Film My Design’s lens on one of the country’s brightest design film duos is a testament to Egyptian ingenuity at its furnished finest.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” A sentiment that snarky old Oscar Wilde uttered way back when, and one that will forever echo in eternity for generations ad infinitum. Though you might think this is just me showing off my literary prowess, it is merely a sentiment that had pulsed back into relevance after having (more or less) thoroughly engrossing myself in the endearingly artistic journey behind two of Egypt’s most down-to-earth creative realists; Youssra Yassin – the ingenious mind behind Room No. 9 – and Amr Laz – an inspirationally humble filmmaking phenomenon. The trailblazing trio of young visionaries behind Egypt’s first and foremost design film movement, Film My Design, nominated this duo of visionary creatives for a spot on our humble little site, and their pairing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Amr Laz’s short Design-Film capturing Yousra’s design process
“We have so much untapped artistic potential in our own history through the ages; from pharaonic elements to khedivial impressions, and all the way to our modern day times, but instead of trying to capture genuine Egyptian identity, we put almost all our focus on imitating an already established formula with only a handful of minor touches.” Youssra Yassin – a furniture and product designer – graduated from the Faculty of Fine arts in 2002 as an interior designer, eventually winding up in Zamalek’s Eklego Design Studio for a whole nine years, and though so far her story is seemingly bog-standard, she is anything but average. She eventually left Eklego after she realised that her true calling in life is the reinvigoration of Egyptian identity in all things furniture, setting off to start her own design studio, and become her own boss. A boss she definitely became; founding Egypt’s premier authentic Egyptian furniture design studio, Room No. 9.
Yousra Yassin, Founder of Room No. 9 Design Studio
Glamour and glitz aren’t any part of Youssra’s various modus operandi; her approach to furniture design - and indeed any creative process - is heavily steeped in raw realism and objectivity. “I am not a big fan of needless embellishment, nor am I comfortable with calling it a day and just designing things for the sake of mass consumer markets. I try my best to see past the nitty gritty, the grime and stagnation that Egypt’s visage throws at you to see the true, untouched beauty that our country should be world-renowned for.”
Yousra’s design philosophy
You don’t get fancy terminology with Youssra, nor do you get any contrived meandering into her design process; Youssra makes an active effort to see past the horrid, and into the unique, and once she commits what she sees to memory, she simply uses her imagination and veteran skillset to materialize her thoughts, working alongside Egypt’s notoriously difficult craftsmen, and experiencing the kind of creative decay that plagues Egypt’s furniture design scene. “Working with most craftsmen, to put it politely, is an exercise in patience; they will, more often than not, ignore any design choices or aspects that they aren’t used to, and even if you think you’ve convinced of your choices, they’ll either do it their way anyway or just dump it altogether. It really shows the kind of struggles that burgeoning designers face when dealing with handymen.”
If you go to Attaba, for example, you’ll quickly dismiss the whole place on account of how it’s just a disastrously crowded marketplace, but if you simply look past the ugly storefronts and the chaos, you’ll see architectural marvels that people hardly ever notice, not even as an afterthought.
A similarly stagnant view yet persists in the majority of Egypt’s furniture designers regardless of proliferation, at least, according to Youssra. “It’s all well and good to keep up with the world’s design trends, but to blatantly copy and paste whatever sells without trying to add something genuine to it is the biggest reason why we’re behind. We have a wealth of inspiration to bathe in and utilise, but for many tangible and intangible reasons, we choose to stay within the confines of the tried and true.”
Part of the Geo Collection, by Room No.9
Now when I say “Egyptian identity” when it comes to furniture, I don’t mean adding hieroglyphs to your sofa, and neither do Room No. 9. Youssra simply uses elements of Egypt’s architectural, interior and furniture designs from all design eras of Egypt, as well as long-lost techniques, to try and carve out a niche (not a neesh) for herself and her brand. For example, Room No. 9’s Geo collection makes extensive use of the intricately inlayed “marquetry” design approach; achieving a semblance of modernity, while still maintaining the essence Youssra strives for.
I would see workers who worked with alabaster in Luxor, using extremely crude tools and almost no safety precautions while they worked the material. These people were literally dying at a snail’s pace as they made these one-of-a-kind pieces, and the fact that they’re this underrepresented and overlooked inspired me to see what I could do with the illustrious material.
