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Rue Kothari of Downtown Design: “Being able to establish a unique identity and communicate that in an effective way is crucial”


Rue Kothari of Downtown Design: “Being able to establish a unique identity and communicate that in an effective way is crucial”

Having lived in Dubai for 15 years, Rue Kothari has additionally been Director of Downtown Design since 2015 – and this fair just keeps growing. This year, they are hosting three regional design weeks; Amman, Beirut and Casablanca. Rue tells The Artling about the evolution of the design scene in Dubai, what to expect from this year’s edition and the designers who have caught her eye recently:

First of all, congratulations on the upcoming 6th edition of Downtown Design! It has gained incredible traction since its first edition. How would you say the design scene in Dubai has evolved since then?

Thank you! We have so much to celebrate, not least of all our biggest and most diverse show to date.

I’ve lived in Dubai for the last 15 years and witnessed such a breadth of change, not only in the landscape but in the culture and way of thinking. Launching and editing a design magazine here almost a decade ago really opened my eyes to the potential of the region. Back then, there were just a handful of fledging product designers, and I had to work hard to find them. This year at Editions, our first limited edition showcase in the region, we will present around 40 unique talents. It’s an impressive evolution and I’m incredibly proud of the depth and sophistication of the work they will present.

Agrippa, Morgan Collection, Bar stool. Image courtesy of Downtown Design. 

Downtown Design has been cited multiple times as one of the leading fairs in the Middle East. Tell us about your journey from its inception. What have been some hurdles and highlights?

When I came on board for the third edition, the fair had already established its DNA to some degree, as a show promoting original, high-quality design – something that was sorely lacking in the region. The challenge was to grow the fair sustainably and make it commercially successful. With so little precedent, it took a lot of persuasions and a huge amount of faith from our exhibitors to invest in a new concept, with a new director. That year we doubled in size, and laid out a whole new blueprint for the fair, establishing something that was credible and creative. We continue to grow each year, both in size and number of visitors, maintaining both quality and diversity, launching new features, hosting installations and collaborating with architects, interior designers and brands to create a really unique and engaging environment that our visitors enjoy experiencing.

You grew up in London and have named it as your favourite city. London also has an incredibly vibrant arts and design community. How would you say the design platforms differ between that and of Dubai’s?

I have a lot of love for London; the density, creativity and unpredictability of it still taps into my need for a velocious life. Dubai is a very different landscape, no less creative or ambitious but there is a distinct openness to all possibilities. London is saturated with exceptional architecture, history, resources and talent. The design industry is harder to penetrate, but there is support and funding for young designers. Here in Dubai, there can sometimes be a straight line to success, if you have talent and tenacity, and are able to self-fund – and when you do well people truly celebrate you.

Bene, Middle East, STUDIO by Bene Thomas Feichtner. Image courtesy of Downtown Design. 

Tell us a little bit more about what visitors are to expect from exhibitors at this year’s edition?

This year as with every year we started with a fresh sheet of paper. I always review what worked and what didn’t from the last edition and try and address it. We engaged award-winning architects H+A to help masterplan the fair around the theme of Liveable Cities. Using principles of placemaking what has transpired is a strong and specific identity, wide boulevards, green spaces, plenty of natural light, areas to engage and areas to breathe. As we grow, the coherence of the space and curation becomes even more important. We have over 175 brands, including a new limited edition showcase – Editions; 7 unique installations by international and regional names including Marc Ange and Preciosa’s award-winning Breath of Light; as well as a host of new features including an indoor garden, pop up cafes, a design bar and VIP room designed by Tabanlioglu.

Can you share some designers that have caught your eye recently and why?

This year we will host three regional design weeks; Amman, Beirut and Casablanca. We have co-curated a space for each one, to feature three key talents from each. Each one of them has huge potential, and we hope that our platform can help them connect with people from the industry that can push them to the next stage of their career. In addition, we’ll launch unique pieces by a host of multicultural locally-based talents. Sergio Mendes, a Portuguese designer who carved out his career designing for Munna and Ginger and Jagger, has moved to Dubai and will launch his first solo collection at the fair. Sophia Chiragi from Morocco is another designer who has recently moved to the city and is electing to launch her next collection at Downtown Editions. That Dubai is now attracting designers who elect to live and work and design in the city, is incredibly significant.

Bomma, Umbra by Studio Dechem. Image courtesy of Downtown Design. 

Tell us about a design acquisition of yours that has stood the test of time.

I have so many, it’s hard to choose. I grew up in the heart of London and spent so much time rummaging through second-hand shops and markets to find pieces that I love. These still mean so much more to me than anything I have ever bought as new. I’ve carried these vintage pieces through eight different moves. So far all of them have survived and continue to carry their beauty no matter the context.

What advice do you have for up and coming designers who are trying to make their mark on the design scene?

There are so many designers out there with vision and ideas, but what makes the difference between those who make it and those you don’t? Firstly it’s understanding your craft and how to perfectly realise your ideas with technical precision. Secondly, it’s exploration, of materials, techniques and disciplines. Thirdly it’s creating your ‘brand’. I know marketing is often seen as a dirty business by creatives, but it’s the only way to let the right people know what you’re doing. Being able to establish a unique identity and communicate that in an effective way is crucial. Of course, grants and mentorship go a long way in supporting the commercial growth and exposure of a young designer.

CC-Tapis, Visioni Collection by Patricia Urquiola. Image courtesy of Downtown Design. 

What do you hope for the future of Downtown Design and design in Dubai as a whole?

I have a long-term strategy and vision for the fair. We have a unique advantage in the Middle East in that there is no other credible platform where brands and buyers can converge to do business. While the growth of western economies has slowed down and established nations are looking East for new opportunities to support their industries, events like ours are becoming increasingly more important. I hope we are able to continue to grow sustainably, to retain our personality and bespoke approach, to expand the number of countries that participate and help establish Dubai as the only hub for design in the Middle East.


Downtown Design will take place from 13 to 16 November 2018 in Dubai
For more information on this fair, click here

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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