Beachroad Magazine meets up with Hazem K Aljesr founder of uber cool design, Art and Lifestyle store Cities at Galleria Mall on Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah.
Hazem K. Aljesr spent his earlier years in Lebanon where he was born, and Saudi Arabia where he was brought up. Starting his career at Tom Dixon design studios in London, which is a design and manufacturing company of lighting and furniture, Hazem gained extensive knowledge in the world of high-end design. After this experience, he returned to the Middle East in 2006, and opened his very own branding, web and design firm, Zoom Creative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In 2008, under the umbrella of Zoom Creative, Hazem launched Cities Design and Lifestyle Store, in Centria Mall, Riyadh. Cities has been a great success in introducing the country to the latest in modern and avant-garde home accessories and designs from around the world. With the hopes of presenting distinctive, International art and designs to the crowd of Dubai, Hazem has created the same authentic establishment that was launched in Saudi. He hopes to later expand Cities further in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and eventually to various parts of Europe.
Established in 2006, Cities was created with the aim of introducing exceptionally crafted contemporary art and design to the region. Today, artisans and renowned designers from across the globe choose Cities as an arena to display and share their authentic creations. Cities also works hand-in-hand with many upcoming artists from the Middle East and Gulf regions to highlight their contributions to the field of art and design.
With locations in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, UAE, Cities is expanding its influence with regular participation in regional fairs, exhibitions and events, as well as hosting in-store art exhibitions and design installations. In addition to acting as event stylist for Harper’s Bazaar Interiors Design Awards in 2014, and participating in Saudi Design Week 2014, and Design Days Dubai 2014, Cities has also hosted in-store exhibitions for Greek-American artist Fotis Gerakis in April 2015, and for Lebanese designer Nayef Francis in June 2015. Cities will be participating in the upcoming Beirut Art Fair in September 2015, and will take part in Big Boys Toys in Abu Dhabi in November 2015, as well as hosting an exhibition of works from Spanish artist and designer Maximo Riera this fall.
NAME? // Hazem Aljesr.
YOUR FIRST JOB? // My first real job after university was working at Tom Dixon, and it was a great experience. Many of the things I learned are lessons that I still rely on today. I learned about the design process from the first stages of creating a design to the manufacturing of the resulting product. It really cemented my interest in design and made me realize that it’s not enough to just have a good idea. Practical concerns play a big role as well, and a good team that is capable of carrying out all the details is essential.
YOUR CURRENT OCCUPATION? // Owner and Founding Managing Director of Cities Design, Art & Lifestyle Store, locations in Dubai, UAE and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
YOUR GREATEST LOVE? // Cities, of course! Cities came from my passion for design and my goal was to create a store filled with design that would encourage people to let go of the traditional styles that have dominated the region for so long and introduce a new, eclectic style; a fusion of diverse influences. Good design is essential to life, and having the tools to create a personal space that is reflective of our individual experience is a gift that everyone should enjoy. Bringing the idea of Cities to life and watching it grow and expand has been amazing and truly fulfilling.
YOUR GREATEST FEAR? // Disappointing the people I care about. Of course, I have my own standards and expectations, and I work hard to have a good life and meet my goals and do what’s right, so I don’t want to disappoint myself either.
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY? // When I was very young we took a family vacation in Las Palmas, Spain. My parents took us to the beach one day, and as we pulled into the parking lot, my parents quickly realized that it was a nude beach and not the most appropriate setting for a family outing. All I remember is seeing all of these naked people in the parking lot and being struck by the oddness of it. It’s definitely a memory that made an impression.
WHO IS YOUR ROLE MODEL AND WHY? // My parents are my role models. I admire them both so much, and they both set such good examples and taught me so many valuable lessons. They showed my siblings and I the importance of a strong family circle, and the unconditional love that exists there. My father, in particular, set an example that I want to live up to; he has always shown the value of hard work and persistence, but he also made me see the importance of treating everyone with kindness and respect, and the necessity of thinking and planning ahead. In comparison, my mother has always been there with her quiet strength and dependability, and through her life she has always held true to her standards and expected us to meet them as well. Between the two of them, they have instructed and shown me how to be a good person with deep values and the strength to live by them. I can think of no better way to be and nothing more to aspire to. I also have great admiration for the people close to me who have started from nothing and built their lives up from scratch. To overcome so many obstacles and hardships, but never stop trying to improve and strive for something better is awe-inspiring. Thinking of their strength and determination really puts things into perspective for me and reminds me of what’s important in life.
WHAT WAS THE LAST GIFT YOU GAVE SOMEONE? // I’m not completely sure. I think it was soap and a magnet and some flowers that I brought back for a friend from a family vacation in Positano, Italy.
IF YOU WERE 80 YEARS OLD, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR CHILDREN? // Be true to yourself. It sounds simplistic, but it’s a very difficult maxim to adhere to. When we are children, we have that little voice inside us that tells us what is right, what is wrong, what we like and what we don’t feel good about. But life and outside influences intervene and we lose touch with that voice or we ignore it, and we begin to think that someone else will have the answers for us. That’s not true. You know what is best for you, so listen to yourself and trust yourself. And even if everyone else is trying to push you another way, stand up for yourself, for who you are, and what you want and what you believe in.
YOUR WORST TRAIT? // Other people would probably say my stubbornness. When I feel strongly about something, I generally cannot be persuaded from it. But, while being flexible makes it easier for others to deal with you, it doesn’t always get the best result, so although stubbornness makes me sometimes difficult to deal with, I usually have a good reason for feeling so strongly.
