floral design
wedding design inside conservatory

A botanical themed wedding designed by Ali Behnam-Bakhtiar

Iranian-born designer Ali Behnam-Bakhtiar does everything from interiors and architectural design to weddings and luxury parties. Here, he shares his predictions on how the event industry will change post pandemic, and reveals the process behind some of his recent projects

man in white shirtIf we can say one thing about Covid, it is that it has pushed us to become more aware of our social life and the things we spend time on. Of course, as restrictions lift around the world, there is bound to be some mindless ‘panic partying’ for a while. After all, we were locked down for a long time, and any event feels exciting, now that we are finally free to socialise again!

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However, after this ‘everything goes’ phase, I think we will quickly be reminded of the lessons the pandemic has taught us: to cherish the personal, celebrate the details, be more mindful of our surroundings and appreciate the ‘offline’.

The Design Process

The process for designing an event is evidently different with every client. You have to dig deep to understand their true wants and needs in order to make their dreams happen. Some clients come with a highly defined idea, but I have found that throughout the process this often changes, as we grow together in bringing the concept to life.

pink floral wedding

For interiors, it is very dependent on functionality. It’s not just about thinking about what the house can do for you today, but also what you might need it to do for you in the future. I want to create spaces that people can grow in, that can sustain them. I include the client in this whole process, especially when it comes to selecting materials. I think it is important for them to become comfortable with the energy and the essence of the structure before they even move in. That is what makes it personal: it feels theirs.

Recent Projects

In my work as an event and wedding designer, I have seen a lot of copy and paste events. While lacking in originality, in some ways this impersonal party hosting was not really an issue in the past, because we always took it for granted that people would show up. This has changed. Now, people, quite rightly, want more. They want something personal. Modern design needs to take the chosen environment into account. This is where you can see the difference between a replicated design and a personalised specific design.

To me, design always needs to be locale-based. In a recent case, the client wanted to go for a full wedding-white look initially, but I knew that in the opulent church space they chose, it would not work. In extravagant locations like these you need a more specific colour palette to make it shine. So we designed a harmonious image, finding contrast in the depth of the colours to enhance the church itself. The result was something unique for them and for the location they chose.

extravagant wedding design

For a ‘divorce party’ I designed, I wanted to create something from scratch, so we used a cargo ship. This meant huge flexibility: we painted the whole thing, did our own flooring, created arches, and designed designated areas that worked for this particular event with the party centred around an ice-skating/ dance floor. We also created a lounge area, and functional spaces such as food and beverage and luxury bathrooms. To create the right ambiance, we used a lot of blossoming flowers and installed trees with led lights, guiding the guests around the ship. Then as the grande finale, highly personalised fireworks installed all around the ship, going both upwards and sideways, led to a unique vista at sea, and a once in a lifetime experience, for guests only.

For another recent wedding, because of COVID and the needs of the client, finding the perfect venue was impossible, so we designed and built our own. We still wanted that heritage feel, so with a big landscaping team, we created a space that felt like it had always been there in nature and nurture. I love designing a venue for a specific function, because it means not only that the event is completely personal, but also that it stays that way forever.

party on a boat

The Future

Since Covid, we have all become stricter with our schedules and more cautious of travelling. Events therefore won’t be less important, they will, however, have to be much more intentional. When anything and everything can be shared on social media or experienced over Zoom, being actually present needs to mean something. There has to be an added value for real life attendance. A merely visual experience, that is easily replicated on screen, will not cut it. We long for an energy that transcends the screen. Something that requires our full presence. Something ‘you had to have been there’ for. That is what sets an event or wedding apart these days. Designing events post-Covid is no longer just about throwing a seamless party, it is an expression of identity.

