Princess Nourah Al-Faisal On Cultural Heritage, Craftsmanship And Collaborating With Asprey

14 min read

Her new head-turning handbag collaboration with Asprey may be dreamy, but Princess Nourah Al-Faisal’s journey to the top has been no fairy tale. MOJEH sits down with the Saudi creative to talk jewellery, business and how her pride in her heritage drives everything she does

It can be somewhat disarming to come across a person who carries a ‘Princess’ in front of her name. After all, tales of swooning damsels cloistered behind palace walls are so prevalent in almost all societies and cultures that it’s easy to get swept up in the romance. But for real-life Princess Nourah Al-Faisal, the story couldn’t be more different.

While her childhood may well have been idyllic — she was raised between Jeddah and Riyadh, where she still resides, surrounded by playmate cousins who spent their time outdoors playing sports, riding and adventuring from dawn ‘til dusk — this is an independent Princess who isn’t afraid of some good old-fashioned hard work.

Best known as the founder of luxury jewellery brand Nuun, she is also CEO of Saudi Arabian organisation Art of Heritage, which creates clothing and ceramics based on traditional Saudi craft as well as caretaking an extensive archive of the exquisite cultural relics that inspire the brand’s pieces. And as the creator of entrepreneurial consultancy firm Adhlal too, she’s a busy woman — and she’s in demand. Driving the recent collaboration between classic British luxury Maison Asprey and her very own Nuun, Princess Nourah created a limited edition of Asprey’s 1781 pochette, released just last month. With five colourful designs inspired by the motifs and crafts of the Kingdom’s major regions, their hallmarks are drawn directly from Art of Heritage’s precious annals; a triumph of classic British design and Saudi creativity.

“It was wonderful revisiting my roots as a designer and seeing my creative vision come to life — my first ever bag collection!” enthuses Princess Nourah. “I wove in subtle details of my Saudi Arabian cultural heritage and the final pieces are a graceful marriage of that and Asprey’s. I felt extremely proud of creating something that blended these legacies in a balanced, thoughtful way. My hope is when one of these special edition bags is carried, both cultures feel represented through considerate design.”

So how did this Princess transform into a high-end jewellery artisan and designer in the first place? Forget the fairy godmother, Princess Nourah’s true Cinderella moment came in a much more down-to-earth form when, as a recent architecture graduate from a London university, she landed an apprenticeship at one of Paris’s most secretive high-end jewellery ateliers: Georland, supplier to the some of Place Vendôme’s best-known names.

“I got to observe master jewellers transform designs into astounding finished pieces,” smiles Princess Nourah. “Following each jewel’s journey from initial sketch to completed gem taught me the creative process inside out and enabled me to absorb generations of specialised knowledge. Surrounded by some of the finest artisans and their work, I felt truly empowered to push boundaries. That hands-on training impacts everything I create today and I’m grateful to have learned from Paris’s best in such an inspiring, motivating environment early on in my career. It shaped me as both a jeweller and entrepreneur and I wanted to turn my creative passions into a career.”

Those dreams were manifested first by working as a private jeweller, mostly for friends and family, for 15 years before taking the plunge by founding Nuun in 2014. Princess Nourah’s father, one of her greatest supporters, sadly passed away before he could see Nuun come to fruition — but, encouraged by her husband to continue, she decided to launch in her father’s honour.

“Launching my own company was a lifelong dream my parents encouraged me to pursue,” says Princess Nourah. “Establishing my name while ensuring production quality was incredibly challenging, but I embraced every obstacle as an opportunity to grow. Now, years since our launch, the struggles feel minor compared to the joy of running my own artistic brand. I loved proving myself as an entrepreneur by building Nuun from concept to company. The process has been profoundly rewarding, even through difficult moments.”

And it’s that entrepreneurial spirit as well as creative talent that sets Princess Nourah apart. As if to prove the point, in the midst of facing hurdles in moving Nuun’s entire supply chain to Saudi Arabia in 2017, she recognised a need for help in smoothing the process, founding her Adhlal consulting firm for entrepreneurs opening businesses in the Kingdom as a result.

“I quickly saw major gaps in the local business ecosystem,” she says. “There wasn’t the relevant knowledge or infrastructure needed for a brand like mine to fully thrive. The challenges made me realise companies need more Saudi-specific support, so I created Adhlal to fill that void. My goal was empowering businesses with the tools, training and connections imperative to understanding the Saudi market. By solving problems I myself faced, I aim to foster an environment where designers can flourish.” And it’s not just those at the top of the design tree that Princess Nourah’s work encourages — in her role as CEO of Art of Heritage, she plays a huge role in empowering Saudi women with disabilities. The organisation’s Yadawi pottery division employs more than 20 disabled craftswomen who can support their families as a result. Producing dresses, abayas, sheilas and a multitude of other textile and gift items, all with exceptionally fine embroidery and finishings, Art of Heritage also collaborates with SOAS — University of London to research and preserve traditional Saudi regional design.

“I cherish the memories I have of spending time with my grandmothers and aunts, watching them empower women in our community,” says Princess Nourah. “Witnessing their steadfast commitment to providing educational training opportunities that promoted women’s advancement and equality had a profound impact on me. Their pioneering efforts in heritage preservation projects were equally admirable, work that later evolved into the non-profit organisation I now have the honour of leading as CEO for Art of Heritage.

“These impressive, community-minded women instilled my life’s purpose and cultivated my passions. I hope to carry forward the torch they have passed on — advancing our cultural heritage and ennobling women via access, awareness, capacity-building and leadership development,” she adds.

Princess Nourah’s family’s enthusiastic support of her creative passions — “I grew up surrounded by talented painters, writers, poets and designers in my family,” she says — as well as the strong maternal figures who reared her proved to be her biggest inspirations. And she remains close to the family members she shared her upbringing with — although she admits that her downtime and self-care routine could do with some work:

“Outside work, I’m grateful for a very full, blessed family life,” she says. “And once weekends hit, I make sure to recharge socially with loved ones. My life feels wonderfully complete thanks to the thriving career I adore combined with this rich community of people and furry companions at home. But I’ll be honest — achieving true work-life balance has been an ongoing battle for me. I absolutely love what I do, so I have a horrible tendency to overwork myself and knowing when to step back doesn’t come naturally. I let work spill into all hours of life, and with so many goals yet to achieve, downtime gets sacrificed. But burning that candle at both ends isn’t sustainable, so I force myself to take a full month off every summer, usually sailing or travelling. But the truth is, one month per year still isn’t enough.”

It’s no wonder that Princess Nourah has a hard time taking her hands off the reins — just as in her adventure-filled childhood she’s happy to follow her passions from sunrise to sunset, and throughout every achievement she’s made, it’s clear to see where her heart truly lies. In her journey as a unique and bespoke jewellery maker she’s always managed to pepper a little Saudi spirit throughout her creations. With her work for Art of Heritage, she’s involved in the protection of the Kingdom’s many crafts and traditions. With Adhlal, she’s keeping the country’s economy moving by introducing ever more businesses to the mix. And now with her Nuun X Asprey collab, she’s bringing Saudi heritage to a whole new audience. A damsel in distress? Princess Nourah most certainly is not. But a warrior in shining armour, ready to defend, promote and create for her country? That sounds more like it.

Featured image courtesy of Nuun x Asprey 

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  • Words by Rachel Silvestri