THE WORST TRAIT IN OTHERS THAT GETS YOU MAD? // I don’t get mad very easily, but one thing that puts me over the top is lying. I can’t stand duplicitousness, and once you catch someone in a lie, then you feel like you can never let down your guard with them again; you have to wonder what agenda they have, and what they’re after, so every interaction becomes filled with doubt and questions, and it all feels false. I also don’t have a lot of patience for indecisiveness. It’s something that frustrates me because it slows things down and it can be hard to maintain respect for someone who can never decide what they want.
WHO WOULD PLAY YOUR ROLE IN A MOVIE? // Jude Law. He’s a great actor and I’ve really enjoyed a lot of his movies.
FAVOURITE MUSIC? // I like so many different musicians and styles of music. I listen to a lot of Brazilian music; the beats and the rhythm fit so many moods. For specific songs, definitely “Blue Cafe” by Chris Rea. However, I would also place “Ghir Enta” and “Raoui” both by Souad Massi at the top of my list of favorite songs. All of these songs create an atmosphere and take you on a journey. Listening to them, I feel transported to another place.
LAST RECORD YOU BOUGHT? // I buy singles more often than full length records. The last music I bought was the song “Firestone” by Kygo featuring Conrad Sewell.
FAVOURITE BOOK? // I like books that stick with you, that have ideas that you can continue to think about long after you’ve finished reading them, and books that teach you something about how to live a better life. One book that made quite an impression on me was Candide by Voltaire. My favorite quote comes from that book. Candide writes, “Tout va pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes.” Basically, it says, ‘everything is for the best in the best of possible worlds.’ For me, this means that no matter what the situation is, you can make it into something better. You have to look for the good and work to make things better than they are.
LAST BOOK YOU BOUGHT? // The last book I bought was an art book, Masterpieces of Ancient Greek Sculpture.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU? // I try to find inspiration everywhere. I’m very affected by my surroundings and whatever is happening at any given moment, so I may be inspired by something truly amazing, like witnessing a special moment or event, or by something that others might consider mundane, like the way the light reflects off of an interesting object. Inspiration is about the channeling of those small feelings that occur when the moment strikes into something bigger that you can use, so I feel that anything, when viewed or experienced, can be inspirational.
THE CLOSEST YOU HAVE COME TO DEATH? // I’m not a thrill-seeker, so I try not to put myself in situations that would result in coming close to death or injury. I’ve seen other people experience some serious near misses, and that was scary enough.
FAVOURITE DESTINATION? // I love the Greek islands. I haven’t been to that many of them, but each island has a different atmosphere and different attractions, and all of them are beautiful. The beaches in Greece are amazing, and the people are so friendly, it’s always a great destination.
LEAST FAVOURITE DESTINATION? // That’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t want to offend anyone that may live there…Let’s just say that there are some places in the world that I would prefer not to visit again.
HOW DO YOU RELAX? // I usually relax by listening to music or watching a movie. I also enjoy long, late dinners and drinks with friends. Good company and good conversation are the best forms of relaxation.
WHY DUBAI? // I’ve always been attracted to Dubai. It’s got such great energy, and there is so much to see and do. You don’t feel that you are missing out on anything, and there are people here from all over the world, so it’s a great mix of cultures and people. Dubai is evolving in such a positive way; there have been so many initiatives to support various interests and improve the culture. It’s very promising for the future and it makes it feel like anything is possible. I also love that most of the people who live in Dubai are from somewhere else, so it feels like we are all connected in some way, since we have all left home and are having an adventure in another place.
ARE YOU SPORTY? // If there’s a need for it, I can be. I stay fit, and I’m active, but I don’t regularly take part in any particular sport. My favorite sport is tennis, and I love to play whenever I have the chance.
BEACH OR DESERT? // Definitely the beach. I love laying on the sand and enjoying the sun, but I want to hear and see the ocean as well, and go for a dip in the cool water when it gets too hot.
URBAN OR RURAL? // Urban, without a doubt. I love the energy of a big city. There’s always something going on and activities to enjoy, and I want to be surrounded by other people. It’s funny, because often in big cities, there are tons of people around you, but everyone is alone, rushing about and involved in their own lives. I like that dichotomy, and I love learning a new city and feeling like I know its secrets.
CATS OR DOGS? // like both. I have a great respect for cats. They are elegant and independent and very obvious in their likes and dislikes. There is no persuading a cat. But dogs are so welcoming and loving. You can be the worst person in the world, and your dog will still be so glad to see you. I think we need both points of view in the world.
COFFEE OR TEA? // Tea. It’s gentler than coffee and you can find a flavor for any mood.
WHAT YOU MAKES YOU LAUGH? // I love a good dirty joke and a laugh at myself sometimes.
WHAT MAKES YOU CRY? // I don’t cry very easily, but I am sentimental. I think most men are, although they don’t want to admit it. I think the situations where you feel that you have no control over anything; those are the tough ones.
YOUR MESSAGE? // Squeeze the juice out of life! It’s an amazing world with so much to see and learn. Take advantage of it and enjoy everything you can! Seek out new experiences and listen; you never know what you will learn or what opportunities may appear. Always practice kindness towards others; it’s contagious and keeps us human, and the smallest act of kindness may change someone else’s life for the better on a bad day. And in business, don’t be afraid to delegate. You may have the vision, but you can’t grow if you micromanage the details. Get a good team and trust them. Learn and grow.