Find out more: alibakhtiardesigns.com

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Model wearing drop earrings
Model wearing fine jewellery pieces

Jordan Alexander’s signature marquis chain necklace with 18K gold and pave diamond earrings and a cushion cut morganite ring. All pieces designed by Theresa Bruno

Theresa Bruno established her jewellery brand Jordan Alexander in 2013 and since then, her designs have been worn by the likes of Michelle Obama and Julia Roberts. Here, the designer tells us about her commitment to sustainability, creating bespoke pieces and channelling her grandmother’s elegance

Portrait of a blonde woman

Theresa Bruno

1. How was Jordan Alexander born?

I was originally a musician and studied music at The Juilliard School where I learned an appreciation for the essential balance between free form and disciplined art. I suppose it’s true to say that craftsmanship was essential and noticeably present in my everyday life.

I was inspired to be a jewellery designer from an early age by heritage pieces, most notably, my grandmother’s pearls. When I had to stop piano because of an injury to my hand, I needed to find a new creative focus, and this seemed a natural progression given my long running interest in the beauty and craft of fine jewellery pieces.

My official breakthrough came when I was approached about First Lady Michelle Obama wearing some of my pieces, and everything flowed from that extraordinary honour. The company was formed, and the name Jordan Alexander is for my two gorgeous sons.

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2. Do you design with a particular woman in mind?

I have always been inspired by my grandmother, her Southern elegance and the ease with which she moved through the world. I channel her often when I’m designing.

Model wearing drop earrings

18K gold and diamond signature star cradle earrings with cushion cut rhodolite garnet and pear shaped morganite drops 

3. What inspires you to start a new collection?

I am often sparked by my travels; particular colours, and the different ways women adorn themselves. I love photography and visual art and it is all a constant source of inspiration. I was recently in New Orleans and wandered into this tiny little photography gallery. There was a stunning collection of photography by an Italian photographer that had so much movement and soul in the way he photographed. Those experiences are so motivational.

Long necklace worn on model's back

18k gold and diamond signature peace chain lariat with leaf wrapped tanzanite accents and Jordan Alexander logo clasp

4. As a relatively young company, how do you compete with heritage brands?

My jewellery represents my own elegant but free-spirited style. I am an independent designer who carefully hand-crafts each piece, using 18K gold, diamonds and precious hand-selected stones from trusted suppliers who can prove their credentials when it comes to sustainable sourcing. My style is a balance between everyday pieces and ceremonial rings and heirloom, bespoke collectibles. There are many other brands whom I admire enormously, but the truth is that I walk my own road and we are in no rush as a company to expand fast. My bespoke work is my passion and, in my opinion, Jordan Alexander’s point of difference.

Read more: Betye Saar’s ‘Call and Response’ exhibition at LACMA

The first step is starting the dialogue, asking the right questions to better understand the context of each piece and the personal style of the wearer, including sometimes the specific wardrobe with which the pieces will need to coordinate. Once the concept is determined, the client will work with me through every phase of the creative process: concept to sketch, design detail, stone sourcing and finally, production. I have created many bespoke pieces for ball gowns and special events.

Model wearing bracelet and ring

18k gold chain wrapped champagne moonstone ring and bangle

5. Can you tell us about the brand’s sustainability efforts?

Social responsibility is a vital thread that runs through the Jordan Alexander business, which is why I have aligned the brand with A21, a global anti-human trafficking organisation. After travelling with the group to work personally alongside victims in rescue and rehabilitation efforts, I have collaborated to launch a line of jewellery with 100% of proceeds going directly to A21. In general, we re-use gold, repurpose stones and ensure that waste is built out of the creative process.

6. Have you made any new year resolutions?

I don’t really make resolutions, but my thoughts about how I want to live this year are about balance: the balance between being brave and being vulnerable. About being strong, but living with a soft heart. It is a political year in the US with lots of energy about the Presidential election. Everywhere you go people are really heated about it. My hope is to be open enough to accept, and even listen to those who sit on a different side than me, while being true to my beliefs and values.

