Makeup – Nursi at Burberry Makeup at Bloomingdale’s Dubai
Wardrobe – Jonathan Simkin and Givenchy at Bloomingdale’s Dubai

We chat with Rue Kothari, Fair Director of Downtown Design, to get her perspective on the region.

Tell us your vision for Downtown Design in the coming years.
Our mission is to create a hub for design in the region, a place where international brands and buyers can coalesce, do business, network and help nurture our own emerging design industry. Ultimately, we are building towards a show to rival the big international fairs, without losing our focus on quality.

How has the event evolved ?
We’ve not only tripled in size, but have become more diverse in the types of brands we represent – from established to emerging – from all over the world. The look and feel of the fair has evolved to incorporate common design elements and create a strong, atmospheric visitor experience. Aside from welcoming even more brands each year, the number of visitors that attend each year has grown exponentially.

You come from a multi-faceted and multi-cultured background, tell us how that has helped your perspective in art and in your commercial success of today?
All experiences feed into a better understanding of how to deal with new situations. Having such a long and varied career trajectory has definitely given me an advantage in dealing with different people, finding creative solutions to problems, and embracing new challenges.

How do you choose your exhibitors?
Strong curation is key to our success. With such a huge demand for space in the upcoming show, it was even more important to assess each brand carefully; based on the quality of their product and how they would appeal to the region’s buyers. We try and balance more established brands, with emerging brands to ensure that people can reconnect with brands they love, as well as discover new innovative product they won’t find at the big international fairs. It’s important to me to support and nurture fledging regional designers that are looking to start something commercial and meet buyers – so we find a space for them wherever can and promote them to the international press.

From being the editor of Harper’s Bazaar Interiors to Downtown Design – what has changed and how do you find yourself growing? Is it a more challenging move?
I loved kick-starting and growing Harper’s Bazaar Interiors publication – it was an enjoyable, rewarding experience. But I’m always looking for a new challenge – and when the Directorship of Downtown Design was offered to me, I couldn’t resist. Taking on a fair that was only two years old, with so much potential to grow, is just the kind of project I love. The learning curve was almost vertical, and with so much to absorb it was intense. It was our first time hosting the event at the Dubai Design District, in a space twice the size of the previous year, and as the new director there was a palpable pressure to prove myself. In truth the process of editing is much the same on paper as it is in three dimensions, but if you make a mistake curating a show, the result is far more visible. Running the show year round is like managing a small business. Working with buyers and suppliers has deepened my understanding of the whole design industry here in the Middle East, broadened my network internationally and given me skills that will stand me in good stead in the future.

Describe how this region has affected and changed you ever since you moved here from London?
Time moves fast here; and the last twelve years I’ve been living in Dubai has passed in a flash. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredible brands, meet a really rich and diverse group of people, travel all over the world and move leagues ahead in my career. I love the energy of this city, the ambition and positivity; this can-do attitude which spawns so much creativity – you can’t help be infected by it. And add to that the outdoor lifestyle, I’m a healthier, happier more balanced person as a result.

What is it like being a female entrepreneur in this region?
Contrary to some strange homogenized views perpetuated by some Western media, your ambitions are not curtailed by your gender living here. I’m surrounded by female entrepreneurs from every culture and walk of life. It’s celebrated and supported here –just as it should be.

Who is your mentor?
I would love to know – I’m still on the lookout! On the flip side, I often find myself mentoring others, which is hugely rewarding. But if my mentor is out there – hurry up and get in touch!

What advice do you have for a young aspiring business woman of the world?
Feel the fear and do it anyway. There is always an element of risk when you’re embarking upon a new project or position. But what’s the alternative? To sit back and worry about what might happen? It would be worse to miss an opportunity and spend your life regretting it. Embrace the challenge and trust yourself to do a good job. You know instinctively what your strengths are – so play to them. Aside from having the right attitude – you need a strong work ethic. The more you put in, the more you get out. On a less altruistic level, surround yourself with the right people and be cautious when taking advice, not everyone has your best interests at heart.

Any rules you personally live by in terms of interior design?
There are lots of ‘rules’ but honestly if you’re designing your own residence, it has to be a space that you feel comfortable in, and that meets your needs. It’s no good trying to merely replicate something from a magazine – you have to ask yourself – how does this work for me and my lifestyle? Personally, I like a very sparse, minimal space, with very little distraction. When you’re a working mother with multiple commitments, the last thing you want is to come home to a chaotic space.

What is your take on the recent update in interior technology by the way of 3D printing?
I’m obsessed with 3D printing, and the velocity with which this technology is evolving is incredible. From small printers that had limited capability and printed only plastic, to today’s giant printers that can move around a space and create buildings out of multiple materials, it’s a revolution. They are even developing 3D printers for food, as well as some that print fashion garments that will in the future allow you to just pack your printer and go – then just print out your clothes when you reach your destination. Of course, all of these things are either biodegradable or can be recycled. All bodes well for the planet.

What colors, themes and ideas are on trend this season for homes?
Cool earthy colours, bronze accents, stone and concrete, LED lighting integrated into furniture pieces, modular living spaces, smart high tech kitchens in new synthetic marbles, an even greater focus on how heritage informs future design, socially responsible and sustainable design and mini design icons for kids.

Any no-no’s in 2016?
There are never any no-no’s – interior design isn’t fashion – you buy pieces and decorate for the look to last. Buy what you love, and off-trend never becomes an issue.

Should we switch off when we get home or create that office space in the living area?
I don’t know a single person that doesn’t take their work home with them. With most of us working off our phones or laptops, you almost never switch off. Personally, I make sure when I get home that all my time and attention is devoted to my daughter until she goes to sleep. Then I catch up with whatever I need to. It’s all about priorities.

Do you regard Downtown Design as a platform, to be more of a niche and luxury-driven brand?
Downtown Design is most certainly not niche, or focused on luxury. It’s about beautiful, high quality design pieces that work in spaces from hotels to homes. They’re commercial and accessible – and we see this with the number of consumers that come to the show on the last day and buy up the stock of all our brands. There’s a need here for what we present – and I think in a few years we’ll see that demand being better satisfied by an influx of new international and local brands.