Morocco

Zelli Man

Writer

Nahda Suleiman

Photographer

Jean-Denis Joubert

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Duret always admired the form. A designer who likes to experiment with different materials and mediums, it was always on his design to-do list to produce his own 3D figure, yet he lacked the means and industrial equipment to do so. Until recently. The designer is now the proud owner of a Replicator 2 Desktop 3D printer. Launched last October, he says it’s the fastest and most efficient version on the market.

‘Thanks to this printer, I’m now able to make my own toys. These characters allow artists to be creative and to add a bit of humour to their work by creating playful works of art,’ says Duret who heads his eponymous Casablanca-based creative agency. Founded in 2006, the studio specialises in product, digital, graphic and interior design. Not one to take himself or his designs too seriously, Duret loves to inject some wit into his creations. It’s a quality that is clearly evident in Zelli Man.

Available in 11 colours, ranging from black and white to pink and neon green, and made from biodegradable plastic and starch-based corn, Zelli Man has deeper significance than just a character to Duret. Measuring 16 centimetres tall and 10 centimetres wide, the limited edition character provides a fun form for Duret to play with his Moroccan-influenced aesthetics. While the designer is mostly known for designing innovative products that have a functional purpose, in contrast Zelli Man is purely ‘decorative’.

‘It was a spontaneous creation that actually made me realise how important tradition still is in our Arab societies. Tradition represents a major source of inspiration, a kind of common ground which enables us to create. My interpretation of oriental patterns shows how we can use our cultural heritage and ancestral know-how to invent new artistic references,’ muses Duret.

The 32 year old spent five years studying industrial design at ENSCI Les Ateliers, a prestigious school in Paris, but he doesn’t attribute his design aesthetic to his schooling years. ‘It’s easy to assume that would be the case, but it’s not. I think that school was a perfect place for experimentation and it gave me the tools needed for creation, but they didn’t exactly tell me what I needed to do. They enhanced our process of thinking and creating products. It was more about methodology. My aesthetic comes from the things I’ve experienced – it’s more personal.’

Crediting observations from daily life and interactions with surrounding objects as his main source of inspiration, Duret explains that the design of Zelli Man originated from an earlier product – the Zelli bookshelf. Designed in 2006, the product was inspired by the zellige on the walls of his grandfather’s room, the geometry of which fascinated him as a child. He translated this memory into a modern bookcase. The structure is composed of identical modular constellations, which can easily be assembled together or separated to function as stand-alone pieces. ‘I can’t believe the number of emails and phone calls I got from people about this product. They were telling me that it was the first time they saw an Arabic product that was functional and representative of their tradition,’ he says.

Extremely passionate about Arab culture and a firm believer in the creative talents of today’s youth, Duret is perhaps a fitting spokesperson for his generation.During his university years, the designer says he was mocked for deciding to take up an internship in Morocco. ‘The university couldn’t imagine that a person could do design in the Middle East because it didn’t sound “cool”. Now they’re surprised at how far I’ve come.’

He laughs and shares that while most people may accept the status quo, he isn’t afraid of asking ‘stupid questions’. ‘I’m curious about everything. Arab culture is absolutely amazing and there are so many questions to be asked about why products are created in a certain way. For instance, no one has ever asked why the babouche is pointed or why Arab architecture is designed the way it is. Instead of only admiring the product, I always try to ask questions and find out answers.’

The designer agrees that there is ‘so much energy’ in the Middle East, but laments the fact that people still don’t support creativity and the concept of pushing boundaries. According to Duret, fashion and graphic design have gained a foothold in the region, but the field of product design is still very primitive. ‘I don’t really know many people who are involved in this – maybe four or five. I would love to find distributors who believe in me. Instead of going to Paris or Germany and asking designers to create products with an Arabic twist, companies should be asking us Arabs. I go crazy when I see that Marcel Wanders designed a shop in Dubai. Don’t get me wrong, I love his designs, but it’s really frustrating that designers who don’t really understand Arabic culture are being employed. If you understand the culture, you can produce something that is strong and that lasts. It will take time but I’m still positive about the direction this generation is heading in.’

This article appears in the issue40Buy Now