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Saudi Arabian Jewellery Designer Lillian Ismail is a force to Reckon With

Lillian Ismail

Lillian Ismail’s aesthetic wisdom of creativity gained her a notable recognition in her country when she was named the “Youngest Saudi Jewellery Designer.” The Saudi-native and New York City resident has been pioneering in her field ever since the great success of her first collection Banajr. At the age of 17, this multifaceted designer was giving workshops, speaking at conferences, and giving talks about both her field and her experience as an entrepreneur.

Ismail, a talented innovator, is known as the creative driving force behind visionary pieces influenced by western and eastern culture. The Pratt Institute graduate has competed internationally after showcasing her jewellery in the city of art and fashion, NYC. Every piece in her brand “Lillian Ismail” is timeless, exquisite, and one-of- a kind. Through Ismail’s latest collection Hnadas, she was able to express her identity and blend history with modernity in her designs. I had the pleasure to visit Lillian at her NYC studio to discuss her latest collection, the mechanics that go into the designing process, and how she is fighting her way to the top of the jewellery world.

When did you first discover that you wanted to be a jewellery designer?
I grew up with a passion towards the field of fashion in general and discovered my love for jewellery designing when I gave myself a chance to sketch and design. I embarked upon my journey to adulthood by building my own brand at the age of 17. Upon the cusp of independence, I was named as the “Youngest Saudi Jewellery Designer” in 2013. I made my debut with the first collection for my graduation project in high school, which evolved into the brand, Lillian Ismail. The collection initially started with 7 designs that were highly inspired by traditional jewellery from different regions from Saudi, especially Hijaz. Each piece had a different story of its own that a lot of people connected to which helped me build a market in Saudi and take a step by building the brand name.

Do you have a specific philosophy about jewellery designing?
The foundation of my work is highly influenced by my background, translating concepts and significant factors from my culture into pieces of jewellery. Concepts and specific sources of inspiration vary for every collection, starting with what fascinates me to what defines my identity as Lillian Ismail, but the core always remains the same. Through precious metals and stones I celebrate the importance of the Islamic history and its influence on other cultures. I enjoy discovering greater design potential beyond the usual application of arabesque motifs and Arabic call in Islamic arts. I have recently introduced the influence of western eras like Art deco and the use of 3D printing in the process of production. Jewellery is a form of wearable art that embodies the identity of the artist/designer and reflects the personality of the wearer.

What goes into creating a new piece of jewellery? Can you guide us through the design process?
Designing a new piece of jewellery starts with a concept that is developed by intense research. The way this process organized by the designer varies from a designer to another. Some people use mood boards, collages and written documents. After the concept is finalized comes the most important prior to fabrication, sketching. Designers sketch for hours for a big number of sketches that go to a hundred quick sketches. After the sketches are finalized with all the details including material identification and precise measurements on a spec-sheet. The sketches are then transferred into a beautiful piece of jewellery, whether made by the designer himself or a bench jeweller (outsourced).

High-end stores in the Middle East sell your brand and you tend to use Arabic calligraphy in many of your pieces. To make the leap into the American market, do you feel like you would have to tweak the designs to make them more universal?
I did make the leap into the American market here in New York City. The market here admires the celebration of my culture and background in my work. They always find it fascinating and they respect its originality. As I designer, I like to keep my identity the same to prove myself in the field, knowing that it would be less admired by some people but that doesn't mean it needs to be more universal.

Who is your target audience? What type of women do you envision wearing Lillian Ismail?
I design for elegant ladies that appreciate the concept, notion of beauty incorporated in my work and the high quality of my work. For my coming unique collection, I envision bold, independent and fashionable women or men wearing my jewellery. They are afraid to embellish their outfit with statement pieces that are not big in size, but strong in design.

You were raised in Saudi Arabia and graduated from Pratt Institute in NYC. Do your inspirations come from the best of both worlds? How would you describe your aesthetic.
This question is very relevant to the transformation that’s happening to Lillian Ismail jewellery line. The influence of the western culture has affected my aesthetic since I moved to New York. That does not mean Lillian Ismail’s piece will not be Islamic-inspired. The exposure to western culture and contemporary jewellery concepts played a huge role in developing this collection, and hopefully all future collections. I for, sure, developed my craft skills and broadened my knowledge and honed my aesthetic with a BFA in Jewellery Design from Pratt Institute. I revisit a history that is near and dear to my heart and reignites the faltering flame of my heritage by blending history and modernity in my new designs.

If you could choose any designer in the fashion world to collaborate with, who would it be?
I would choose to collaborate with Karl Lagerfeld. I feel we would come out with something very unique from two different creative personalities.

In five words, how would you describe the Lillian Ismail brand.
Elegant, Cultural, Well Crafted, Contemporary, Inspiring

What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?
Be patient, organized and never give up! It’s only the start of something big.

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