolved into my brand.
Design pieces that are meant to touch our bodies by definition obey more demanding functionality requirements. The streamlined ego of the designer soon enough comes up against the curves of our imperfect bodies and their basic needs. There is no room for fads. Let me give you an example. I love molecular cuisine, but would I want to have it breakfast, lunch and dinner? A piece of furniture is with you for a long time.
My quest for functionality is part of a larger theme that runs through the body of my work. From my designs, to my writings, to my films, I seek to bring out and celebrate the common sense in our day-to-day lives. Needless to say, this is because I believe that commons sense, of which functionality is a part, is often gets overlooked. Women’s clothes and accessories, and their shoes, however fantastical in design they may be, are the height of functionality. This is because, from my experience in design, women are very demanding in their requirements. Their eyes and their bodies are in almost perfect synchronisation. Their shoes taught me how to get in touch with my feminine side, and see the world in a totally different way!