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

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.”

Nora Attal has her day in the sun in Marrakesh

Updated 19 March 2019

Nora Attal has her day in the sun in Marrakesh

DUBAI: British-Moroccan model Nora Attal posed up a storm in Marrakesh’s golden sunlight for a new campaign by fashion brand Zara.

The in-demand model shared snaps from the campaign, photographed by Christian Macdonald, on her Instagram account.

The collection of photographs show Attal modelling looks from Zara’s laid-back Spring/Summer 2019 collection against a backdrop of rippling sand dunes. Her featured ensembled include kaftans and long-length cardigans with hefty stripes in a clay-and-beige color palette.

Attal is no stranger to fronting campaigns — in January, the model was chosen as one of seven rising stars to feature in British fashion house Alexander McQueen’s latest campaign.

The Spring/Summer 2019 collection photoshoot was shot by British fashion and documentary photographer Jamie Hawkesworth and featured Attal wearing a number of cowboy-inspired looks.

The year has gotten off to a busy start for Attal, who was similarly in demand in 2018, when she took to the catwalk for Elie Saab, Loewe and Dior during Paris Fashion Week in September and starred in Italian fashion label Versace’s summer advert campaign.

In May, luxury e-retailer Farfetch launched in the Middle East with a little help from the young model.

She starred in a photoshoot wearing pieces from collections on sale on the platform. The colorful photographs were accompanied by a snappy, chatty interview with the young model.
Readers got the chance to gain insight into her earliest fashion memories and learn some off-the-cuff facts about the star.

“Recently I’ve been obsessed with noughties trends. Everyone was so cool and effortless back then. Now I go out in a full Juicy Couture tracksuit with no shame,” she told Farfetch at the time.

“If I wasn’t a model, I’d probably be at university, studying to get into something like criminal investigations, profiling or law,” she added.

Attal finished off 2018 by hitting the sand dunes in the UAE — however, this time it wasn’t part of a high-end photoshoot, but rather a day of fun.

The model enjoyed an afternoon of sandboarding in the emirate of Sharjah and even posted a snap on Instagram at the time.

“Apparently sandboarding is a thing,” she captioned the sunset shot.