Nuniz — a brand of bespoke bags from Cairo

Lisa Kaaki | Arab News
Publication Date: 
Mon, 2009-12-14 03:00

From her atelier in Maadi, a leafy suburb of Cairo, Nadia Zorkani tells me that she can’t remember ever not loving bags: “Bags have always been a passion of mine. I love everything about bags, the design, hardware and the lining. I have always appreciated a well-made bag, even if I did not like the design.”

Zorkani’s decision to start a business benefited from Egypt’s quality leather as well as the presence of good workmanship. She pays great attention to the design and focuses sharply on quality control in order to ensure the best possible finishing. Besides practical bags suited to our life styles, she has created a line of bags and clutches that reflect the Middle Eastern love for going out.

Her meteoric success in Cairo is not only due to the quality and the design but also to the strong local demand for customized handbags. Women’s obsession with handbags is a global, very contemporary consumer trend. This modern affliction fills us with desire as soon as we see the latest collection of designer handbags. Therefore, we keep on buying bags and storing them in bulging closets.

“Bags have always been part of fashion but in recent years, a bag has turned into a status symbol. Long waiting lists for certain designer bags have become the norm. And the longer the list, the more popular the bag became,” says Zorkani.

Hendrikje Ivo, a Dutch antiques dealer, has set up a handbag museum in Amsterdam. Her collection features a rare 16th-century goatskin pouch with 18 little pockets. This feature clearly shows that women throughout history have enjoyed bags for their practical side and not just for their design. “The bag is the secret drawer of a woman. It’s always on the move along with her,” explains Ivo.

This definition is particularly suited to the ‘tote’, that second bag where you can place a pair of shoes, clothes and make-up.

The tote’s popularity is considered by many to be a long-term trend. Accessories expert, Ellen Goldstein, traces the rise of the tote bag to the 1980s transport strike in New York “when women wore sneakers to walk to work and carried their good shoes in a bag.”

Zorkani admits that she prefers big bags. She also feels that outsized tote bags echo the changes happening in contemporary life. However, she insists that little bags are still very popular. “Most of my clients for small bags categorically refuse to carry big bags,” she says.

Her brand name, Nuniz, stands for the best materials, good workmanship and a great attention to the finish. “Design is personal and a matter of taste. However everybody wants quality and this is what I strive for. I want my bags to be recognized for their high-quality and especially for their finish.”

Zorkani specializes in custom-made bags. This gives a woman the opportunity to have the bag of her dreams. After the design has been chosen, she picks out the color of the leather. One of the rooms in her atelier is filled with multicolored skins where the winter’s fashionable colors, purple, Bordeaux, grey, navy blue are mixed with bright oranges, reds, greens and blues.

Asked about the different steps to go through in making a bag, Zorkani explains that the first is to determine the kind of leather best suited for a certain model.

Soft leather is used for soft slouchy bags and sturdy leather for models that require more structure. Then the pattern of the bag is cut. Once all the pieces have been cut, they are re-assembled as in a puzzle. The chosen leather is then cut up following the pieces of the pattern. Certain segments of leather are machine sewn but sewing can also be done by hand. The lining is also cut according to the pattern with pockets and any extra features. During the last phase, the bag is first sewn together and then it receives the ultimate finishing touches.

Zorkani is known for her exclusive designs. She has so far created around 35 models which have been named after friends, family members and even cities and seasons. Her favorite designer bag is the famous Birkin by Hermes: “It will never go out of fashion and it will never lose the spell it has over every woman who loves bags. Chanel, Yves Saint and Bottega Veneta are favorites of mine as well. And then, there is Louis Vuitton that will never cease to amaze me. What I am doing now is a passion and a dream come true... I love every moment! And I believe that anyone who sees a Nuniz bag will recognize the passion and hard work invested in every design,” concludes Zorkani.

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