From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label
Egyptian label El Baz Jewelry is a family business that has been on the market for almost a century. (Instagram)
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Updated 21 April 2021

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

DUBAI: A Cairo-born jewelry brand that has been running since 1923 must have quite a story to tell, with plenty of insight for up-and-coming designers to learn from.

Egyptian label El Baz Jewelry is a family business that has been on the market for almost a century, fueled by its evolving artistic vision and mastery of the complex art of jewelry making. 

Youssef El-Baz, one of the owners of the brand, spoke with Arab News about how jewelry design in the region has changed over the past 100 years and why he believes El Baz has endured, as well as the launch of his own brands, one of which he kickstarted in Barcelona. 

“In the past, people were keen on buying jewelry that… was chosen based on the material and the resale value, with little attention to the design,” said El-Baz.

“Today… the customers who want to buy jewelry are (more interested in) the design (rather) than the material,” he added.

However, the designer, who founded two other labels – Grace Jewelry and B Jewelry – believes some things in the industry will never change. 

“I believe what will never change about jewelry is the sentimental value it holds, like inheritance and the idea of passing on jewelry through generations,” he said.  “People hold their loved ones forever (by) wearing and keeping their (designs).”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Grace. (@graceyourjewelry)

When it comes to the brand’s longevity, El-Baz shared his thoughts on why the label has lasted.

“In jewelry, people are always looking for authenticity or people are always looking for high quality, because they are buying something precious … and taste for sure. If the brand is not developing and adapting to the different tastes that change during the years it will die out,” explained El-Baz.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Grace. (@graceyourjewelry)

On that note, in 2019, El-Baz launched his own brand, B Jewelry, during a spell in Barcelona and quickly followed it up with the launch of Grace Jewelry in 2020.

“I wanted to create a jewelry brand that was socially responsible. I felt like Grace can be the beginning of a change in an industry where people start brands that are environmentally aware through their designs, manufacturing and packaging.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by B Jewelry (@bjewelryworld)

El-Baz got the inspiration to open the Cairo-based label Grace when he was in Milan.

“We have a complete collection called For A Better Tomorrow, (where) every design is dedicated toward a good cause. We donate 10 percent of the sales toward a good cause.” 

El-Baz ships worldwide for all three brands. 


Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments
Cult Gaia is a Los Angeles-based label founded by Jasmin Larian. Instagram
Updated 17 May 2021

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

Major luxury retailers announce removal of popular brand due to alleged ‘anti-Palestine’ comments

DUBAI: Harvey Nichols Kuwait announced this week that they will no longer be stocking Cult Gaia products after the Los Angeles-based brand’s founder, Jasmin Larian, made comments on Instagram that were deemed by many on social media to be “anti-Palestine.”

Her post, which she shared with her 28,200 Instagram followers read: “I am seeing so much misinformation on social… One-sided and spreading hate. Please educate yourself on the full story before reposting. I’m praying for everyone on both sides who are a victim of this violence.” She also reposted a photo depicting the words “I support Israel’s right to defend itself.” 

Many in the region perceived her post as taking an anti-Palestine stance and engaging in “bothsidesism,” and urged local department stores and e-tailers to stop selling Cult Gaia products.  

In response to the backlash her post garnered, Larian, who is Iranian-Jewish, later shared: “I realize I am part of the problem by failing to share both sides.” She added, “I also want to be clear that I am in support of the Palestinian people and their rights but not of the leadership that uses them to incite violence and hatred for Israel and Jews. In a perfect world, Israel should be a place for all people and all religions.” However, a number of retailers have already made the decision to remove Cult Gaia from shelves.

Harvey Nichols in Kuwait took to Instagram on Monday to announce their decision to stop stocking the ready-to-wear label. “Our dear followers, due to the current escalation of events, the decision has been made to remove Cult Gaia from Harvey Nichols,” said the statement.

Galleries Lafayette in Doha followed suit, replying to a user calling for the boycott of the brand in an Instagram direct message that they are “in the process of taking the necessary action.”

