“To immortalize heritage, some write books, others take pictures, on the other hand, we design jewelry.”
A myriad of cascading gems morphs into a cross-cultural exchange between Pharaonic, Coptic and Ottoman (and other international historic periods). The handcrafted collections with the potent symbols of the mystical lands of Egypt transpire into harmonious tales that became the Azza Fahmy signature.
The designer translated the rich multicultural heritage into a bespoke collection for an exhibition at the British Museum in 2012. Juxtaposed by archetypical motifs of precious stones, the contemporary retail capsule collection commissioned by the museum was unveiled at the exhibition Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam, entailing historic reflections inspired by Hajj pilgrimage and sacraments. Over 200 worldwide exhibitions have been displayed in a commemorated career of the designer and her team that spans four decades.
For London Fashion Week, Azza Fahmy Jewellery fused a collaborative partnership with the award-winning fashion designers, Matthew Williamson, and previously Julien Macdonald and Preen, to develop catwalk and capsule retail collections, which successfully sold across regional and international markets.
The bijoux has been adorned by wealthy clients in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain as well as celebrities, such as Rihanna, Gillian Anderson and Joss Stone.
In The Art Issue, we chat with Amina Ghali, Azza Fahmy’s design partner and her youngest daughter, about the Fahmy brand heritage and artistry.
Your methodological approach is defined by Egyptian heritage, including motifs stemming from the geometry of Islamic architecture, folklore, tribal codes and the art of Arabic calligraphy. Could you briefly take us through your design process?
As we are inspired by many international cultural, art and lifestyle forms, part of the design process is to bring these inspirational elements alive. To do this, we undertake substantial research to ensure that we are able to capture details authentically, with lifestyle relevance, and to be able to translate the information into contemporary designs that uniquely tell a story.
This can manifest itself with the help of calligraphy; this can be seen with the SUMA collection, which celebrates the artist Umm Kulthoum, or through design components such as motifs and geometrics that can be seen in our Fashion Collection, which reflect features that, historically, were born out of Egypt and which influenced Art-Deco styles in the 1920s.
Research is equally important when working with fashion designers and clear interpretation of the design brief is crucial together. Otherwise, the same design processes apply, ranging from sharing inspirations and design thoughts to storyboards which illustrate form and metal finishes. The development stages include initial designs and revisions, prototypes of the final designs and their hand-crafted manufacture.
In some instances, a few of the pieces need to be magnified for the catwalk, but the end result is that the jewelry complements and works aesthetically with the fashion designer’s collection.
What new technologies are you embracing?
We’re very keen on preserving craftsmanship and reviving lost art within our pieces. All our pieces are handmade by our master craftsmen, who transfer this knowledge to our generations of apprentices, using several ancient techniques like filigree and hand-piercing, to name a few.
If you look at our pieces from 10 years ago, you would see that they have completely evolved. The key is to constantly re-invent and embrace modern techniques without losing our essence.
What are your most treasured discoveries from your documentation of tribal jewelry?
[We have] an interesting collection of jewelry, which [my mother] has collected over the last 40 years, some of which are featured in her book Enchanted jewellery of Egypt, and have also been exhibited.
[She has] reflected on so many references from North Africa, Morocco, Algeria and the South Sahara. Tribal influences have for long inspired several of [her] collections in terms of structure, proportion, and the mixing of beads and colors. They stirred some of [her] boldest concepts.
What challenges have you encountered since the inception of the Azza Fahmy institute, an organization dedicated to the teaching and preservation of Egyptian crafts?
The Azza Fahmy Design School has always been one of my mother’s long-held ambitions. It was realized sooner than originally planned, due to the overwhelming demand created by the successful Nubre project which we ran jointly with the EU. The curriculum was developed in association with the Alchemia School of Contemporary Design in Florence, and the school is solely funded by my mother.
The aim [is] to drive design training in the region, [and] to help create and develop future jewelry designers promoting innovation, while enhancing our local design skills. The major challenges are to achieve these goals and to grow this facility into an internationally acclaimed education establishment.
What effect has the social media had on the expansion of your contemporary jewelry company?
Our online boutique has been a necessary addition to our retail presence. It has given our clients around the globe the opportunity to access our jewelry, and [it has] broadened our international retail landscape.
Social media has helped to enhance our communications, so that we can share information, while building relationships with new and existing clients.
What future projects can we anticipate from your atelier?
We are continuing our association with Matthew Williamson for a second season with a collaborative collection for autumn/winter 2014. The collection [was] launched as part of Matthew’s London Fashion Week show [in February].
We will also be continuing our retail expansion program.
We are looking at touring our design training institute across the Middle East and Africa to give budding designers the opportunity to get involved and learn the necessary skills through ‘taster’ sessions. The initiative will go live later in the year.