It's Jewelry Month: Bil Arabi

BY Anum Bashir

Jewelry Month is soon coming to an end, and I saved one of the most special for last... only because Bil Arabi's Nadine Kanso and I are deeply entangled in a friendship that we insist is now familial, and because she's an interdisciplinary designer who's calligraphy, photography, and fine jewelry has had people in the Middle East swooning for over a decade now. Founded over 12 years ago, here in Dubai, Bil Arabi is revered for its calligraphic creations that are unlike any other in the region. Let's meet the designer, artist, and cultural entrepreneur... Nadine Kanso.

About Nadine:


AB: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

NK: Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. Me and my family ended up moving around the time of the Civil War like many of the people at the time - either to another city or even migrating to other countries. It was a tough time emotionally for thousands of Lebanese people. 

AB: What was your childhood like?

NK: It felt like I was forced to run away from it. 

AB: Your earliest/ fondest jewelry related memories/influences?

NK: I loved looking into my mother and grandmother's drawers, but always found myself even happier looking at old family photos of the parties they threw, and friendships they kept. Funnily enough I loved trying on their sunglasses more so than jewelry. I actually wasn't really into jewelry until a lot later in life. 

AB: Childhood dreams/ heroes?

NK: I have always lived for the moment (i.e. the present). However with that being said, the only thing I have wished for was to have a house by the beach... that's my ultimate dream...

About Bil Arabi:


AB: When did you know you wanted to become a jewelry designer and launch your own brand?

NK: I never knew when it crept up on me. There was absolutely no plan or hope that went into it. Nothing about Bil Arabi was or has been pre-meditative. It all to this day continues to happen by chance, and I love that. The unpredictable of my creative process excites me, and fuels me forward. I consider myself more of a creative rather than a designer. 

AB: How did that journey start? How did Bil Arabi come to be?

NK: Bil Arabi was born 12 years ago; it was a way to express myself against the misconceptions of 9/11 tragedy. I wanted to turn the power of words and love into wearable art. Bil Arabi set out to make a statement; it's about being proud of my Arab identity, culture, and language.

AB: Take us inside your design process

NK: I love typography, and I love calligraphy, so naturally it became a seminal part of my brand DNA. I got lucky with good handwriting, and so what sets our calligraphic jewelry apart is that it's actually my own handwriting that later moulded and created in gold - making them fairly unique. 

AB: What is the toughest part of being a designer?

NK: Keep up with your own expectations of yourself, and personal approval. I'm my own toughest critic. 

AB: What are some of your favorite pieces you've designed over the years?

NK: It's too hard to choose. I love every piece because they're all so contextualized and linked to people I care about and love. For example that time when you and I collaborated on a capsule collection marked the begin of such a strong friendship between us. That experience is etched into Bil Arabi history. Same goes for the other pieces I have designed and created over the years. 

AB: Who do you design for? Who is the Bil Arabi girl/woman?

NK: I mostly design for myself. 

AB: How did you establish your style as a designer?

NK: I think it's innate. You just happen to have it...or you don't!

A Little Bit More:


AB: The best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

NK: Never judge 

AB: If there's one place in the world you could be, where would it be?

NK: On the beach. It's my happy place.

AB: If you weren't a designer, what would you be?

NK: A photographer which I already am. Going further back, I would probably go for  archeology. I find it so interesting and captivating. 

AB: Where are you taking your brand? Future plans, next steps?

NK: I believe in the written, so time will tell. Remember, I don't plan. I just kind of go with the flow. It's healthier. 

AB: A fun fact about you no one knows?

NK: Do you really want to go there?!?!?! LOL

AB: Love you!

NK: Love you!

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