Ounass, a leading luxury e-tailer in the region, has also stopped selling Cult Gaia products on its online platform as well as Bloomingdales Middle East.

The death toll in Gaza has climbed to a total of 197, including at least 58 children and 34 women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Since the beginning of the Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip this week, at least 1,235 Palestinians have been injured, with the number expected to rise, the health ministry said.


Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear
Updated 17 May 2021

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

Meet the Arab fashion brand supporting women through menswear

DUBAI: While Arab womenswear designers continue to take the international fashion scene and celebrity red carpets by storm, menswear is still a work in progress. Understanding the need to fill the gap in the market, cousins Abla and Raneen Kawar launched ARAK, creating unique designs for men and also shining a spotlight on Arab culture. 

With sustainability and community at the forefront of the brand’s ethos, ARAK is a social enterprise, empowering local women and preserving their fading culture. Here, the duo discusses their label, fusing fashion with technology, and why showcasing Middle East traditions is so important. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

Tell us about the idea behind ARAK.

We launched ARAK (meaning “I see you”) with the aim to preserve our Arab heritage by using artisanal skills and techniques in the production of our pieces, namely cross stitch embroidery. We grew up in a family that values sustainability and caring for the environment, so it’s important for us to carry out those values. 

Why focus on menswear?

We noticed the visible gap in the market, particularly with Arab menswear brands. So, we wanted to fill that gap by incorporating traditional Levantine embroidery through our designs. As part of our sustainability efforts, we only want to offer consumers garments that are not offered in the market today.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

You say ‘each garment narrates a wider narrative,’ how so?

Each collection we produce has an overarching narrative, which the designs are inspired by, and then each piece has a hidden narrative to tell – the story of the woman who spent endless hours creating it.                                                                                                                                  

Most of your artisans are underprivileged women in Jordan, why was this important to you?    

Part of ARAK’s ethos is female empowerment. We provide the women with jobs and the opportunity to be financially independent and to help them provide for their children, all from the comfort of their own home. It was important to support these women and destigmatize the taboo around women working in traditionally conservative households.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

How does your relationship work with the local NGO in Jordan?

ARAK works with a local NGO based in Amman, for the production and operation of embroidering the pieces in order to ensure quality and consistency. The local NGO launched in October 2020, aiming to help women build sustainable income as well as build their skills professionally. They work with a not-for-profit academy which offers 100 percent free artisanal courses for members in a bid to continue advancing their skills. We offer the women work with fair wages and ethical working conditions.

ARAK’s designs also fuse tech with tradition, tell us more.               

Today’s world is shifting towards being more tech-dependent. So, it was a no brainer that the initial step we would take as a brand was to implement a woven QR code attached to each garment. Our QR code allows purchasing customers to track how to care for their garment, be introduced to who made it, and identify our transparent practices. We hope to integrate more tech-savvy solutions to our brand in the future.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ARAK Studio (@arak.studio)

What was the inspiration behind your SS21 collection?                     

Re-discovering our country from a new lens, particularly appreciating the little things as well as the beautiful landscapes that we took for granted pre-COVID-19. The designs in this collection, translate the beauty of the Jordanian landscape through embroidery.                              

What’s your opinion on the representation of Middle Eastern talent in the fashion industry?

The region is filled with incredible talent, many that are yet to be discovered. We believe that representation of the Middle East for what it is still has a long way to go to be perceived in the light it deserves. ARAK aims to do that by making sure all our work is supporting local talent, from the production down to the photographers, models and anyone involved in the creative process of our journey.


Miss Universe 2021 contestants dazzle in designs from the Middle East

Miss Universe 2021 contestants dazzle in designs from the Middle East
Demi-Leigh Tebow wearing Michael Cinco at the Miss Universe 2020 finals. Instagram
Updated 17 May 2021

Miss Universe 2021 contestants dazzle in designs from the Middle East

Miss Universe 2021 contestants dazzle in designs from the Middle East

DUBAI:  Filipino couturier Michael Cinco seems to be a favorite when it comes to beauty pageants. Miss Universe fans will recall that the Dubai-based designer created the gowns that Pia Wurtzbach and Iris Mittenaere, who were crowned Miss Universe in 2015 and 2016, respectively, wore to take home the crown.

