Valerie Barkowski is “hundred percent Belgian”. But you would not be able to say so from her work.
Her designs, textiles and textures are a true reflection of the lands—India and Morocco— she has travelled through and has made her own. “I think a ‘designer’ is a narrow definition for me. What is driving me is the need to build concepts and stories; designing is just one aspect of it,” she says over the phone from Marrakech. “Whether it is a brand, or a store, or a guest house—like the one I am working on in Marrakech—designing is only a part of the process.”
Although from Europe, and having lived in Russia for three years, Barkowski has made Morocco her home. “When I first visited Morocco in 1991, I knew that this is where I would want to live one day.” And live she did, building her signature brands—Mia Zia and V. Barkowski—of textiles, colours and patterns, inspired entirely from local traditions and craftsmanship.
Barkowski’s India connection dates back to more than two decades ago when—disillusioned with the narrow structure of the formalised teaching of art in institutions—she dropped out of college and travelled through India for three months. “I came from a comfortable life in Europe, living very close to nature. When I came to India, it was a complete shock for me. It literally changed my life; I came back another person.” The next visit to India took place about 18 years later, but little of what she felt about the country had changed. “I had come on a 15-day trip, but stayed on for three months. And when I returned, I slept for three days and three nights. Because in those three months I was so excited that I did not sleep.”
Barkowski’s formal relationship with India blossomed through her role of, first, the creative head of Bandit Queen, Synergy Home Furnishings and Accessories (an export-oriented company), and then as the creative head of No-Mad, the online only home décor brand. What unites these two associations of Barkowski’s is the fact that the resulting products are quintessentially India in character (No-Mad describes itself as “97 percent India”; the remaining 3 percent being Barkowski herself).
(This story appears in the Nov-Dec 2014 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)