View the collections: jordanalexanderjewelry.com

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Luxury bedroom interiors showroom with double bed and grey armchairs
Luxury bedroom interiors showroom with double bed and grey armchairs

A display in LEMA’s London showroom. Photography by Emma Lambe

Founded in 1970, LEMA still remains family-owned and true to its ‘Made in Italy’ philosophy. The group collaborates with famed architects and designers to produce elegant, modern furniture and made-to-measure interior fittings for residential and commercial properties across the globe. Ahead of this year’s Salone del Mobile in April, we speak to the company’s president Angelo Meroni about working with family, discovering new talent and moving into the Asian market.
Black and white portrait of LEMA president and family member Angelo Meroni

Angelo Meroni, President of LEMA

LUX: Tell us about your history and how the brand started?
Angelo Meroni: Our family tradition in the furniture market began in the 1930s with my grandfather. In the 30s following the Brianza manufacturing tradition, he opened a small shop in the town centre. At the time, it was purely craftsman work, completely handmade, in fact, the production times would be unthinkable nowadays. Later, the 1940s saw the opening of the first store in Milan city centre. Here, during the years of the economic boom, LEMA was able to collaborate with the first nationally recognised architects and designers to embrace a production characterised by a more modern aesthetic. Then in 1970, my father founded the brand LEMA and the all-important organised industrial production started, with an innovative factory in Alzate-Brianza designed by Angelo Mangiarotti, a cutting-edge plant for a production with a new philosophy. Indeed, LEMA was the first Italian brand to design and produce integrated furnishing systems, organising the entire production cycle from receiving the raw materials to the packaging. The breakthrough came in 1981 when the “Made-to-Measure Wardrobe” was conceived, a modular custom-made closet solution, a key step in establishing LEMA in the market. The system still exists to this day, and is under constant evolution, fulfilling and anticipating the needs of private and contract customers.

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LUX: You work alongside your two sisters – what are the challenges and benefits of working with family?
Angelo Meroni: The family factor within LEMA is the ‘soul factor’, which gives our designers the possibility to communicate directly with this ‘soul’. As a family, we are directly involved in all areas of the design and selection processes where we decide what furnishings will be produced for the following year. However, LEMA is also a corporate reality, we have more than 250 employees, more than 985 worldwide dealers in over 65 countries. This way we are able to maintain the balance between a strictly family business and an international reality. My sisters and I also look after different sectors of the business, therefore we are able to capitalise on the benefits rather than the challenges.

Craftsman sanding the edge of a piece of furniture

LEMA works with leading designers to ensure the highest level of craftsmanship

LUX: Why is it so important that the brand maintains a ‘Made in Italy’ ethos?
Angelo Meroni: Since the brand was founded, LEMA has championed the ‘Made in Italy’ ethos by expertly mixing innovation and tradition, turning quality and personalisation into our unique selling point. I would say that this is one of our key strengths, where our extraordinary manufacturing ability meets the typically Italian excellence, allowing LEMA to combine the values and technological efficiencies of a large enterprise with fine and unrivalled craftsmanship, which is unique to Italy.

LUX: You created the first air-cleaning wardrobe system – how did that idea come about?
Angelo Meroni: The LEMA Air Cleaning System is the result of more than twelve months of research, which was created from an idea I had that the wardrobe should play an active role in our well being. Using patented Photocatalytic Oxidation technology, which is mainly used to purify aerospace environments where one of the main issues is to maintain the quality and cleanliness of the air. Indeed, we spend a great deal of our busy daily lives in environments outside our homes: in places such as offices, public transport, shopping centres, restaurants, hotels and gyms, where the quality of air is poor due to inadequate air-recycling: bacteria, allergens, carbon monoxide, particulate matter which permeates our clothing generating bad odours. Interestingly, the Air Cleaning System can be positioned discreetly at the top of any wardrobe, and it uses nanotechnology and a special UV lamp to generate a photochemical reaction that naturally destroys pollutants, bacteria and moulds, purifying the inside of the wardrobe and eliminating up to 90% of these.

