BEIRUT: “I’m not a sex toy designer!” exclaims Marc Dibeh. Relaxing in his studio, in a quiet backstreet in Mar Mikhael, the young product designer recalls the buzz generated by his 2010 piece “Love the Bird.” An elegant, ergonomic bedside lamp with a small red bird on a perch protruding from one side, the lamp concealed a secret: The bird was sitting on the end of a dildo. When the hidden sex toy was removed, the light emitted by the lamp turned from white to red, enhancing the amorous mood.
The lamp, which Dibeh came up with after anonymously polling more than 1,800 women on their desires and preferences, brought the young designer sudden fame. He was interviewed by international design magazines such as Dezeen and even featured in a British erotica magazine.
The legacy of “Love the Bird” has followed him ever since.
“It created a big buzz at the time, and that’s the thing that helped me grow and do other projects,” Dibeh says. “But I don’t want to be like a rock star from the ’80s that had this one hit and still lives with it. ... That’s my biggest fear.”
Luckily for Dibeh, he has already proved himself much more than a one-hit wonder. The 28-year-old, who launched his own practice in 2008 and began teaching at the age of 23, made a splash in the U.S. last year thanks to a collaboration with his friend and mentor, designer Marc Baroud.
The “Wires” series was commissioned by Art Factum Gallery, who took it to Design Miami, where it was deemed one of the top five attractions at the fair by the Wall Street Journal.
This year, Dibeh and Baroud have collaborated once again. At Art Factum’s stand at Design Days Dubai later this month, the two will be exhibiting a collection of elegant lamps in keeping with the minimalist spirit of “Wires,” in which every object was created using a steel pipe, shaped into simple geometric forms.
Dibeh will also be exhibiting some of his solo work, a series of unusual mirrors, which he produced for Art Factum’s collective design show in December.
Searching for an idea related to the theme “Spectrum,” Dibeh, who studied architecture in Paris, came up with the design for the mirrors by accident, while working on a private woodland residence he has spent the last three years designing, inside and out.
“I wanted to work around the reflection and I worked on developing a concept for several months, until I discovered that another designer [had already done] the same thing but better,” he recalls.
“I was about to quit the show and one day I was on site ... and I was carrying a mirror that we had ordered and waited for for several weeks. I’m very clumsy, so it fell and it broke.
“My first reaction was: ‘F--k. Let’s not tell the client that I broke it.’ I looked at the mirror and it was in many pieces, but they were not straight because there were rocks on the floor, and it was giving some very interesting reflections. I called Joy Mardini [the owner of Art Factum] and I told her ‘I’ve got it! ‘Please, Don’t Tell Mom,’ that’s the names of the series.’”
Dibeh’s five mirrors are made of stainless steel and encased in traditional frames. Echoing the haphazard angles of shattered fragments of glass, they are bent in such a way that they create distorted reflections, capturing their surrounding from several angles at once. From a distance, viewers cannot see their own reflection. The closer they get, the less distorted they appear.
Asked whether he considers himself a Lebanese designer or a designer who happens to be Lebanese, Dibeh appears flummoxed.
“Let’s say that I’m a designer who happens to be Lebanese,” he finally hazards, “but live in Lebanon, so I work a lot with Lebanese references. ... I think that nowadays you cannot only be Lebanese because you’re connected to the Internet 24/7, taking references from the Far East, the Middle East, Europe, the States, South America. ... I’m happy to be Lebanese, but I don’t consider myself a [uniquely] Lebanese designer for a Lebanese clientele.”
Dibeh is currently working on a solo exhibition, due to be held at Art Factum in June, to coincide with Beirut Design Week. Reluctant to reveal too many details, he says the pieces are all connected to dining and were inspired by a dinner-table conversation between a group of non-design related professionals: a copy writer, photographer, cook, art historian, dancer and singer.
“I usually like to do stuff with a layer of humor,” Dibeh says of his general approach to design. “I never wanted to do something where people interpret it very seriously. ... For me, the most important thing is the story [behind] a product. It always happens by accident. ... Even my return to Beirut was an accident.
“I was studying in Paris and I came in 2006 for a summer vacation on July 11. On July 12 the war started and I [thought]: ‘Maybe it’s a sign.’ I was studying architecture in Paris, and I love Paris but I was not enjoying architecture at all.
“It’s like this that I ended up in Lebanon. At the time everybody was leaving I was the only one making my way back. Since then I’ve always tried to work on making the story as important as the product itself. I know that I’m not going to change the world with my small product – for the moment. So as long as I can make someone smile, I’m happy.”