Fashion & Design

The Ruby Tree: Luxury design for a cause

Mitchell Abdul Karim Crites and Bethan Gray have combined design and Islamic craft to create The Ruby Tree.

lo-res-Portraits_300dpi_005 Mitchell Abdul Karim Crites and Bethan Gray have combined contemporary design and Islamic craft with a social purpose to create The Ruby Tree.Called The Ruby Tree after an old Sindhi folk tale about a nightingale and a pomegranate tree told to Mitchell Abdul Karim Crites during his travels in Sindh in the 1980s, the company seeks to create works of great beauty and refinement, made for the home and grand public architectural spaces, and made from the heart.

The Ruby Tree, co-founded by current Elle Decoration Best British Designer, Bethan Gray and scholar and great revivalist of Islamic art and craft, Mitchell Abdul Karim Crites launched worldwide with its first collection exclusively at the iconic Harrods department store in London on November 6, 2014. The first collection presents a series of beautiful furniture and tableware. Each piece in the collection is a precious jeweled work of art, made from the finest materials in the deepest of colours—vibrant blue lapis lazuli sourced from ancient mines in Afghanistan, the finest deepest red rubies from Tanzania, rose quartz and soothing turquoise-green amazonite from Madagascar and Mozambique, jet black marble from the Bhaislana quarry in Rajasthan, a quarry which has been used for centuries by the royal families of Rajasthan, and sparkling pure white marble from Vietnam.

Each piece is a precious work of art, unique with the subtle, individual variations that separate the handcrafted from the mass produced. lo-res-Petal-range-Moodshots_300dpi_002Abdul Karim and Bethan as co-founders of The Ruby Tree and agents of change are both passionate about what they do and about passing on traditions to the next generation in a way that is relevant to today’s design world. The Ruby Tree is built on the three tenets of social purpose, Islamic craft and contemporary design. The company seeks to keep highly specialised, endangered Islamic arts and crafts alive with the fusion of contemporary design and age old traditional techniques. The Ruby Tree’s ultimate goal is to provide an ongoing progressive and ‘layered’ legacy of sustaining families, creating income, rebuilding social support for the artisans and actively supporting and nurturing the talents of artisans through its commissions and patronage.

“My aim is, and has always been, to find ways to revive these endangered arts and crafts and find a market so that the traditions can be passed on to the next generation. Our projects, over the four decades, have given work to more than 7,000 master artisans and have had a profound effect on their families as well,” says Abdul Karim, whose dedication to preserving the traditional crafts of the Islamic world, such as inlay, marble carving, calligraphy, stonemasonry, jewellery, ceramics and textiles has been a lifelong vocation.

Bethan Gray comments, “My family history and influences are intrinsically linked to the East so I have always had a fascination with the rich aesthetic, intricate details and technical history of Islamic craft and contemporary design. I am keen to keep the delicate, highly specialized traditions alive and seek methods of passing these on to the next generation in a way that is relevant to today’s design world.” lo-res-Rose-Quartz-Petal-Incense-Burner_300dpi_001The creative partnership was initiated when Abdul Karim was sent a picture of Bethan’s award-winning black and white collection. He was so struck by the harmony and complexity of the lines and use of light, central elements of Islamic art and design, that he immediately wrote to her, suggesting a meeting to explore ways in which they could work together. Yet, the partnership has deep roots: both come from a heritage that reveres the craft traditions of the past. Abdul Karim has spent his life studying, preserving and reviving the great art forms of the Islamic world—a journey that has taken him from the sacred mosques of Mecca to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bethan’s extraordinary background—her family hails from an ancient Rajasthani clan that over centuries migrated across Arabia and Persia into Europe, settling in the Celtic heartland, Wales—weaves a rich pattern of influences and inspirations. Her bohemian and artistic background is reflected in her designs, which draw on craft traditions of both East and West. Intricate patterns of light and dark, texture, purity of line, clarity, harmony and a connoisseur’s eye for detail define her highly original style. Her rise to become British Designer of the Year 2013 reveals an innate ability to absorb and reinvent the best elements of design for a 21st Century audience.

The Ruby Tree Collection is inspired by the timeless beauty of the golden age of Islamic culture immortalised in 1,001 Arabian Nights, felt in the dreamy gardens of the Alhambra Palace and reflected by the ethereal beauty of the Taj Mahal.

Bethan and Abdul Karim have taken a unique scholarly and spiritual approach to the research and design of its collections seeking inspiration from the tiled dome of the early 17th century Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan built by the Safavid ruler, Shab Abbas I. It’s a private mosque built for the use of the royal family and the gilded and iridescent tile work is considered to be among the finest in the Islamic world. The striped bowl design comes from a 12 th-13th century glazed ceramic bowl from Persia which Bethan saw at Sotheby’s.

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