Detail shot of a contemporary style living area

Photography by Emma Lambe

LUX: How does your design approach differ for bigger contractual work as seen in LEMA Contract fitting out of the Bulgari London Hotel?
Angelo Meroni: Our Casa and Contract divisions are tightly connected, as for both we use our “made-to-measure” and bespoke philosophy. However, through our Contract Division LEMA’s indissoluble connection with the design world finds its utmost expression. We have a cutting-edge industrial department dedicated solely to the residential, hospitality and office sectors, which has a strong and consistent growth. Our mission statement: “You Think We Make”, defines our mission; our Contract clients can find in LEMA a knowledgeable partner in the development of every project where we interpret and translate all aesthetic and functional needs. In London alone we have collaborated with some of the best-known interior designers, architect firms and developers, collaborating on projects such as The Chilterns apartments, Holland Park Villas, 190 The Strand and Bulgari Hotel, which you mentioned and we are currently delivering Lincoln Square, to name but a few.

LUX: You’ve recently moved into the Asian market, how does an Italian brand appeal to Asian consumers?
Angelo Meroni: Yes indeed, in 2017 we opened a flagship store in Shanghai, which confirms LEMA’s interest in the Asian market and China in particular. The previous year we had inaugurated more than 1000 square meters of showroom space in Shenzhen, an increasingly cosmopolitan hub, where we expressed our Italian excellence. Our Contract sector has also been increasingly busy with the Chinese market, last year we supplied more than 1,000 customised wardrobes for the prestigious One Park apartments in Shanghai.

Regarding our Casa Division, we have also produced some products with the Far East market particularly in mind. For example, at the Milan Salone del Mobile last year we presented the Bulè table that comes with a rotating ‘lazy Susan’, which is perfect for the Asian market, of course, you can also sell it without the rotating centre and then it becomes a normal table. The Asian market is extremely attracted to all that Italy has to offer, and being a strictly “Made in Italy” brand we have been able to draw on this as a unique selling point in this vast and competitive market.

Read more: Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing on redefining Parisian glamour

LUX: How do you issue a design brief for LEMA Casa and to what extent are you involved in the creative process?
Angelo Meroni: Each year, we start the creative process for the new pieces that are first unveiled at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, the most important date in the design calendar. As far as designers go, we are open to anybody. Our Art Director Piero Lissoni looks after a preferred team of designers that we have been working with for years and whom we know very well. Yet, we are especially open to young designers. This is one of the big values of LEMA, we like to discover new talents. While some of our designers such as Francesco Rota and Gordon Guillaumier have been part of our team for years, they were fairly young when they started working with us. It’s an evolving process and it carries on with no ending, a process in which I like to be personally involved across all the phases.

LUX: You fitted out all of the Vodafone shops in Italy in 3 days twice – how did you manage it?
Angelo Meroni: We started with the Italian Vodafone flagship store, in the famous Piazza San Babila in Milan, which welcomes thousands of customers in a super-technological atmosphere. We were asked to realise the whole furniture set of this selling point: demonstrating our ability to build environments according to the customer’s specific needs. It was a record – the whole furniture was engineered in just 30 days! The other challenge was the integration of the furniture with the technologies present in the store, which makes the core of this amazing selling point. LEMA Contract built 1,050 Vodafone Stores in Italy and in all of them the great ability of LEMA’s craftsmanship met with the most innovative of our production technology, meaning that we managed to fit out the stores in such little time.

LUX: What’s next for LEMA?
Angelo Meroni: You will have to wait for the 2019 Salone del Mobile in Milan! We are finalising the products, which we will be showcasing, and unveiling for the first time. It is always an exciting time for us. In particular, we have some important novelties that will be introduced to our LEMA Casa catalogue. As a company we are in continuous development and expansion, and therefore drafting new projects and ideas is definitely my favourite part of the job.

Discover the collection: lemamobili.com

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Reading time: 7 min