Could you describe to our MADers community your professional and personal background and how you became talent hunter at MAD?
My academic background is Economics and Finance and Political Sciences; I was into investment banking (Mergers & Acquisitions) and private equity for long years and now work as an independent consultant. I also started writing out of Paris for l’Orient le Jour and le Commerce du Levant, about Lebanese inspirational initiatives or endeavours there, be them related to culture, entrepreneurship, etc. And when I came back to Lebanon – 13 years ago – writing and journalism have become an increasingly important part of my activities, mostly shedding light Lebanese success stories and on socio economic and cultural issues as well as on civil society debates, that are shaping the environment we live in. It is the same drive of shifting attention onto voices that matter and of contributing to inspirational endeavors and bridging human experiences, that fuels both my advisory and journalistic undertakings. My passion for literature and writing and for living arts i.e. theater, cinema, etc have also a major place in my life – I write literature as well; it is essential for me.
A friend spoke to me about MAD; I immediately felt I should write about them as I loved the concept. I proposed the subject to a magazine I contributed to and they said OK. I sat with Rima at length and we chatted; there, we saw other collaboration opportunities. I mentioned to her a few up-and-coming designers and artists I liked whom I had been following for a while or whom I had discovered more recently; and she proposed I fill concise but very dense forms about myself and about those which I considered potential talents. I guess the ones I thought of or proposed corresponded to MAD’s mindset and universe. So here I am. And I believe I am also personally very much in line with MAD being myself French and Lebanese, bridging two and more cultures, like MAD and the Yacoub sisters.
How do you find the MAD talents? What are your criteria and process?
In my daily life, my work both as consultant and journalist, I come across very interesting innovative initiatives and inspirational and daring people, whether entrepreneurs or artists or creatives. I also mentor startups; and participate as a speaker or as a guest to events and conferences which bring together such crowds where I meet young or less young – but young minded – talented and fierce individuals. But most of all I think it is my curiosity for all what is around me and for humans and their journeys, which makes me discover talents. Basically, life brings me in contact with them: on a hike, in a yoga or a dance class, while travelling etc. I go to theater plays, to music concerts, I work in coworking places, I love people and speak to them. I am attracted to beauty, to difference; I am enthusiastic about enthusiasm, creation and expression. When something draws my attention, when I like something, I say it and I ask questions, if it brings up any.
The criteria that I have between me and myself are not a specific set; I rely more on flair and intuition for this. However, I have a few guidelines for me: I check young or less young creatives/artists who have already put something out there i.e. who are not at an idea stage but have already produced something, a jewelry collection, a music album or have played in a concert; if they have a kind of track record as we call this in the business world; also, if they have had some international exposure or recognition somehow which also confirms that they have the potential to cater to non local crowds. But first of all, their design/product, etc and their energy has to appeal to me; to touch me…. Then, I also have to feel their passion and their inner drive to create; the vitality and the breath that is needed to pursue a journey… I need to feel the human connection, the esthetics, and the universal touch – not purely oriental or Lebanese – that which could speak to like-minded or like-sensitive persons anywhere in the globe.
Can you tell us more about your city/country and the creative industry as a whole in Lebanon? Which is your favorite area?
Beirut scene but also generally speaking Lebanon is buoyant with creativity. Not only is Beirut extraordinarily dynamic but very interesting initiatives are also arising from Tripoli, for instance. The second city has a lot of culture; it is maybe more earthy and less vocal then the capital. Initiatives are burgeoning everywhere in Lebanon.
In terms of sectors, designers: fashion designers were the ones who emerged the earliest, then, jewelry designers and then product designers. Now, it has exceeded design and fashion. Theater, music, cinema; animation and graphic design, lighting, etc, you name it. The youth are creating, all the time. I guess this is what happens in the aftermath of wars and also in uncertain and unstable environments like ours; creativity is multiplied as it is the only way out. People need to express; they need to find a leeway, outside of a system that is somehow choking and at times, numbing.
What most of those designers have in common is a “blend of modernity and tradition, of East and West, the magic of a hint of nostalgia with the ardor of the present…” as I wrote in one of my articles, which draws Western interest and not only regional interest. Most, and especially the younger generation, are committed to preserving local craftsmanship which also makes a difference in the end product as well, in an increasingly global industrialized and undifferentiated environment. Their products often blur the line between art, craft, and design; a lot of fusion creations, free from structures of categories; which also appeals to current tastes.
