Design has always been at the center of everything in my life: my childhood, my home activities, travels, my focus at schools, the perusal of higher education and my work. I never felt bound by it and felt the more I could experiment and create, the less I needed to communicate verbally – which I found was perfect for me. A career in design was a natural movement in my life and one I did not even think about, what else would I do, or could I do?
Unfortunately, as with everything in life, growing up took a toll on my creativity and creation as I found myself working in an industry that I loved but where I could not find my place. I was constantly being steered away from my beliefs in design perspective and creative work ethics. The worst part was the disappointment, was the need to tone things down, was the need to bind my vision, expression and vision. I decided to take a breather and go back to the core of what I love: experimentation and creation. I used my background in graphic design as a stepping stone to enter Polimoda and the world of concept design.
My main goal was to discover my own thought process and design aesthetic in the aim of making products. I came from a 2-dimensional design world working on paper and digitally on screen, and now was looking to transform the knowledge I had to a 3-dimesional objects – and shoes in specific. I had to start by understanding the 3-dimesional world, and because I was interested in shoe making, decided to enter an intense shoe making course at the fashion institute: Polimoda. Throughout this course, I fell in love with the entire world of leather works and stayed on to complete the master program in Footwear and Accessories design.
Polimoda was a haven.
It’s location alone creates inspiration and opportunity. It is in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance and where art and culture are felt at every single corner and at every moment in time. It is an outdoor museum that grants free education through walking its streets and just observing, something that is overlooked these days. Moreover, it is at the center of the leather world and shoe makers.
Walking from my apartment to class every day was an opportunity to learn new things, to pop into the ateliers of shoe makers who have for generations been hand-crafting shoes, to visit leather suppliers in the basements of buildings that were built during the Renaissance. I took every opportunity to be hands-on. I convinced small workshops to let me use their tools and machines and experimented with materials. My little knowledge of the Italian language created no boundary between myself and the artisans, who willingly shared knowledge and skill with me. The materials between our hands (blistered and very much un-manicured) was enough.
I was able to jump on the tram and take a 15-minute ride to visit suppliers and factories who created products for the biggest and the best – Gucci, Ferragamo, Prada. I could rent a car and drive 30 minutes into the Tuscan mountains to see where the best leather suppliers tanned their leather and see how it was all done. I touched, smelt and experienced everything I could. I was deeply in awe of everything around me.
At school, I used every opportunity I could to learn about the industry – and did so from the best. Polimoda was an opportunity to see the history and be a part of it – its main building, the historic Villa Favard, is on its own a masterpiece. Instructors come to class, and then head off to work at the factories to create for the best brands in the world, and I was taught the craft of shoemaking by them. I was enlightened and appreciated everything made by hand. I started buying less, working more, and appreciating infinitely more.
I discovered my personalized process of thought shaped by transforming 2-dimensional designs into 3-dimensional creations, taking every idea through an evolutionary process of experimentation and transformation before realizing a final product. It was an experience like no other, and the birth of my new world.
I decided to build my own haven of creation and gradually introduce it to the world as the Rana Cheikha brand. It was not confidence that lead me to this, but rather my determination to stay true to what I had discovered and what I wanted to do: create.
Today I know that having studied both footwear and accessories design (in Italy) as well as graphic design (in Beirut), and worked besides experts in the industry at their workshops in the hills of Tuscany, Italy and Norte, Portugal is indicative of where my passion lies: aesthetic, design, exceptional detail. I believe the fusion of that is true to who I am, Lebanese by origin but worldly in mindset. The brand is my life’s inspiration, an expression of my being and tribute to my background, and that is what I will continue to grow towards.
If you’re interested to know more about the birth of the Rana Cheikha Brand or seek advice on perusing an education in design, feel free to get in touch!
Signing-off: Rana Cheikha for The Shoe Advisor