Handmade Necklaces and Kinship Stories from Yasmine Dabbous
The Lebanese designer makes each of her jewelry pieces herself and infuses them with ancient Middle Eastern tales
“I see the adornments I make as stories, stories about cultures and people. I call my work an alternative kind of journalism.” Yasmine Dabbous is describing the necklaces she creates for her Kinship Stories line, a Beirut-based jewelry collection in which each piece acts as a narrative, bringing to life the people and ways of life Dabbous encounters on her travels. Each individual necklace she makes for her line is a unique piece, often combining textiles, silver, antique finds and museum-quality rarities she uncovers on her journeys.
It’s fitting that Dabbous, who earned her degree in textile design in 2018 from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, thinks of her work as a form of journalism. Dabbous started her career years before as a journalist in Beirut, but soon became disenchanted with much of the published work she saw in the media. “In the Arab world, as a journalist, you have a choice between trauma and corruption, and I didn’t want either,” says Dabbous. “I didn’t want to do the ‘ista’bala, wadda’a’ journalism: Hariri met with so and so, Aoun met with so and so.”
Dabbous wanted to tell deeper stories, and after going back to school to get her PhD in cultural history and journalism at Louisiana State University, she became an assistant professor of journalism and media studies at LAU. But it was a heart condition that inspired her to forge a new path. After heart surgery in 2012, she went to New York to convalesce, and ended up enrolling in FIT, first in jewelry design and later focusing on textiles, a lifelong passion of hers.
Soon she was combining her jewelry and textile work with found objects, and making necklaces for a line she initially called Ethnic Tree. In 2015, she rebranded it as Kinship Stories.
One necklace she created starts with a silver collar piece handmade in Egypt, which she adorned with 19th-century coins from the Ottoman empire, beaded silver pieces from Yemeni bridal necklaces and hand-embroidered triangular textile pieces made by Thailand’s Flower Hmong tribe. “So many cultures use triangular amulets as protective devices,” she says.
The vintage tassels on the necklace are from the Rabari community in northeastern India. “For tribal women, tassels indicate status,” she explains. “Since these tassels are made of wool, they’re not important as a status symbol, but they’re important because they’re around 50 to 60 years old, and they’re rare to find.” An appliqué pendant comes from a belt she found in Vietnam. “This is an identity indicator. When the woman is wearing this belt, you know which tribe she comes from,” says Dabbous. What story does this necklace tell? The meaning is up to the wearer, who can contemplate its many intertwined narratives, or simply admire how its pieces create a whole.
Recently she did an entire necklace collection inspired by Syria. On one, she arranged enameled pieces she made herself out of copper covered with glass powder and fired in a kiln. On another, she added an enameled pendant with holes she drilled into it. The pieces “were meant to be painful but also poetic,” she says. The colors “were dominated by blue and white for peace and serenity, and red and black for war and violence.”
Dabbous sells her work only through exhibitions and at Beirut’s Espace Fann, the space she co-founded with her sister-in-law and business partner Nour Tannir in Ain el Mreisse. Necklaces are mostly priced in the $250-$450 range and go up to $1,000, but she sometimes offers pieces priced at $90 for specific commissions. She employs Syrian refugees to help assemble certain parts of a necklace and to create jobs for the community, but Dabbous does the majority of the handiwork on each piece herself. The process takes time, but she has no plans to speed it up. “I was told once that if you want to make good money, you have to give someone your necklaces to make,” Dabbous says. “I said no, I want to make them by hand. I love the feel of the handmade.”