A younger nevertheless very dynamic scene is the music scene. I very much believe we will see Lebanese names booming on the international scene. I mean Lebanese origins, as again those groups are more global; not necessarily with a marked Lebanese identity. They happen to be from here; which is for sure meaningful – all what we carry and what agitates us, being from here. And music is a universal language which makes it also easily exportable; more easily than theater for instance, since most of our theatrical and literary production which is also very rich is in Arabic, hence limiting its reach. Then comes the audiovisual digitalized realm where we also seem to have an edge and a young talented generation and photography, a lot of young talents.
What is it in MAD that you relate to? Or why join the MAD community?
I relate to the love of creativity, in all its forms; the love of music, of art, of beauty; to the youth and community spirit that is looking to contribute and endeavor, incessantly; and to MAD’s multicultural, cross-border mindset; to their underlying mission also of bringing people together, bridging several spaces, worlds, etc. I myself have lived in Europe and in Lebanon, have travelled and have diverse centers of interests; what fuels me is the human connection and encounters and the creativity and projects that are triggered and favored by the latter.
I came back to Lebanon after many years in France – 14 – with the desire to contribute my part to this part of the world and share its beauties as I am continuously amazed by the talent and the drive I see here. As an independent consultant and journalist, I am always in an alertness state to discover talents, to shed light on, and accompany Lebanese creativity and inspirational success stories. Initiatives and creativity, human connections fuel me – “Freedom is initiative” says a French woman philosopher that I like a lot. I guess my proximity with the field combined to a certain sensitivity – I think – give me the flair to detect impactful talents, initiatives and change makers which makes me a potential “talent hunter”. My passion for creativity and storytelling – as a writer myself – as well as an innate curiosity for life, for beauty, for experiences make me an enthusiastic MAD talent hunter. Also, I related right away to the Yacoub sisters as I call them; and I very much believe in this energy flow between people; an intuitive connection. Voilà
What are your favorite artistic discoveries of the moment?
My artistic discoveries of the moment are a few designers such as Roula Dfouni whom I have accompanied in working out her expansion and financing strategy. Roula who has recently changed her brand name to Minimalist is at the crossroads of fine jewelry and fashion jewelry and combines noble material: silverwork and semi-precious gemstones with rough unfinished effect which creates conceptual and expressive pieces. At affordable prices. She has drawn interest in Europe and Asia, from where she got some orders, including Japan and China.
I love Nour Najem also whom I have been following for a while, for her design and her spirit. She has a contemporary luxury ready to wear brand that blends architectural, minimalist yet fluid lines with an oriental heritage touch. To me, the brand is very feminine whilst modern. And I am personally sensitive to the inclusion of hand-made fabrics and hand-made details; it does make the difference. We say that elegance and the devil lies in detail. Furthermore, this artisanal work is undertaken by underprivileged women. The preservation of artisanal craftsmanship and of soulfulness is also essential to Nour Najem.
In music, I have discovered recently an amazing drummer, Walid Tawil, who’s not a new comer though – a big name but I came across him in clubs here lately – and who plays in jazz clubs in Lebanon but also abroad with top notch musicians; I also discovered Chantal Bitar a young tarab singer, which voice and presence makes you love tarab; revisiting traditional heritage with youth’s sensitivity and modernity creates a whole new experience; I loved it.
In terms of visual arts, I was very sensitive to Zena El Khalil’s exhibition and work in the scope of her exhibition Sacred Catastrophe – Healing Lebanon and to her journey both as an artist and as an individual… Can we really separate both? I also like her writing, some short stories. She has some plans cooking as well in terms of art and community; and I like this intertwinement; art that is close to the people, that engages them directly. I was also very moved by Dania Bdeir short feature, In White, which I have visualized privately as I met Dania by pure coincidence in a café and we chatted. I loved the feature, hadn’t realized it was a short one and wanted more of it, was awaiting for the “suite”. Then I realized it was a short feature; she won several awards.
There are also superb architects, photographers, multidisciplinary people, increasingly so actually that I discover – that are not all necessary very young i.e. 20’s but 30’s or 40’s or even over 50’s but whose talent is ever blooming and some who have come to art at mid life – but we don’t have space here to speak of all my passions and discoveries. It might be the opportunity for another article…
About Nicole : She’s a consultant, a journalist and a writer, with strong affinities with art and culture, the creative and the digital economy, social entrepreneurship, media and communication, humanities, architecture, sustainable development and ecology, etc. Passionate about creativity in all its forms; constantly exploring and discovering; driven by connections and encounters. Her articles are published in various media: l’Orient le Jour, l’Agenda Culturel, Libnanews, l’Officiel Levant, l’Orient Littéraire, Le Commerce du Levant, Papers of Dialogue, World Environment… Her blogs within Agenda Culturel and within Mondoblog-RFI by the name of Pensees de Beyrouth.