The Jeweler of the Nile: Azza Fahmy brings Middle Eastern style to London

Azza Fahmy (C) and her two daughters, Amina (L) and Fatma (R). (AN photo)
Updated 30 November 2018
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The Jeweler of the Nile: Azza Fahmy brings Middle Eastern style to London

  • Azza Fahmy has been showcasing Middle Eastern style to the world for almost 50 years
  • The London outlet has proved popular with Middle Eastern visitors

LONDON: To enter the London store of celebrated Egyptian jeweler Azza Fahmy is to pass into a world of opulence, glamor and, lets face it, wealth. The glitter of the gems, the gleam of the gold… This is a whole other level of bling.

Azza Fahmy has been showcasing Middle Eastern style to the world for almost 50 years. Fans of her creations include Middle Eastern celebrities such as Lebanese TV presenter Raya Abirached and international stars Rihanna and Joss Stone. There are 17 Azza Fahmy shops in Egypt, Jordan and Dubai. Her first outside the Middle East opened this year in London.

What is clear is that this is a business conceived, run and driven by women. There is Azza herself, now 74, but still chairman and creative director. Her elder daughter, Fatma, 38, is managing director, and younger daughter Amina, 35, is head of design.

However, Fahmy is the first to acknowledge the debt she owes to the master craftsmen of Kham El Khalili, Cairo’s old jewelry quarter.

Making jewelry was not her first choice of career, she reveals. After studying interior design she designed textiles and ceramics and illustrated children’s books. “But it didn’t fulfil me,” she says. “I would get bored. If you love something, you don’t get bored.”

In the late 1960s, Cairo hosted its first international book fair. In the German section, Fahmy found the book that would change her life.

“It was a book on medieval jewelry and I opened it on a page that showed earrings shaped like donkeys made using a technique called granulation, which is lots of little balls soldered together. My heart was beating really fast and I knew: ‘This is what I want to do.’ At the time I was working for the government, doing political illustrations, and my monthly salary was 19 Egyptian pounds. The book cost 17 pounds, but I bought it because I believed it was going to change my life.”

She had found her purpose, but now she needed the skills. And she realized the people who could teach her what she needed were not in the classroom but in the souk.

Back in the late 1960s, a woman requesting to be apprenticed to a silver- or goldsmith was highly unusual. “It still is,” says Fahmy. “But they accepted me right away. They were very happy that someone like me, a person with a university degree, appreciated and respected their skill.” She trained while working full time.

After only a month, she sold her first five rings for 45 pounds (“a fortune”). She rented a little showroom once a week to display her wares. One of her best customers was the head of the British Council, who arranged for her to study at the Cass School of Art (now part of London Metropolitan University) in London.

Fahmy completed the two-year course in six months, studying nine different disciplines. “Useful is too small a word. It was transformative,” she says.

With a loan of 15,000 Egyptian pounds, Azza opened her first gallery in 1983. The rest, as they say, is history.

She finds inspiration in her country’s rich history. “When I started, the Europeans were the elite, but in Egypt we have the legacy of ancient Rome, ancient Greece, the Graeco-Romans, the Copts and then the Islamic period. Why look abroad?”

The London outlet has proved popular with Middle Eastern visitors, but shop manager Kris Betlem tells of four ladies from Texas who flew in to London for a rock concert that was canceled at the last minute. So they went shopping instead and spent over $50,000 in 40 minutes.

Fahmy now produces five collections a year, consisting of anything from six pieces to 20. The label also accepts bespoke commissions. Each gemstone is personally selected by Amina.
Traditionally, jewelry in the Middle East not only denoted social standing but was also a way of keeping one’s wealth in portable form.

“People bought jewelry by weight, not for the design. That’s why women wore lots of gold bangles,” Amina explains. “We have shifted perceptions by charging for the expertise and craftsmanship, but people still ask how many grams of gold in a piece.”

Fahmy has continued studying with craftsmen in Florence and has no intention of retiring. “And she wonders why she’s tired,” says Fatma.”She never stops.”

Fahmy will have none of it: “To this day I am hungry for education,” she says. “I will never stop learning.”


Bambah’s Ramadan 2019 edit is pastel perfection

Updated 26 May 2019
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Bambah’s Ramadan 2019 edit is pastel perfection

  • The new collection sports a lot of pastel colors and gold embellishments
  • The prices range between $430 to $790

DUBAI: Egyptian designer Maha Abdul Rasheed, founder of the fashion label Bambah, is showing off a summery new line this Ramadan.

The Ramadan 2019 collection is making waves this season with its laid back, pretty pastel take on the traditional kaftan.

Mint green color blocked stripes on cream and gold-flecked embellishments on lilac, the collection’s colors are light and refreshing.

(Supplied) 

Luxurious jacquard with gold-flecked floral detailing add sheen to largely pastel bases, while the ruffled sleeves on the Isabella Kaftan are a welcome structural update on the traditional flowing silhouette of the robe.

While florals and gilded materials litter the Ramadan 2019 collection, there are a few options that are fresher and more urban. Rasheed makes good use of thick stripes in a few of the available kaftans, offering up combinations in a sorbet-like color palette of peach, green and cream.

Modest, full coverage fabric, high necklines and long, wonderfully detailed sleeves mark the collection — making it ideal for the Holy Month, as well as for your sartorial needs this Eid Al-Fitr.

(Supplied) 

Prices range from $430 to $790, with many of the designs hovering around the $500 mark.

Rasheed initially opened Bambah as a stand-alone boutique in Dubai, selling a carefully curated selection of vintage pieces. While the concept of one-of-a-kind, pre-owned fashion was almost entirely new to the region at that time, Rasheed persevered, educating fashionable Emiratis about the kind of couture one can’t find in malls.

Vintage Valentino blazers and Dior dresses flew off the shelves and before long, the boutique became a hub for Dubai-based fashion influencers looking to add unique character to their wardrobes.

(Supplied)

After noticing that her clients were drawn to the hyper-feminine princess skirts and sweet-heart necklines popular in the 1950s and 1960s, Rasheed began designing herself. In a few short years, the company has expanded widely, with a loyal, cross-continental client base.

Today, global A-listers known for their refined, high glam-style like Amal Clooney and Priyanka Chopra have donned Rasheed’s designs.