Cyril Zammit Introduces the New Dubai Design Week

How the design business is changing in the Middle East and what is about to happen in the next few months.

​There is a lot excitement in ​Dubai for preparations. In a few months – 26th to 31st of October – the city will host its first Design Week. Dubai likes to go big. How? The city will inaugurate a new design district (d3), and apparently it will be very efficient, enough to put Dubai on the map.

We've asked Cyril Zammit, member of the management team of the new Dubai Design Week, to give us a few anticipations and explain what is actually happening. Born in Paris, Zammit had a very fruitful career in between Prague, London, and Switzerland, before finding himself in the Emirates to work mainly on a series of limited edition collections and act as director of Design Days Dubai. He became one of the main players of the Middle-Eastern project.

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Cyril Zammit - Director

ARTEMEST: You are at the head of Design Days Dubai since its inception, in 2012. How has the fair evolved since then?
CYRIL ZAMMIT: We were the first event in the entire Middle East dedicated to limited editions and collectible design back then. We felt there was a need to showcase and sell unique pieces within this emerging market.
Since 2012, Design Days Dubai has positioned itself as a key event for contemporary design. We have presented emerging design galleries and designers never seen before and we also have the strongest diversity in our line-up. In 2015, 20 countries were present at the fair with 44 exhibitors. We are also proud to have a presence of exhibitors from the Middle East – nearly half of exhibitors last March.

A: Do you think that the local design scene has somehow been involved in these developments?
CZ: It has been a great journey so far and we have witnessed the industry’s growth and the support of local Dubai authorities. In less than five years, Dubai has positioned itself as a regional capital for design with the establishment of Dubai Design District (d3), a design trade show (Downtown Design), Dubai Design & Fashion Council and now the newly-announced Dubai Design Week.
At Design Days Dubai, we have supported local talent, and together with institutions such as Dubai Culture and Tashkeel, initiated and showcased designers living in the UAE. There is this general appreciation of design that motivates us to develop more programs and events.

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A: The first edition of Dubai Design Week has officially been announced. It will focus on the new creative community, Dubai Design District (d3). Could you please give us a preview of what to expect?

CZ: d3 is our main partner for this first edition. The district will be opening its first phase by the end of October and is a natural host for Downtown Design – the commercial centerpiece of the design week– and key initiatives launching during the week. Besides Downtown Design, we have asked an Emirati architectural firm (ww​ to create six identical pavilions which will be installed in the streets of d3. A country from the region has been assigned to each of the six pavilions (this year Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan and the UAE) and its designated curator will work with national talents around a theme: The Element of Play: the Game. It will be an immersive experience once you push the doors (hence its name: Abwab = doors in Arabic).
Other initiatives include a Global Innovation Design exhibition, a premiere showcasing the work of postgraduate students from some of the world’s best design schools; talks and seminars, and on-site installations.
We have also teamed up with the design weeks in San Francisco, Mexico, Helsinki, Istanbul, Beijing and Melbourne. Each will invite three of their national/regional design brands to be showcased at Downtown Design and gain access to a new market.
We are also planning activations in several other parts of the city and it will give residents and visitors the chance to (re)discover Dubai.

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A: You said that, after the success of events such as Design Days Dubai and Downtown Design, Dubai Design Week is "an opportunity for the creative industries to engage with regional and international audiences". How do you think this potential could impact the design market?
CZ: The nature of Dubai is based on exchange and networking. We are giving these industries a platform to share their experience and talent and connect with the world; and we offer visitors to Dubai Design Week the chance to meet exhibitors of Downtown Design as well as students, creative and renowned industry figures. It’s a reciprocal and circular exchange as often the visitors of Dubai find new ways of engaging with the Middle Eastern market through Dubai.

A: What about the relationships between the Dubai design fairs and the design week?
CZ: Downtown Design is a key element of Design Week as its commercial centerpiece. We position ourselves as fairs of discoveries and Dubai Design Week will also act as a catalyst for young talents who are not represented by a gallery and we haven’t been able to exhibit at Design Days Dubai.

A: You define yourself as a “French urban nomad whose base is Dubai” on your Twitter profile. Is there space for design in your lifestyle? Are you a design collector?
CZ: I am very fortunate to travel a lot and see great design everywhere. I wish I could bring more back home, but my apartment is somehow limited in space. I do like to purchase limited edition pieces and hope to grow this small collection.

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A: Do you have some special advise for design collectors?
CZ: Always buy because you like and not because you must. The rationale of the investment should never overtake the one from your heart.

A: What is the latest object you bought for yourself?
CZ: I bought a rocking chair by david/nicolas from ArtFactum (Beirut) but also a Cloud by Jeremy Wintrebert from Gallery Fumi (London).

A: What - and where - is the future of the luxury design market, in your opinion?
CZ: The future is in the unique. In this globalized world, luxury resides in a distinctive approach and a different aesthetic. The Middle Eastern market is a sleeping beauty that is awakening over the last three years. It has proven in the past how strong its legacy has been in the Occident and I am confident we have amazing years ahead.

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About the author Annalisa Rosso writes about design and architecture for Casa Vogue Brasil, Elle Decor Italia, Elle Decoration NL among other collaborations with international magazines. Follow Rosso on twitter.

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