Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy’s journey, has been legendary, to say the least. What began as training in Egypt’s jewelry quarter, Khan El Khalili (the only woman to do so at the time) evolved into Egypt’s first luxury multinational brand. Fahmy embarked on her jewelry design journey – of what would later become a historic brand – with a unique collaboration with the renowned Egyptian actress Souad Hosney who wore her jewelry in 1970. Fahmy’s instantly recognizable gold and silver fused designs also made stunning appearances in Egyptian movies like El Masseer and El Mohager in the 90s. After releasing her first limited edition collection in 2001, Fahmy expanded her workshop in 2003, moving to a new location that stands as the headquarters of the brand until today. Her designs not only embody her unique style but are also a strong reflection of her cultural heritage.
To honor the iconic designer, Savoir Flair sat down with Azza Fahmy to take a deep dive into her 50-year legacy. Read Savoir Flair’s exclusive interview with Azza Fahmy below.
You spent your days in a workshop in Egypt’s jewelry quarter, Khan El Khalili, filled with men creating jewelry. What gave you the inspiration to be a woman doing the same job?
The thought that it was a male-dominated field never crossed my mind. However, being one of the first women in Egypt to start a business in this field made me stand out. It is not a matter of gender; if you’re passionate enough about what you do and have enough confidence, you will find a way to make it work.
In 1969, you stumbled upon a medieval jewelry design book, which became an inspiration for your work. What emotions did you have while flipping through the book?
Back then, I was still in search of my calling in life. Going through that book felt like I found it. It was an overwhelming rush of emotions where I sensed that every picture in the book was reaching out to me. I knew instantly that this was what I wanted to do.
From your earliest designs, your work has always been inspired by culture and heritage, both local and global. One of your first collections, ‘Houses of the Nile’, brought some aspects of the Egyptian lifestyle to the fore. How does your ancestry influence you now, in more recent collections?
My ancestors are my roots; they are my constant inspiration. I always get influenced by them and their rich heritage, and that was evident in the ‘Houses of the Nile’ collection. One of the things I mostly aim to do is to design pieces that celebrate history and culture yet suitable for the modern day woman. The ‘Pharaonic’ collection for example took about eight years of research; travelling to see temples, taking pictures, gathering information, and constantly working with Egyptologists.
One of your trademarks is the use of traditional Arabic calligraphy and proverbs. Is any particular proverb your favorite?
I love many proverbs, words of affirmation, and quotes, and lots of them speak to me. They differ from one collection to the other, however, one that resonates most with me is: “It is love that united us, so what is there to separate us” – “يفرقنا فمن الحب جمعنا لقد“ By my favorite poet Khalil Gibran. Another one is “Wealth lies in letting go of everything” – “االستغناء هو الغنى“
You launched an incredible book, titled Enchanted Jewelry of Egypt, recounting your journey through Egypt to discover the traditional jewelry crafted and worn in different areas of the country. What were some things you discovered while researching the book?
I understood the jewelry of Egypt with much more depth, historically and technically. I also understood a lot more regarding different civilizations and eras, and what jewelry meant to them. I can humbly say that this book enriched the documentation of jewelry in my country.
Legendary actress Souad Hosney famously wore your jewelry. Tell us about that historical moment.
It was the beginning of my career at that time, and she was an icon in the Egyptian cinema. It was one of my first pieces, and seeing it on her made me extremely happy and proud.
Azza Fahmy is Egypt’s first luxury multinational brand, and you proudly work with both your daughters, running a company with over 280 people. What legacy do you hope to leave for your daughters and for the people of your country?
The legacy that I wish to leave behind is embracing your culture and heritage. I want Azza Fahmy to send the message to upcoming generations that they have to hold on to their unique identity, to take a deep look inside themselves, inside their souls, and get inspired by that. For designers specifically, come up with a product that is inspired by your very rich history, we have an incredible heritage that can easily go international.
You had a 50-year-long dream to have a presence in Harrods, a dream which finally came true in 2019. Tell us more about the experience.
Reaching a target that you set is an indescribable feeling of course. I was glad that this step was accomplished as I continue to set new goals for the future.
What are your expansion plans for the Middle East?
We started moving towards the idea of concept stores, and we recently opened in THAT Concept Store in Dubai. Regional expansion has always been one of our priorities and will continue to be. It is worth mentioning that the pandemic drove us to heavily focus on our online presence and concentrate on developing it.