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Meet Saudi’s “Youngest Jewelry Designer”, Lillian Ismail

Portrait of Lillian Ismail, photographed by Abdullah AlShehri.

While most of her peers were preparing for exams, the then 17-year-old Lillian Ismail was busy working away on her debut jewelry collection “Banajr”. Known as Saudi Arabia‘s “youngest jewelry designer”, the Jeddah-native’s collection started out as a high-school graduation project that focused on the lack of female jewelry designers from the Kingdom. Little did she know that this simple project she started merely for school credits would be the stepping stone she needed to take her love for baubles from more than just a creative outlet and into a fully fledged career. She would go on to enroll at New York’s The Pratt Institute where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in jewelry-making — while honing her design skills at Oscar de la Renta as an intern — before officially establishing her eponymous label in 2018.

Her first collection for her self-titled range, which bills itself as “wearable art”, comprised seven pieces that drew inspiration from traditional jewelry from different parts of Saudi Arabia, in particular, the Hejaz region in addition to her Islamic background. Each geometric, gem-infused ring, brooch, necklace, and earring that use materials like onyx and emerald, is dedicated to the strong and empowered Saudi woman, who make up a vast portion of the designer’s market.

Today, the designer presents her latest collection, entitled “Falak”, which she first unveiled during Riyadh Design Week. Inspired by centuries-old Islamic scientific manuscripts, specifically on astronomy, the designs that make up the new offering are direct interpretations of the documents, which contain astrological, astronomical, and geomantic texts and illustrations. Each bracelet, earring, necklace, ring, and cuff utilizes natural green stones, such as malachite and turquoise, a nod to Islamic art, and features celestial-inspired names like “Galaxy Earrings” and “Full Moon Earrings”. Meanwhile, an off-setting smattering of onyx adds a disruptive juxtaposition into the designs, to provide a more modern and contemporary touch.

Below, the designer opens up to about her inspirations, earliest jewelry memory, and moving back to Jeddah from New York.

On discovering her talent
“I am very grateful that I have ventured into this field at a very young age for several reasons. I had the privilege to pursue jewelry not only as a passion or hobby, but also as a major for my bachelor’s degree. Majoring in the field of jewelry and mainly practicing the craft broadened my knowledge and skills in design and product. Exploring different approaches to jewelry as a trained art jeweler helped define and shape my design aesthetic. During my bachelor’s I was able to explore myself not only as a designer, but also as an artist. After exploring different categories of jewelry, I am aware now of the direction I am willing to take as a designer. I want to create wearable art that is affordable aesthetically and financially with a strong sense of design.”

On her inspirations
“What has kept me always inspired is ‘passion’. Living in New York City also played a big role in keeping me inspired all the time as I was always surrounded by a creative community of art jewelers in a city full of art, jewelry, fashion, and design exhibitions.”

On her first jewelry memory
“I remember falling in love with a set my mother owned. It is a very classic set embellished with diamonds and turquoise. I remember asking her if I could own it when I grow up. I am a 100% sure it was the time when I fell in love with turquoise in jewelry.”

On living in Jeddah
“Moving back to Jeddah was a very difficult step. It was not very easy moving out of a city like New York. But home is home, and they say home is where the heart is. At one point I felt responsible for going back and sharing my experience and knowledge with my community. It was time to keep up with the art and design movement happening here in Saudi Arabia. It was time to focus on my brand and develop it using all the experience and knowledge I got during my time at Pratt.”

Now Read: How This Jeweler Distills Her Spirit Into Her Expressive Designs

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