An increasing number of designers and artists in the Middle-East are taking up the challenge of uniting the ultra-modern with an Arabic touch. The style merging Arab elements with modern aesthetics is gaining ground in the design world. Yet Gilles Wynant, founder of Chebfusion.com discovered a dearth of contemporary Arabic furniture on the market in Europe, and steadily set about filling the gap. With Chebfusion.com he celebrates the simple lines of modernist design, blending elements of Arabesque and Western design.
Gilles, you are the founder of Chebfusion.com. What’s your background?
I was born (1984) and raised in the city of Kortrijk, Belgium. My parents were self-employed. They had a kitchen and interior design store for 25 years, but sold it recently. I have been working there for eight years now, combining my job with Cheb Fusion. I graduated as a social-cultural worker in 2006, from University College Ghent. After my graduation I immediately went to work for my parents. From then on my passion for design and interiors only grew over time. I established Cheb Fusion in 2014, based on a mix of ambition, creativity and drive. We have a fun collection, which changes often, and there are several interesting projects in the pipeline.
What inspired you to design ‘Arab’ furniture?
I am inspired by so many things. Firstly by my wife Mina’s roots, who is of Moroccan origin. Our mixed relationship probably inspired me the most to launch Cheb Fusion. We got married in Marrakech and visit the city regularly. Naturally the hidden riads with their enchanting interiors and stunning decoration are an excellent form of inspiration. I admire the Moroccan arts and crafts tremendously… Sculpting, engraving, embroidery, ironwork… Moroccans can be rightly proud of their workmanship.
But I actually got the idea when we were looking for furniture for our new home. Mina and I wanted to add an Arab twist to our interior. At the same time, we didn’t want it to dominate the whole interior. We soon realised that there was little to nothing to be found in Belgium and even Europe. So I thought that designing things myself was the next best option. We’ve come quite a way since then.
By travelling around the MENA region we have obviously found a lot of sources of inspiration. Cairo, Dubai, Istanbul, Marrakech… Each of these cities has its own specific character, but the trends in design are very similar. The number of talented designers is amazing, which has resulted in a wind of charge in terms of architecture, interior design, furniture design and so on.
The collection has an Arab touch, and looks at the same time minimalistic & innovative. Can you tell more about the collection?
My background at the Wynant store has obviously contributed to the design of the current Cheb Fusion collection. Like my dad, I prefer modern interiors. We prefer simple, sleek designs (no frills) but at the same time, your home has to feel cosy and warm. Your interior makes your home, and you need to feel comfortable and at ease in it.
Our collection is a mix of furniture and accessories, and we always use the same approach. We start from a modern design and try to add an Arab twist to it. The modern aspect always has the upper hand, but the Arab tinge adds another dimension, completing the product and making it unique. By blending the same ingredients over and over again, the collection looks and feels fun and innovative.
We tend to focus on small furniture items, supplementing them with cool decorative accessories. A side table, a coffee table, a light fitting, a door handle, these are just a few of our products. We are currently working on new prototypes and expect to add two to three new products to the collection by end June.
But we also want to promote and distribute Arab design. That is why we develop accessible, timeless items, that are not really branded. They are not conceptual objects. We have chosen to create affordable products that immediately add value to an interior. Design always gives the impression it has to be expensive but ordering directly from us reduces prices substantially.
What makes it East-meets-West?
Our designs mainly feature sleek Arab ornamentation and patterns. We like to use specific shapes from Moorish and Arab culture. Like the typical door frame in the “Cheb High & Low” design. (this doorframe is reflected in the F of our logo). We also try to incorporate certain traditional arts and crafts, using modern and contemporary techniques like a laser to engrave the patterns in the “Kech” coffee tables.
I see this as a West-meets-East story more than anything else. Because of our specific approach people over here are introduced to a new world. At the same time we bring a bit of the East to the West. Some people don’t like it, others think it’s a surprising and fascinating combination.
How did you come up with the name ‘Chebfusion’?
Fusion is self-explanatory. It describes in one word what our design is about and what the underlying vision is. Fusion represents an imaginary combination of two worlds. The end result is our collection.
Cheb is derived from the title that many Rai artists used to use in the past. Cheb means “the young man”, allowing artists to distinguish themselves from artists who made more traditional music. The best known chabaab, ‘chebs’, probably are (Cheb) Khaled and Cheb Mami. I thought it was a good idea to use this prefix because we do not follow the contemporary design styles. Instead we have an innovative concept.
My friends also call me Cheb, so there automatically is an emotional, personal association too.
Where are the products produced and how?
All our products are currently manufactured in Belgium. The emphasis is on quality and on finish. We only work with reliable suppliers, who can handle small and large volumes. We are proud to say that our products are made in Belgium.
What is your typical client like? Or what is your target market?
Our customer portfolio comprises a mix of private individuals, architects and interior designers, bar, restaurant and hotel owners, and project co-ordinators. Our end consumer is a person with an eye for good design, who is simply looking for something innovative, trendy and modern.Our customers like our “Fusion” approach, which creates a fine added value to their interior, whether a living room, bar lounge or hotel room.
I have often been asked whether our customers all have North African or Middle Eastern roots. I’m happy to say this isn’t so, or we wouldn’t have succeeded in what we set out to achieve with Cheb Fusion. Our aim has always been to build a bridge between two design worlds, stimulating both sides.
Who are your favorite designers from the Arab world? And why?
I like keeping up with product designer Younes Duret’s latest work, and the work of Nada Debs. They are well-established names in the MENA region, and they each have their own specific style. They paved the way, and made clear the Arab world was changing. I admire them, especially because to some extent our approach is the same.
Karim Rachid is another internationally-renowned designer. I like to compare him to Philippe Starck, because his career in design is just as impressive. He may do less work in the Arab world, but many there consider him a role model.
When it comes to architecture, Zaha Hadid is quite a phenomenon. She has built an empire, and has designed some of the most prestigious construction projects worldwide. Her designs are futuristic: they have an almost other-worldly quality. She has come to symbolise the Arab world.
You will have an online shop in the autumn of 2015, a shop in Kortrijk and now in Marrakech. What are your future plans?
At the top of my list is the development of three new products. You can see a quick preview on our website. If all goes well, we should be able to add two products to the collection in June: an ornamental light fitting, which will become Nichenn’s little brother. And an Arab wallpaper for interior decoration schemes, which is based on authentic Moroccan tiles. The third product remains a secret.
Our online shop should be up and running by autumn 2015. Tailored to suit Cheb Fusion and ideal for targeting private customers, wherever they are based. This represents a serious investment for a young company, but we are convinced this is the way forward. Also, by focusing on small furniture items and decorative accessories, we can keep selling online.
Currently we are examining various angles to target the project market even better and more accurately. We shall probably take part in an exhibition soon. Possibly Maison et Objet in Paris or the Dubai Hotel Show (both in September 2015).
Do you have a (fun) story to add?
Cheb Fusion is currently looking for a freelance designer (m/f) to join our team. We would prefer a young, talented up-and-coming designer. Someone who follows the MENA region and is familiar with it, who has roots there, and is fascinated by the Arab world. You can obtain further information on this position by e-mail (email@example.com).
Finally, I’m proud to announce that Cheb Fusion will have an official mascot in three weeks from now. Mina and I are expecting our first child. Isn’t that a happy note to end this enjoyable interview?
Congratulations from the al.arte team!
This post is also available in: Dutch