Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 11 years, you will, without a doubt, have heard of the one-woman creative force that is Nadine Kanso. Artist, photographer and style doyenne, she is also the designer behind Bil Arabi, a high-end jewellery line that launched in 2006, and that pioneered the use of Arabic calligraphy as wearable art.
Although now much copied, it is Kanso's unique use of form that still sets her calligraphy work apart, from letters that snake around fingers, from nail to knuckle, or mismatched earrings that fall in long, curved lines. Each new collection has introduced a new layer of richness, be it with black diamonds or with the creation of hinged elements that resemble miniature body armour. Using precious yellow, pink and white gold, covered in white and black diamonds, her lettered pieces are as avant-garde as they are elegant.
She has raised the bar once again with her latest collection Khatt, which was unveiled at S*uce Rocks this week. Meaning "handwriting" in Arabic, this new collection is a further exploration of how the shapes of the Arabic alphabet can be made to fit and flow around the body. Carved into earrings, bracelets, pendants and rings, these gleaming gold pieces are finished in greens, blacks and whites, with letters stretched to coil around a wrist, or made into heavy signet rings. Featuring all 26 letters of the Arabic alphabet, the pieces are designed to be personal, and are ideal gifts or keepsakes.
The new line is named for the Khatt Foundation, a centre for Arabic typography that was established in Amsterdam in 2004, to help promote and preserve Arabic calligraphy, and for whom Kanso is an ambassador and adviser. Building on the long and storied history of calligraphy, the foundation is working to ensure Arabic lettering has an equally impressive future, both in the Middle East and farther afield.
A vocal advocate of Arabic heritage, Kanso frequently explores the theme of modern Arab identity through her work, which is what initially inspired her to use calligraphy as jewellery.
When asked why she was drawn to blending the two, Kanso says: "I want it to be personal. For me, it's about being proud of wearing an Arabic letter on your wrist and saying: 'I am an Arab'. After September 11, the press was so against the Arabs that people felt they had to hide their identity, and I thought: 'No, we need to talk about this'. For me, the Arab world is very dear, and something that we are not taking care of properly. We are not speaking the language as much as we should be, the kids are not surrounded by it as much, and there is a need to nurture the language to keep it going."
The first piece of jewellery that she created was the letter "n" for Nadine, and it was the positive reaction to that piece that drove her to continue. And with many seasons under her belt, her passion for calligraphy – and the rich Arab culture it represents – is as strong as ever.