Breaking The Mould

4 min read

Janan Shihadeh, the artist behind Janan Art, has created a business out of customising luxury pieces, from Louis Vuitton handbags to furniture. We sat down with the trompe l’oeil artist in her Dubai home to uncover what inspires her.
Interviewed by Sophie Pasztor

Janan, pictured in her living room, wears a dress by Valentino

Tell us about your inspiration.

I am inspired by beautiful people, beautiful places and beautiful things.

When did you first become fascinated with art?

It started when I was two-years-old. I used to draw on the walls with my mum’s lipstick.

Why did you start to merge fashion with art?

When I started my work four years ago, the embellishment season started. The fashion industry started embellishing their clothes, focus was placed on artistic details with

more embroidery, embellishment and more ornamentation on fabrics. So when I started I could see that my client wanted the same sort of attention to detail on bags.

What are your thoughts on customisation?

I believe the customisation business has bloomed because people don’t want to feel like clones. Everyone might have a Louis Vuitton bag but they want their Louis  Vuitton bag to look extra special.

Tell us about the first handbag you painted.

The first bag I ever did was a white Balenciaga about ten years ago. The lady had dropped some of her espresso on it and it was damaged, so I offered to paint over it to give it a new lease of life.

What’s inspirational about the regional art scene?

It’s becoming an artistic hub with Art Dubai and the recent opening of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. It’s great to see the region encouraging art in all forms and this is happening now, more so than ever before, by providing more options for emerging creatives.

What is the Janan signature?

I don’t have a style, but I’m very graphics-oriented and very detail-oriented. I’m not particularly fond of abstract art. I’m not an abstract artist so I don’t seek to create metaphorical meanings when it comes to art.

Janan is photographed by Julia Chernih from The Factory ME, pictured with her son’s artwork and wears leather jeans by Hudson, sock boots by Louis Vuitton, and T-shirt by James Perse

Your pieces are sold at numerous locations worldwide. What do you think sets the Middle Eastern woman apart?

The Middle Eastern woman is more daring, colourful and more experimental. She is willing to think outside the box, whereas my British clients tend to want something more subtle.

Where can we find your pieces?

I have been selling to Harvey Nichols for the past four years in London. I also sell to boutiques in Asia including Hong Kong and online at Regionally, I work through S*uce. I’m also working in collaboration with Louis Vuitton, painting on their hard-sided luggage.

Tell us about the #ShesMercedesDXB campaign.

Mercedes chose me to customise the G-Class car for the #ShesMercedesDXB campaign to encourage female empowerment, which is achieved by encouraging women to buy the G-Class, because it’s predominantly a male car. It took me around two months to complete. I use acrylic paint as well as UV protection for longevity.

What was the inspiration behind the car’s design?

The pattern on the car is an optical illusion that I used on a piece of furniture I’d previously made. The flowers in the design were used to add a feminine touch to the car’s predominantly masculine aesthetic. I thought my juxtaposition of the sky and the optical illusion pattern, in addition to the florals, added both masculine and feminine touches to the car, while simultaneously showcasing my incredible love for graphics and contrast.

What advice would you give to emerging artists in the region?

Practice your craft relentlessly and believe in social media. It’s all about marketing, however I don’t make the most of it myself as my schedule doesn’t allow me enough time to take full advantage of it.

What’s in your diary for 2018?

I’m looking to get into the fine arts business. A lot of my work in the past included creating fine art through pieces commissioned from architect designers who couldn’t find the exact style of art they were looking to use for special spaces. We’re talking about lobby ceilings; large or specifically-sized pieces and shapes. Whether that be a round artwork or long three- or four-metre artwork.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

It’s a job I absolutely love. It’s not my canvas that is important – it could be anything: a wall; a piece of furniture; a ceiling; a car; a bag. As long as I’m painting, I’m in heaven, and time just seems to fly by. I’m so fortunate to work in an industry that allows me to do what I love. That’s the most rewarding aspect of my work.