Behind the bag is a design house called Experiment 1 – a collective of three graduates of Kuwait University’s architecture school. Dalal Al Hashash, Khawla Al Hussaini and Fatma Al Obaid say they started the accessory design house three years ago, as an alternative creative outlet to their professional architectural endeavours.
Hussaini tells how the experiment first started: ‘Our day jobs weren’t allowing us to practice what we had been doing in our academic years, so we started designing small projects, mostly for friends and families, but we weren’t exactly happy with the end results.
We felt that the clients’ budgets and their own aesthetics were dictating the projects, so Experiment 1 was a way of eliminating these two factors.’
According to Hashash, the two schools of design of fashion and architecture are inseparable. ‘We believe every design activity passes through the exact same mental operations, no matter what the object is; whether it is a building or a bag, they only differ in scale and techniques,’ she says.
Experiment 1’s bags thus follow a flexible architectural blueprint that results in a certain mechanical and methodical appeal to each custom-made piece. Aesthetics are stripped down to basics, enthused and embellished, before the designers administer final quality control checks.
‘We decided to set our own project that would be conducted under our own budget and design aesthetics, where clients were not introduced to the process but to the final outcome.’
The designers work from an atelier situated in the Arabana warehouse, in the centre of the Al Rai industrial district of Kuwait City, an area choked with factories that fits with the constructive mood of the brand.
Hashah says the workshop itself is a place of learning for the designers, as they forage through an archive of material samples kept in a library-like storage space. Although not limited to one type of material and in-keeping with their surroundings, the team prefer to experiment with materials used in heavy industry.
This ranges from heavy brass, copper and stainless steel, to lighter materials such as wood and textiles. ‘We try to be very open minded when choosing materials, not perceiving how it’s usually used but rather to understand the material itself and what it offers, design wise,’ says Hashash.
The team also point out that the absence of a bag manufacturing industry in Kuwait has helped keep the label untainted, original and relevant.
Materials are spread out over a work surface, which marks the beginning of the experiment. Obaid says that there are three starting points that all handbags go though; a look at the potential structure and mechanisms of the bag, an exploration into new materials, and then manipulating patterns and techniques on paper before these elements are transformed into the bag itself.
Even when the handbag appears to be completed, the designers insist it is still a work in progress. Hussaini adds, ‘Experiment 1 is not about the final product, it is about the whole process of making the bag, which never ends.
We are still changing and experimenting with our first creations, sometimes we find new leather that suits the bag more, or we change the structure to a lighter one.’
It also gives the bags a dual purpose of being conceptually alive and deftly functional, working within the fundamentals of architectural design to focus on structure, craftsmanship and materials. Any parts of the bags which fails to serve its original purpose can be used later in the process.
A copper wire intended to be a handle, for example, can be converted into a decoration or saved for another accessory piece.
Experiment 1’s select audience means that annual exhibitions of the handbags usually take place at the designers own workshop; one of the few ways Kuwaitis can obtain an Experiment 1 piece. ‘We believe that during the last three years, people have started to really appreciate well-designed pieces. They are also attracted to bags that are made using unorthodox techniques and materials,’ Obaid comments.
Experiment 2, the next phase of the project, looks set to add another impetus to the local design industry. The first piece designed under the Experiment 2 umbrella was a chair, which again uses the same architectural mechanisms as the brand’s other products.
The team say that Experiment 2 is based on skills learnt from university, and during their work on the Experiment1 project, rather than creating one specific product in mind.
This means that although furniture will most likely be the main feature of the brand, it could branch out into other areas of design depending on the clients wishes or new techniques developed. This frees the designers from the constraints of shaping a brand based on orthodoxy and market tastes.
Hashash explains how this flexibility has helped the team work within a brief’s rigid specifications, such as their first client who asked for a new seating area based on a concrete bench in the company’s waiting room.
Hashash comments: ‘from the start we tried to avoid using this concrete bench as the seating because we felt it was too restricting. We choose to use it as an anchor instead, and created several perforated “plus” shaped structural divisions that would create a seating area. We fixed these divisions on the bench from both the top and the side to ensure stability.’
After forming the structure they used techniques learnt from Experiment 1, such as weaving in heavy materials. ‘The client was very pleased and although its a reception chair, she told us that she enjoys sitting on it and doing her work.’
Yet Hashash insists that this first piece, like all previous Experiment designs, is still a work in progress. ‘We chose to work with the techniques we learned during the process of our first experiment, but at the moment we’re still not sure where the project is heading.’