Meet the Lebanese Illustrator Commissioned by Gucci

Get to know 27-year-old artist Nour I. Flayhan

For the release of their latest Gucci Bloom campaign (Acqua di Fiori), the Italian fashion house collaborated with 15 female illustrators from around the world to celebrate the coming-of-age process, friendship and more importantly – femininity.

One of the artists that were commissioned was Kuwait-raised Lebanese artist, Nour Flayhan. MILLE caught up with her to find out how her Lebanese heritage and her love of nature inspired her Gucci collaboration.

On your website you describe yourself as a “nomad” girl. Tell me about your upbringing?
I’m American, born to Lebanese parents, was raised in Kuwait and studied in London. I’ve never identified with just one country, so it feels strange to say I’m from one place. My parents and grandparents come from the mountains of Lebanon; I have a deep connection with this region, it’s very precious to me. All my childhood summer memories are there, watching my grandmother make us star shaped fresh apricot jam filled cookies and picking mulberries, figs, apples, and grapes from my grandfather’s gardens.

My nomadic side comes from always being on the go. I haven’t lived in one country since I left university; each country has given me beautiful memories, and stories that I carry with me.

Is that why nature seems to be a really strong theme throughout your work?
My mum passed her passion for art to me when I was in her womb. I grew up in an artistic household, with an art space and surrounded all the art supplies you can imagine. My mum felt it was important to give us the freedom to express ourselves and my dad made sure we went to all the galleries and museums when we travelled. Art was the first language I learned then came Arabic and English.

Then came my love for textiles, which I developed through my mum and her family who lived in Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela. My grandmother also used to sit and do needlework when I was younger. I was always fascinated by the way she left little messages and told stories using her thread.

I studied textiles in school for four years then went to university and studied visual communication. I wanted to explore different mediums of storytelling and one of them was illustration, which I gravitated towards and fell in love with. It isn’t about what you see it was about how you see it. In find in illustration the intimacy, which I saw in my grandmother’s embroidered pieces.

There’s also a strong sense and celebration of womanhood in your work?
In the mountains of Lebanon, the women always gathered together exchanging stories, discussing politics, while sipping on matè, an Argentinean herbal drink only the mountain people drink in the Levantine region. While growing up I realised they were so powerful – it felt so magical to observe them from the windows and I always made sure to join them.

At first I would hide behind my grandmother’s skirts, then I would sit on my mother’s lap until I earned my place sitting amongst them. As a child, my mother was my best friend, who always told me to embrace my darker features and myself. My physique tells the story of my ancestors. I never wanted to be what the media portrayed or what society expected me to be. I loved who I was and she gave me that and I feel like so many young girls and women of all ages are told otherwise or feel otherwise and I want to share this bubble my mum gave me with them all. We don’t have to conform to any standards or expectations.

So what would you say is the key message you look to translate in your work?
I believe we pass through different phases in our lives. At some point things are more relevant than others, we also shift our views or become enlightened or aware of things we hadn’t before. But the message I always push for in my work, is to always be light, be yourself, be an individual and not a clone of every person you see, to embrace who you are and of your roots. I feel it’s very important especially in the world we live in today.

How did the Gucci collaboration happen?
Gucci has been on my dream list of collaborators and a constant inspiration ever since Alessandro Michele stepped in and shared his world. Gucci contacted me and I was briefed on the campaign, which I felt was almost written for me. It was the perfect brief, as I was allowed to truly be myself and push for the messages I always support in my illustrations.

I focused on nature because the most beautiful things in life are not man made, but made by the Creator, such as the earth, the waters, the skies, the living creatures, the flowers, plants, etc. I wanted to pay tribute to these as well as to the key ingredients of the perfume.

What’s the future got in store?
I like to leave a little bit of mystery to things. Surprises are on the way.

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