Every morning, millions of women wake up and go through the trivial process of dressing up. Each of them contemplates the kind of message she wants to convey – some make passive decisions, while many know exactly what they want to say through garments and jewellery.
In the past few years, mega shopping malls took over many governorates across Egypt, especially Cairo. Meanwhile, local manufacturers have been left behind and forgotten. After the massive spread of international brands, it was quite obvious that plain jeans and t-shirts won over oriental embroidery.
Worldwide, “normcore”, average-looking clothing, dominated common fashion choices seen on the streets. Moreover, the concept of fast fashion favoured cheaper and more attainable clothes, rather than hand-made garments that require time and artistic knowledge.
With that being said, many local designers have refused to let go of their origins, and have instead started fighting the battle with modernised versions of the nation’s authentic dress-code. Abayas, kaftans and harem pants have been embraced by several promising names, and in a matter of months, their high-street presence has become notable.
Pashmina is one of the most creative advocates of oriental authenticity. Ola El-Gamal is a cosmetic dentistry specialist and an assistant lecturer at Cairo University. However, in her spare time she creates the most modernised versions of Bedouin attire.
According to El-Gamal, Bedouin-wear is an independent fashion genre, which represents the magic created by Arabs of the desert and their passionate wanderlust.
“Pashmina is not only refreshingly stylish, it also reinterprets the definition of this hybrid style, between Bedouin wear and modernity,” El-Gamal said. “Bedouin wear is usually defined by abayas, shawls and overcoats, but Pashmina is changing this by introducing looks that induce oriental originality into the fashion game. Think dazzling dresses, eye popping prints, vivid colours, vest jackets and loose harem trousers.”
Prints and fabrics are by far the main elements behind Bedouin magic – the intricate embroidery and combination of dazzling colours is what makes those women of the desert unforgettable. Therefore, embracing this genre requires precise and critical decisions when choosing the needed materials.
“We are keen on using hand-made materials that ensure high quality and comfort. Our pieces are precious and authentic wearable antiques, which brilliantly link our legacy to trendy fashion,” said El-Gamal.
Pahsmina’s garments tell a complete story, and each customer gets to play the heroine’s part in a tale that is precisely created for her.
According to El-Gamal, her authentic brand is by far winning the current fashion battle due to its focus on individualism and uniqueness. Also, her choice of natural fabrics that ensure absolute comfort adds to her product.
“Our clients surely go for Pashmina over the international brands, because they are seeking materials and designs that are different, unique , special and out of the box,” said El-Gamal.
On the other hand, Mai Abbass took the oriental concept and ran with it one extra mile towards a complete brand that offers clothes, furniture and accessories – basically anything tangible.
“I love everything about the oriental genre, starting with the details of mixing colours and patterns plus the time and effort spent in creating a piece of handmade textile,” Abbass said. “Meanwhile, modern designs are too simple with very minimal details. When you look at an old piece of Siwan handmade embroidery, and compare it to a new and commercial design, you will see how time and art was spent on each piece.”
Unlike Pashima, Abbass does not recreate traditional garments, but instead she perceives any available textile as a possible canvas for her portraits that capture Bedouins and villagers. Misha, Abbass’s brand, studies and celebrates the authentic lifestyle of Egyptians in each and every governorate, with a focus on traditional costumes and language.
“I am very much inspired by the ethnic Egyptian style, including all the different provinces, starting from Cairo’s retro and traditional style back in the ’50s, moving to Sinai’s traditional-handmade textile work,” said Abbass.
Misha’s pieces are a bridge between folkloric concepts and today’s trends, as it gives the most traditional concepts a renovated shot at competing for a place in today’s fashion scene. Abbass’s talent as an artist often surpasses her talents as a designer, as her garments normally focus on eye-catching sketches.
“I work with two types of fabrics, ready-made and printed. Part of my material consists of rare and old pieces that are made by local artisans from across the country. The rest, however, is my own hand-drawn graphics, combined with old Arabic proverbs, which I print on different material such as coasters, trays, mugs, phone covers and clothes,” said Abbass.
As someone who has been fighting for art and authenticity amid normcore, Abbass certainly has a strong opinion about the current purchasing awareness that has recently shifted in the direction of local industry favouring uniqueness.
“Ethnicity and traditional art are currently booming. People are very much interested in everything that is old and ethnic; it is a ‘back to basics’ trend. People are starting to value the time and effort spent on traditional art and handmade work, which is a global movement that first started in the European market where people tend to look for things that are more natural and ethnically traditional,” said Abbass.
Simultaneously, the world of jewellery is not completely disconnected from the authentic movement. While Egypt has always been a global source of personalised and hand-made jewellery, this particular industry has suffered in light of the spread of international factories.
Dina Maghawry is one of the most promising advocates of hand-made jewellery in Egypt, as she personally studied craftsmanship upon starting her own line back in 2004. Maghawry’s showroom is the closest replica of a cultural museum, with designs that embrace iconic styles of jewellery.
Her latest two collections are titled “The Happy Peasant” and “Gifts of the Sultan”. Just as the names suggest, Maghawry used her rich selection of precious stones and vibrant enamel colouring to reinvent accessories worn in Egypt’s villages, as well as those favoured in the Ottoman era.
According to Maghawry, her work is a mere manifestation of her deep admiration of previous eras and international cultures, such as the Indian culture that she celebrated through her previous collection “Cashmere”. Meanwhile, her dedication to create her own pieces is her way of sharing her love for art and colours.