Sixteen years ago, she was working nights and weekends, creating, packaging and dispatching agate coasters from her grandmother's basement in New York, with only two employees – her grandmother and her mother – to help her. Today, Anna Rabinowicz heads an international luxury home and lifestyle company. Her products are displayed in countless high-end outlets around the world, from Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus to Saks Fifth Avenue, Lane Crawford, Thomas Goode & Co and, most recently, Bloomingdale's Home in Dubai Mall. And she's taking it all in her stride.
The product designer – a self-confessed “half artist, half engineer” – is the force behind Anna by RabLabs, an ever-evolving collection of home products made using ancient and precious materials, such as crystal, agate, lapis lazuli, rose quartz, malachite and emerald – and electroplating these gemstones with luxurious edges of 24-karat gold and pure silver. This results in edgy, modern designs that bring purpose to art. The company’s collection of more than 500 products incorporates everything from tableware, and desk and bathroom collections, to lighting and furniture.
It’s her way, Rabinowicz says, of bringing elegance and grace into people’s homes using the purest of elements from nature. “There is a purity and essence to the pieces we create, and it’s something that I find is really resonating with this region,” she says, gesturing towards her newly displayed products at the gift-registry corner of the Bloomingdale’s Home section.
“If an object I make resonates with people so that it makes them bring it into their home, see it as a source of beauty, choose it as a reflection of who they want to be and how they want to be seen, then I feel immense honour. There is no bigger compliment for me as a designer,” Rabinowicz says.
“The materials we use are formed over millions of years,” she says. “I translate these materials from their natural form into objects for the home that have meaning and use, so they combine beauty and purpose.”
A slab of natural emerald lined in pure silver is intended as a cheese platter, but would also be right at home as part of a vignette on a console. Likewise, salt and pepper housed in shakers made of matte Carrara marble from Italy and gleaming, solid-cast brass, speak of a raw opulence that begs to be put on display, rather than tucked out of sight in a cabinet. There’s a duality of purpose that mimics the duality of materials used in each item; the pieces are not just practical, nor are they simply decorative items to add glitz to the home. They are a combination of both.
As reflected in the versatility of her products, Rabinowicz herself wears a number of different hats. The American, who splits her time between San Francisco and New York, is a proponent of female empowerment, choosing to hire mostly women in her growing company. She is a professor of product design at Stanford University in California and Parsons School of Design in New York. And she is a designer who takes a stand against monotony and uniformity. Even if she makes 1,000 frames out of Italian Carrara marble, no two will ever be quite the same. "Every piece is unique," she says. "It allows people to express their individuality at a time when so many things are the same: we have the same phones, the same computers, the same technologies. This company is an antidote to sameness."
When she decides to work with a new material, she does what she has done from the very beginning: she identifies the region it comes from, hops on a plane to visit and finds artisans to collaborate with. That’s how she started, by taking a trip to Brazil to source agate. In fact, her recent Dubai visit was not solely to attend the launch of her products at Bloomingdale’s, she confesses. Like most of her travels, it’s an opportunity to learn more about the region so she can seek inspiration for her designs, and source new materials for future collections. “I’m here to meet people, to understand what their lives are like, what their needs are, so I can better design for them,” she says.
Already, she’s identified that although the values of this region are not far removed from those she grew up with, the difference is in our rituals. “Better understanding these rituals – like the ritual of lingering over tea and coffee, or serving the bitter coffee with a date, or the ritual of burning incense in those beautiful containers when people visit your home – these are all habits that we don’t have, but that I would love to design for,” she says.
Until then, the items she has chosen to introduce at Bloomingdale’s – a curated selection of 60 or so products – are viewed as the most accurate representations of the brand. “They are our best; they are the products that make us who we are as a company,” Rabinowicz says.
From bookends, candlesticks, serving spoons, ice buckets and salad bowls, to trays, sugar bowls, creamers, photo frames and bottle openers, the selection is varied and ranges in price from Dh390 for a set of four coasters made of deeply hued agate from Brazil with gold or silver edges, to Dh2,800 for the large Kiva platter made of rose quartz and 24K gold, or Dh6,785 for a large Casca bowl made of hand-cut crystal and silver.
Her favourite piece, Rabinowicz says, is a simple bud vase that can house a single flower. “It has a cute, rounded form, and there’s a playfulness to it that appeals to me. Plus, you only need to put one flower in it to elevate that flower, and that means a lot to me. I’m not good at flower arrangement, so something that can elevate flowers for me is exactly what I would need. Likewise, I’m not good at cooking or baking. So placing the worst-looking cookies on a raised cake stand or platter lifts them up. That simple cake stand can bring positivity to the world. It helps elevate the simple into something wonderful. And that’s what I’ve always wanted my products to be about.”