Designers of the Year Photo Credit: Carlo Ricci

Fashion and Industrial Designer of the Year 2012: Marie Khouri

Marie Khouri is both large-scale sculptor and fine jeweller. Those two worlds aren't as different as you might think.

To understand how the work of “functional” sculptor Marie Khouri could win both our Industrial and Fashion categories, scale is key. Every piece—from the human vertebrae L5 bench to the Dove necklace—begins as a maquette, or small-scale model, which serves as a handheld blueprint for the final work. Le Banc (the Bench), which was installed outside Vancouver’s Olympic Village station for two years, is an 11-foot realization of a concrete shape that perfectly mimics the curve of Khouri’s palm. The irregular silhouettes in the PL series, planters that were created in collaboration with landscape architect Dave Demers, are large-scale versions of aqueous lines that Khouri sculpted with her thumbs. “Coastal design is trending toward fluid,” noted Industrial judge Geoffrey Lilge, “and these are complex forms that stand well on their own.”

Khouri’s line of jewellery offers another play on scale, as the onyx, bronze, pewter and gold pieces reference both the large bronze sculptures in her Vessel line, and the oversize concrete drops in her Forms collection. “Marie’s designs are like wearable sculptures; the pieces are of great character and individuality,” remarked Fashion judge Lida Baday, who particularly admired Khouri’s use of her 24-karat-gold jewellery as hardware for crocodile- and stingray-skin purses.

Sense of place is also fundamental to Khouri’s body of work, for it was only when she moved to Vancouver from Paris six years ago that her work “really began to take on new meaning,” she says. “The scale here, in nature, in landscape, it gave me wings. I was truly awakened.” The move was a sort of homecoming for Khouri, who spent two awkward years living here as a teenager. Born in Egypt and raised in Lebanon, she fled the civil war at age 14 with her family, and came to live in Vancouver. “At the time, this place wasn’t for me,” she explains. “I didn’t understand it, and couldn’t wait to escape to Europe.”

So she spent the next 25 years in France, working as a translator and then as a financier, before going on sabbatical and enrolling, on a whim, in drawing classes at the prestigious École du Louvre. “My relatives were architects and civil engineers, so the belief in purity of form was all around me. I just hadn’t personally expressed it.” Her instructor soon recognized that she needed “to see volume—I was terrible at drawing” and handed her a piece of clay. “I had only ever played with playdough with my kids,” she says with a smile. “But something spoke to me.”

Today Khouri, 52, splits her time between the jewellery studio in her west side home, and industrial studios, where she embraces the physically demanding work that goes into creating the large-scale sculptural pieces that live in both grand homes and on city streets. “I love that I move between worlds. I can work on a 15-foot sculpture in the morning, and a tiny piece of jewellery at night. The shift in scale always energizes my view.” wl

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