This year, he was tasked with designing the dresses of some of the contestants, such as Nova Stevens of Canada, for the Miss Universe 2020 finals, which took place on Sunday evening at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, South Florida.

He also designed the dresses that Miss Czech Republic Klara Vavrushkova and Romania’s Bianca Tirsin wore to the preliminaries on May 14.

Miss Czech Republic stunned in a Michael Cinco gown at the preliminaries. Getty Images

Stevens announced the news weeks ago by posting a photo with the renowned designer on Instagram.

 “Boss! Michael Cinco needs no introduction! So grateful to have you as my official gown designer for Miss Universe,” she wrote alongside a heart-eyed emoji.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by NOVA (@thenovastevens)

Stevens wasn’t the only designer to don a frock by the Dubai-based label during the televised Miss Universe 2020 finals.

Demi-Leigh Tebow, who won Miss Universe in 2017, channeled 1930s Hollywood glamour in a gown designed by the Filipino talent during the 69th edition of the pageant in Florida.

Olivia Culpo wore an embellished Zuhair Murad gown to host the Miss Universe 2020 competition. Getty Images

Tebow served as an expert analyst and correspondent during the event which was co-hosted by the Miss Universe 2012 titleholder Olivia Culpo and American actor Mario Lopez.

For the occasion, Culpo chose a design from Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad. The fashion influencer opted for a pink, heavily-embellished gown with a single shoulder from the Arab designer’s Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection.

Couturiers from our neck of the woods had a big night.

Rabiya Mateo, who represented the Philippines wore two glamorous creations by Dubai-based Amato for the preliminary show and for the finals.

Miss Philippines Rabiya Mateo wore a gown designed by Amato at the 2020 Miss Universe prelimenary show. Supplied

In March 2021, it was announced that the annual competition would be returning with a live broadcast after a number of safety precautions were put in place.

 Twenty-six-year-old Andrea Meza from Mexico was crowned Miss Universe 2020, while Miss Brazil, Julia Gama, was the runner-up and Miss Peru, Janick Maceta Del Castillo, secured third place.


Saudi author takes an intimate look at facing death in lauded novel 

Saudi author takes an intimate look at facing death in lauded novel 
Updated 17 May 2021

Saudi author takes an intimate look at facing death in lauded novel 

Saudi author takes an intimate look at facing death in lauded novel 

CHICAGO: The youngest writer —and the first debut author — to be shortlisted in the history of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction is Saudi Arabia’s very own Aziz Mohammed for “The Critical Case of a Man Called K.” Hailing from AlKhobar, Mohammed’s novel follows a young man named K whose is hyper-aware of the monotony of his life. Everything, up until now, has been predictable, but when fatigue sends him to the hospital, K learns that he has leukemia. Translated into English by the award-winning Humphrey Davies, the story of K is a tale that takes an intimate look at a young man’s life when he is faced with illness and death.

K is introspective almost to the point of exhausting himself. He has a mother who has always taken care of him but equates reading books to being as harmful as smoking, a father who dies before he finishes high school and a sister and brother who do everything they are asked to do. K, on the other hand, fights the tedium while attempting to be a good son. Pulling references from his favorite authors, such as Kafka, Hemingway, and Tanizaki, he feels his life as an IT graduate, which was the chosen career path for financial reasons, is not what he wants to do, and he longs for something different.

Through K, Mohammed has created a character who is sensitive to how his presence affects everyone around him, as if he can see his sound waves rippling through people and altering them. He longs for inspiration to write a novel, but the environment does not concede to exploration or anything out of the ordinary.