“It’s such an old style, one that was typically used for high society for ages, and though you might think it’s dated and out of place, a few personal touches here and there can make all the difference. Speaking of ancient design choices, Room No. 9’s Layers collection, in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, makes extensive use of authentic (and exclusive to Egypt) alabaster, handcrafting each and every piece meticulously into works of pure, pristine art.
Part of the Layers Collection by Room No.9
Youssra fails almost a dozen times before coming up with even a single prototype, let alone a finished product, and this isn’t something to frown upon; without flopping hard and succumbing to circumstance a bunch of times, you never learn. Without having that brand of stamina that the world necessitates, you can never come close to leaving even the most seemingly insignificant scratch on history. She’s 38 and still barely scratching the surface of what the world of design has to offer, so age isn’t a barrier. Youssra has a whole heap of stories to tell (and she definitely told me a lot), but this isn’t just about the devilishly talented designer; behind the lens capturing her art, a different brand of creative is delightfully inspirational in his own, intuitive way.
Part of the Leaf Collection, by Room No.9
If you could infer anything from Youssra’s story, and indeed the whole sentiment of Film My Design and its endlessly talented and endearing designers, it would be the utter dismissal of all things fake. A common stigma plaguing all manner of so-called “creatives” is their often absurd choice of words, rationale and just incessant, contrived droning about technique, functionality and inspiration. so much so that it has become a meme throughout the ages. Some folks are a lot less complex (at least on the surface); they just take whatever concept they’re given and run with it on the fly, weaving together something outstanding just by winging it, and though you might think it’s just raw talent, it’s a lot more about confidence, simplicity and genuine care than it is about innate ability.
Aspiring filmmaker, Amr Laz
One such person is the young, happy-go-lucky filmmaker-in-the-making, Amr Laz; a man swept away by the lens’s alluring charm, Amr is a simplistic man at heart, but one with a vision and style that speaks volumes of the kind of raw potential that FMD strives to capture in their artists of choice. “I started out a couple years ago, back when I was in university; I’m a Business graduate from the Arab Open University, and I’d walked into video and film as part of a student activity. They needed some video edits and such, and I barely knew a thing about any of it. So I sat with my friend and we loaded up PowerDirector and I just watched him do it.”
They just had us sit together in a room and talk to each other about everything; what we do, what our approach was, how we would go about things. It wasn’t in any way planned, we were just…there, and they gave me all the freedom I could want to work with Youssra and make something happen.
Mister Laz is, for all intents and purposes, entirely self-taught; he saw something attractive in the editing room, in his camera, that pulled him into a near-endless cycle of learning ins and outs, binging YouTube tutorials, asking around for advice and just plain immersing himself in a sea of insight. Though he started out as humble as can be, doing random odds and ends for establishments the likes of El Rehla and our local co-working hideaway in the Greek Campus, Al Maqarr. Little by little (and after some turbulent times with surviving education), Amr eventually caught the eyes of the trio behind Film My Design, whose approach to filmography in relation to design couldn’t have been a more perfect fit for the young filmmaker.
Amr Laz’s filmmaking philosophy
Indeed, something did happen; Amr and Youssra delved into each other’s creative processes, admittedly with some bewilderment and unfamiliarity at first, but after slipping into the mood of their work and each other’s sensibilities, what came out was something you’d swear could only be a scripted, world-class mini-documentary of unparalleled aesthetic proportions. It is exactly this kind of sentiment, this kind of direction that the folks behind FMD try to bring to the Egyptian design film table. To watch creators of all calibres go about their daily lives, their creative processes, their essence, all to put the masses through a deeply aesthetic and visually nourishing ride through the minds of some of Egypt’s best and brightest.
The FMD co-founders
What will FMD come up with next? Make sure to stay in the know and follow their Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and website. If you’re interested in perusing some of Egypt’s most authentic, inspired furniture designs, make sure to follow Room No. 9 on their Facebook page, and if you have a budding thing for filmography and (pretty soon) photography, check out Amr Laz’s Vimeo for some of his work (and more to come).
Main Photo: Behind the scenes collaboration between furniture designer, Yousra Yassin and filmmaker, Amr Laz.