Samia Ben Abdallah; architect, designer, inspiring, inspired ... Founder of a brand that cannot be imitated as the work of her creations is meticulous.
We are talking about a unique style of bags and jewelry that combine the industrial and the modern of geometric curves reminiscent of Samia's first love, hence the name AwA that stands for Architect with Artisan.
Only a few brands can boast of the quality of their products, in Tunisia. I was therefore happy to interview this designer whose brand has made a name for itself in such a short time. I did not however expect to be hit by the covid during this time (For those who ask, thank you I feel better). It is therefore by video call (trend of the year), that we did the interview.
Samia is very engaging, talks about her job with vigor.
For her, passion, rigor and perfectionism make the quality of a good designer. But above all, knowing how to work in a team and maintain good relations, because a product is born above all from the work of several people (engineers, photographers, craftsmen ...).
AwA draws its creations from nature, linearity and seeking in the vernacular heritage. Samia finds her happiness, her belonging and her love for tunisian artists who have always inspired her.
This month we are celebrating the influential women at Maft. Interview with one of the most promising stylists of this generation...
You went from architect to designer. That is a quite big gap. What made you decide to do this conversion ?
I graduated from the national school of architecture of Sidi Bou Said "ENAU". I did an internship in Paris then in Tunis and I very quickly joined an architectural agency at the Lac. I created my architectural firm in 2010 and worked on my own until last year. So I have 15 years of experience in this field. But between 2013 and 2015, I did object design where I created home accessories such as lighting, jewelry holders, coat racks, libraries, chairs and coffee tables. What struck me in design was that it was concrete, fast and that there were fewer budgetary constraints and frustration than in architecture. Of course, architecture remains my chosen field because it is rich and enriching , multidisciplinary and where there are plenty of speakers but it is also its weak point because there is budget frustration and especially of delay. On the other hand, in design, we live in the immediate future, we need to create all the time and not wait for the result of our creativity.
We easily recognize the architect’s touch in your creations. Where do you find inspiration for your collections ?
Obviously, I found my inspiration in architecture, and then in the pictorial references of Tunisian painters like Nejib Belkhoudja. At one point, it was obvious for me when I realized that my style would be done simply in the architectural line, the linearity, the timeless, and seeking in the vernacular heritage. So through this heritage which is architecture, I was able to express my identity, Mediterranean appearance, my passion for my country and its buildings. Because I must say that I went through multiple inspirations such as the cactus and the tanit but what I feel in the architectural line is just indescribable and I could never get rid of it.
Photo credit: Bachir Tayachi
The AwA brand has made a name for itself in barely a year. How has your career been?
The AwA line is very distinctive precisely because it is inspired by architecture. It's a new aesthetic line in which I imposed a certain style, I demanded a certain quality of materials; a quality of leather, of finishing touches. I represented my brand myself and surrounded myself with people who helped me a lot.
Furthermore, I participated in the competition for the second edition of the development market in 2015 and this allowed me to have funding for the creation of my brand. So I had the support of coaches and mentors, of family and friends. And also the opportunity to be spotted by the United States embassy where I made a leadership trip to New York in 2019. International organizations and donors such as “Connect “ also gave me support. I have always taken the advice and criticism of the people around me in a constructive way and it has helped my brand to grow.
There are also some exhibitions of remarkable quality which have helped to promote the brand, radios, media of this generation which have helped a lot and which always try to promote young designers. My motto from the beginning was to participate in all the competitions that presented themselves because it could be an opening to new opportunities.
Actually, there are really good opportunities in Tunisia, you just have to know how to seize them.
Photo credit: Bachir Tayachi
Are there any mistakes that you would have preferred not to make?
As an entrepreneur, we often encounter problems. Every morning, there are new challenges to take up. But the gratifying thing is that I always see the glass half full. In fact, the Corona pandemic, like many entrepreneurs, has affected me. The thing was that I had to give up my architectural office which also served as a showroom for my bags and jewelry. Today, I've been working from home since April 2020. Moreover, with the support of social networks and delivery solutions, I was able to face the difficulties to get by. I have adapted to the rhythm imposed by the pandemic.
In terms of sourcing, we are not talking about the same production volumes, but I could not let down my artisans and suppliers. we had to continue working, not only for ourselves but also for the families of the artisans.
Tell us about the first jewel that you have created?
My first jewel was a "Medina" bib necklace; a very impressive large plate in hammered copper and dipped in gold with a very simple chain. It was part of the motif of a Nejib belkhodja painting that I reproduced identically. It was a tribute to this artist whom I admire so much. And this is how the AwA brand was born. Since then, I have drawn my inspiration from rational and vernacular cultures; I soak up the wills, vaults, arches but also from time to time buildings such as the Hôtel du Lac.
You made the elephant sign as the emblem of your brand. Could you tell us more ?
Yes, in fact the elephant represents a double reading. It has the shape of the door of the medina ”khoukha in Tunisian dialect” through which women used to enter, and it is also the symbol of wisdom, a lucky charm. Besides, I often wear a pair of elephant earrings.
Leather is the most common material in your bags. What other materials do you like?
Leather is the best material in the making of bags. Moreover, we have a very large tannery in Tunisia so the leather I use is tunisian. and it's important for me to work with local materials. In addition, I love caning enormously and this certainly comes from the influence of design... “Marcel Breuer'' made a chair with wood and cane and it is a piece that I have always admired for its elegance and lightness so yes, caning is undoubtedly one of the materials that I like especially since it's worked manually, that's what makes all its charm… The ‘Twiggy’ bag is the perfect combination of leather and caning.
In jewelry, I love silver 925; it's chic, graceful, and not allergenic.
You will be opening your own store soon. When would it be?
It will be next March if all goes well. At the Marsa. I have been exhibiting a few models at the concept stores ‘Supersouk’, ‘Musk and amber’ and ‘Elyssa artisanat’ since last April, so the opening of the store will be a consecration for me.
A new collection is in progress. how will you define it?
I let you discover in the new shop, what I can tell you is that there will be japanese inspirations, very natural but always faithful to the architecture. it will be a collection with an eco-friendly trend, close to nature…
I am often asked for personalized requests, especially with the "Dada"; the flagship bag of the brand. So do not hesitate if you want a bag with your initials...
Last one; if you were to have only one muse, Who would she be?
I would say Ines de la fressange. She is a woman full of freshness, she exudes an elegance and an extraordinary singularity. She is the real Parisian girl without any fuss, she has a timeless style and that's what I like about her.