Mohammed’s debut novel is a darkly humorous look into the life of a man who desires more in life when he is diagnosed with leukemia. The journey into illness is intimate and distressing, watching someone’s world turn upside down while at the same time offering an alternative to the mundane and predictable. There is rawness to life when faced with death, duty bound mothers, sons, and daughters, the tension and love between children and parents, and the fragility of the system when love and tradition don’t always move parallel to one another.

 


Guinness names Saudi girl Ritaj Al-Hazmi, 12, youngest book series author

Guinness names Saudi girl Ritaj Al-Hazmi, 12, youngest book series author
Updated 17 May 2021

Guinness names Saudi girl Ritaj Al-Hazmi, 12, youngest book series author

Guinness names Saudi girl Ritaj Al-Hazmi, 12, youngest book series author
  • Ritaj Al-Hazmi has already had three novels published and there are two more in the pipeline

MAKKAH: Ritaj Al-Hazmi, 12, has won the title of the “Youngest Writer of a Novel Series” in the world with the Guinness World Records after publishing two novels.

She published her third novel this year and is currently working on two others.

Al-Hazmi grew up reading fiction and fantasy and was inspired to be a published writer in 2016 after her father took her to a bookstore and wanted to see her books on the shelves along with big names.

She was motivated to write for her age group as she said that most of the books were targeted at those either older or younger than herself.

Ritaj Al-Hazmi

“From the day I set my eyes on reading, I’ve discovered what I wanted to be when I was a bit older. I wanted to connect myself to the world by reading, writing, sharing ideas, insights and opinions,” she said.

The young novelist wanted her first book to be fiction. “I knew that I wanted my book to have an idea to help the readers run toward their dreams without giving up. I always believed that my writing would help persuade them to do just that.”

After finishing the draft of her first book, she sent it to an editor who told her that it needed to be a lot more detailed than she had first thought. Giving up was not an option for her as she had already finished her first draft.

Her father insisted that she take some courses to learn about this genre and how to master it. After completing serval courses, she rewrote the whole draft.

“The courses were from Writing Mastery by Jessica Brody. I started to write what I learned about — from hooking the readers, to fiction structure, to great ingredients for fiction writing, to methods such as the Save the Cat method (STC),” she said.

HIGHLIGHTS

● After finishing the draft of her first book, she sent it to an editor who told her that it needed to be a lot more detailed than she had first thought. Giving up was not an option for her as she had already finished her first draft.

● Find a publishing house that was willing to publish Al-Hazmi’s book at her age was a challenge — until she signed a contract with a publishing house in January 2020.

Al-Hazmi completed her first book, “Treasure of the Lost Sea,” at the end of 2018, sent it to the editor and began writing her second novel, “Portal of the Hidden World.” Both her books were published in 2019.

“I was able to attend Riyadh International Book Fair and signed my first book there. At that time, I was interviewed by one of the well-known TV channels, MBC, and talked about my writing journey,” she said.

Find a publishing house that was willing to publish Al-Hazmi’s book at her age was a challenge — until she signed a contract with a publishing house in January 2020.

During the same year, she also planned her third book of the series. “Since I read some blogs on the future, I guessed it would be a good topic for my main characters to look through. Because most of the series talked about magic powers, I knew some change would be good considering the main characters would be trying something new.”

Al-Hazmi usually plans the title of the book before writing it, however, that changed several times thoughout the writing process until she finally decided to name it based on the theme “Beyond the Future World.”

While writing her third book of the series — as her parents looked for new courses for her— Al-Hazmi decided to hold her own workshop. She began working on the presentation slides, planning the content, points of discussion and, most importantly, how she could deliver the knowledge to those who were coming to learn.

“After I got ready and introduced the workshop, I was amazed to see all those children coming to learn. Throughout my workshop, I learned a lot of things,” she said. “One of the most important things to do after learning is teaching others what you know, remembering what you have learned, and why you decided to do so.”

“Beyond the Future World” has had a significant impact on Al-Hazmi, she said, noting that she had a “very memorable” journey with the book.

“My message for everyone — especially those my age — dream big, do it now, don’t wait till later. Ideas come and go, so do opportunities,” she said.