With her unique blend of traditional techniques and contemporary design, Mouna Fassi Fihri is redefining the boundaries of Moroccan design
As a child in 1970s Morocco, Mouna Fassi Fihiri frequently visited her grandparents who lived in a traditional house in the centre of the medina of Fez. She often wandered through the dusty alleyways of the markets, observing the goldsmiths, cobblers, weavers and potters in their daily work. Her hungry eyes would feast on a cacophony of colors, patterns and shapes that would inform her artistic choices many years later.
Back at her grandparents' home, the afternoons were devoted to helping the young women who made crafts for the local master craftsmen. "I always watched them very closely because I was very curious to see what they were doing. Soon I was able to reproduce their movements, and I helped them embroider slippers, craft traditional belts, make trimmings on leather products, and sew buttons for caftans. I felt so proud that I helped them earn their small monthly salary!”
Whilst her grandparents provided a precious anchor to her Moroccan roots, at home Mouna’s parents were keen to raise her in a more modern household exposing her to universal values, perspectives and style. Her house, for example, was one of the few that had foreign-made furniture and decor..
As a young adult, Mouna temporarily sidelined her passion for art and design when she left Fez to study Finance in Aix en Provence in France. But a few years later, after returning to Morocco, she gave in to her true calling and started working with her husband on the interior decor side of his architectural studio in Tangiers.
“After I settled in Tangiers I designed my own home, then my parents’, then some friends. That was around 2007, and I had no idea anything would come of space design,” she recalls, thinking of her surprise when the first public space she ever designed, a restaurant and lounge, earned the cover of a design magazine a month after completion.
Soon, Mouna was ready to move on from arranging other people’s furniture to making her own and started experimenting with the concept of slow design, as opposed to machine-made serial production.
“Most of the time, I might sketch something, then leave it for a few days, go back to it and change it completely. By the time I finish the design, find the materials, engage the artisans to make it, and present the finished product to a client, a year might go by, and it’s always a different piece from what I had initially envisioned!”
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Mouna’s enthusiasm for her craft is evident as she occasionally lapses into quick, excited French while telling me about her very first creation, a set of elegant bar stools lined with Moroccan brocade, which had all but disappeared from Morocco’s homes.
In bringing back an old tradition coupled with a modern piece such as a bar stool, Mouna was taking a big leap of faith and was uncertain of what the public’s reaction would be. But her hard work paid off and the stools firmly projected her into the professional realm of furniture and product design.
Mouna’s integrated approach mixing the old and new is what makes her work closer to conceptual art than simple pieces of furniture, something that became clear when, in 2016, the organizers of the climate change conference Cop22 held in Marrakech asked her to come up with some pieces which embodied the climate issues the world is facing.
Mouna took inspiration from the Warka Tower, a bamboo construction wrapped in biodegradable polyester mesh that harvests water from the air humidity, which Italian architect Arturo Vittori developed in Ethiopia in 2012.
She wanted to work with wholly natural materials and, though virtually unseen in interior decor since the 1970s, Mouna chose bamboo as her primary component, which she primed with natural oils rather than artificial resins.
Lady Nawel, the resulting bamboo chair, was then completed with colorful strands of hand-dyed Berber wool, produced entirely by hand using ancient traditional techniques.
“It was very important for me to work with this remote Berber community, because the way they work is incredible, using flowers and plants to make natural pigments to color the wool. The Moroccan wool carpet tradition is really dying out, and these communities are often stranded since people nowadays favor carpets and rugs made of synthetic fiber.”
As eclectic and surprising as her work is, Mouna says she finds inspiration in the simplest of things, from everyday objects at home to the shapes she observes in nature. The unexpected bursts of perfect geometry in the otherwise spontaneous natural world are particularly inspiring to her.
“The BeeLow tables I created came from the crazy perfection you see in beehives: in nature, there aren’t many perfect shapes, straight lines, or geometric figures, but suddenly you see something like that, and for me, that’s the essence of beauty.”
“Every piece reflects the human spirit, the passion and skill of those who designed and brought it to life with me. That’s what struck me about the Nopo: the wish to go beyond simply selling a product, and instead tell its story and the story of those who made it.”
We are excited to bring you Mouna’s unique mix of past and present in a curated collection of small and medium home decor items, including cushions, jewelry boxes and mirrors.
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