Model and actress Elisa Sednaoui launches a foundation to foster culture and creativity in Luxor
by Dominika Maslikowski
She’s walked the runways of New York, graced the covers of Elle and acted in three French comedy films. This month, Italian-born model and actress Elisa Sednaoui pays tribute to her Egyptian heritage by introducing a new foundation that aims to build a community center in Luxor to nurture children’s creativity and promote cultural exchange.
“The dream to work in Egypt has been with me for a long time,” said Sednaoui, whose French-Egyptian father built his family home in Luxor three decades ago. “I always try to look for as many excuses as I can to come to Egypt as often as possible. I love Egypt, I love its people, I love its humor. And I feel like I belong here and feel like the country has so much potential that needs to be exposed.”
The 26-year old model, who spent six years of her childhood in Cairo, introduced the Elisa Sednaoui Foundation at the 3rd edition of Cairo’s Fashion Nights on Friday in downtown’s glittering Semiramis Pavilion. The event was hosted by Pashion magazine and showcased some 30 high-end Egyptian designers and retailers who had pledged 15 per cent of all sales during the two-day event to Sednaoui’s charity.
A descendant of the founders of Sednaoui Department stores, pioneers of luxury retail in pre-1952 Egypt, Elisa has appeared in campaigns for brands like Chanel and Armani, and walked the runways for designers like Proenza Schouler. The foundation, she says, was inspired by her cosmopolitan upbringing in Luxor, Paris, Cairo and Italy, and is a “family and a heart story from Egypt.”
Registered last year as a charity in the United Kingdom, the Elisa Sednaoui Foundation will kick off its work in Luxor, the model’s favorite city along with New York, and then go on to launch worldwide projects that focus on the arts.
The foundation’s first goal is to build a locally-run community cultural center in Luxor’s West Bank that will expose children to different cultures while helping them develop a national identity, Sednaoui says.
“In the rural areas of Luxor, children start working very early to help their families, which is very honorable but I also feel we need to protect their space to dream,” she says.
As the foundation works to build the center, it will launch a pilot project in March with a series of workshops teaching local youth to write, record and perform original songs on traditional Egyptian instruments. Presented in collaboration with the New-York based non-profit MIMA Music, the workshops will team up professional musicians with a local Egyptian music group to lead daily songwriting sessions to engage underprivileged youth and preserve traditional Egyptian music. The MIMA envoys will also train local musicians to continue such workshops in their communities.
“It’s about providing children a space where they can enjoy the process. It’s not only about creating something they can sell but about expanding their perspectives with the idea of other Egyptians coming to Luxor,” Sednaoui told Egypt Today. “So they can choose who they want to be, have the tools to express themselves and take Egyptian traditions and make them their own, for today.”