Delectable collectibles

From fabulous, lovingly restored vintage furniture to show-stopping beaded bags, Iman Ayache’s hand-crafted creations are works of art in their own right and as individual as their lucky owners 


Given that the Lebanese are famed for their entrepreneurial spirit, resilience and passion for innovation, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the interior architect and designer Iman Ayache found a new and exciting vehicle for her creativity when her homeland became engulfed in crisis.

Having already carved a niche as a producer of fabulous, fun vintage furniture when the situation in Lebanon began deteriorating, Iman noticed changing trends among the country’s consumer habits and decided to adapt her craft to dovetail with them by adding a show-stopping selection of beautiful bags to her offering.

Created with passion and in a glorious array of vibrant colours, complete with delicate beads that are painstakingly sewn on to the fabric by hand, the bags have proved to be a huge success, much to Iman’s delight. “Lebanese love entertaining at home, which is why furniture has traditionally sold well, but right now, people are keen to go out and enjoy themselves, despite the situation, which is why I think fashion items, including accessories, are proving popular,” she said. “When I realised this, I tried to think what I could make that would suit the market, and attractive, on-trend, eye-catching bags seemed a good idea.”

It’s easy to see why Iman’s bags, which she sells under the ‘Gemini_C’est_moi’ label – a tribute to her star sign – are proving so popular, both in Lebanon and elsewhere across the region. Each one is unique, crafted at her workshop in Beirut, where she is ably assisted by her mom and assistants. “I think the fact that they are all one-offs adds to their appeal,” she explained. “It’s a lovely feeling when you own and wear something that’s unique. Knowing nobody else has a piece exactly the same makes it very personal and you quickly become attached to it.” 

The approach is one that she has also long adopted in her furniture craft, which involves rooting around preloved or rejected items at fairs and flea markets, or even picking up pieces discarded in the street, before lovingly restoring and refurbishing them at her workshop. “Every piece has a story to it and deserves some love,” she said. “I adore the challenge of taking items home with me, imprinting my style on them and giving them a new lease of life.” 

That style is often steeped in nostalgia and includes revisiting bygone eras, especially the fifties, sixties and seventies, inspired by her mom’s reminiscences about life in Beirut when it was the pearl of the Middle East. 

Along with her mom’s trips down memory lane, Iman’s craft reflects 20+ years of expertise and professional experience gained during a career that took her from Beirut to Dubai, after graduating in interior architecture from the Lebanese University, but left little time for personal progression. However, all that changed in 2010, when she decided to branch out on her own, launching ‘Vintage by Iman’. Her designs immediately struck a chord with lovers of whimsical, standout pieces, many of which were more akin to works of art than furniture. 

Creative change of use is a hallmark of her work, as is the addition of calligraphy and prints of old movie posters or pictures of iconic singers and actors onto items, from Faten Hamama and Rushdy Abaza to Feyrouz. “I love the way every letter in calligraphy is unique and can be used in so many different ways,” she said. “I’m also passionate about the golden age of cinema. I think in difficult times we naturally look back to better times.”

Many of the pieces she renovates are themselves steeped in history, such as the small traditional chairs similar to those Iman remembers seeing in her grandmother’s house, which she decided to seal with a box of plexi after reworking, enabling them to be used as mini tables or simply enjoyed as a piece of art.

Iman admitted, with a smile, to sometimes finding it hard to part with pieces she’s brought back to their former glory or transformed, confessing that several have become permanent fixtures in her home rather than offered for sale. “It’s difficult to let some pieces go because you inevitably become attached to them,” she said. Examples include a striking set of drawers created from vintage leather suitcases and an antique pantry store (namlieh), transformed into a cabinet that would take pride of place in any room. And, while her focus is very much on her beautiful beaded bags for now, Iman is also optimistic that demand for the vintage furniture pieces will rise again, in the same way that Lebanon and its resilient people always rise up against the odds.

Iman’s beaded bags can be found under the ‘Gemini C’est Moi’ on her Instagram page and on the Lemonade Fashion platform, as well as in many concept stores across Lebanon and in the Gulf region.

Visit vintagebyiman on Instagram to see more of her furniture pieces.

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