We sit down with the three women behind the Azza Fahmy brand to get their stories on how they transformed Azza Fahmy from a dream in the workshops of Khan El-Khalili to an international jewelry brand that showcases Egyptian culture in brilliant and timeless pieces.
by Farah El-Akkad
Azza Fahmy has succeeded in making people who’ve never set a foot in Egypt see the country through her jewelry. Fahmy first fell in love with jewelry when she came across an art book on classical jewelry of the Middle Ages in Europe. “The book was in German and cost LE 17.5 — a fortune at the time — but neither language nor price barriers stopped her from buying it,” she has said. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in interior design, Fahmy did something both culturally and socially unacceptable at that time: she decided to become an apprentice in Khan El-Khalili to learn at the hands of skilled masters and craftsmen. “I tied my hair back, put on my overalls and spent my days in a workshop full of men learning the tricks of the jewelry making trade,” Fahmy says.
Labelled “out of her mind” by colleagues and friends, nothing kept Fahmy from her goal. In addition to her long training hours, Fahmy conducted several studies and readings in hopes of translating poetry, ‘one of her hidden passions,’ into her jewelry designs. She went on to present engraved verses on rings, keychains and earrings in a wide variety of designs. Her work, singularly inspired by Egyptian culture and identity was an immediate success and today the Azza Fahmy brand is recognized all over the world.
What inspires your designs?
Celebrating world culture and heritage has been the core inspiration of my design ever since I set out in 1969. The inspiration takes us through a journey of deep research that eventually translates our passion into contemporary art. I constantly find inspirations throughout my travels and in my home country.
Working with your daughters, how do you separate work from home?
I’m very lucky to have a business that allows each of my daughters to do what they love. Both have succeeded in evolving the brand on business and creative fronts. Amina, my youngest, is my design protégé and is currently being groomed to become the next Creative Director. Fatma, my eldest, continues to expand the brand’s global, regional and online presence. We always choose to separate work from home, and to never carry the work problems home with us and vice versa. It helps keep our personal and professional lives in balance.
How do you see the future of design?
The design industry in Egypt and in the region has great potential. However, the industry is lacking the proper educational opportunities for aspiring designers to equip them with the right tools to compete internationally. When I had the dream of becoming a jewelry designer 45 years ago, there weren’t any resources in Egypt that could help me achieve my dream. and I had to travel abroad to expand on my education. My strong belief in the region’s national talent and potential inspired me to launch my school, The Design Studio by Azza Fahmy, in collaboration with Alchimia, contemporary school of Florence in Italy, aiming to provide my students with the knowledge they need to become international jewelry designers.
A business development specialist with more than 12 years of experience, Fatma Ghali worked her way up from marketing executive, gaining her experience at a very early age by being part of the family-owned business. Today she plays a vital role in consolidating the homegrown brand as an international luxury designer name. She is one of the main players who have worked hard to bring the brand to where it is today and is currently developing new strategies to globally expand.
Also involved in developing jewelry design, Fatma’s strong participation in multiple developmental projects has won her entrepreneurial recognition by many regional and international organizations and initiatives. In June 2008 she was selected as an Endeavour Entrepreneur. Along with her mother, Fatma has established The Design Studio by Azza Fahmy in Cairo, an educational hub for aspiring designers that offers full-fledged course curriculums to those who want to progress in the industry.
How did the three of you manage to make Azza Fahmy an internationally recognized luxury designer name?
It was seeing the potential in our unique creations. I believe in our brand so much that I knew it had to be celebrated globally, not just regionally. It was important that, as we expanded, we researched every market individually with its trends and dynamics and explored ways to adapt our product accordingly, without compromising on our design essence and core brand values. That was and always remains our biggest challenge. We also place a lot of value on our global collaborations and longterm partnerships.
International collaborations have been part of Azza Fahmy Jewellery since the early 2000’s, ever since we set out for London Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week with renowned designers like Julien Macdonald, Preen, and recently Matthew Williamson. The brand has also been acclaimed by international media outlets like Vogue, Financial Times, Vanity Fair and CNN, in addition to being favored by many global celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, and Vanessa Williams, to name a few.
Further to fashion collaborations, as a brand that celebrates world cultures, we also embark on cultural collaborations, two of which were bespoke collections for the British Museum. This coming period, we continue to focus on our global expansion via retail growth, while placing a lot of focus on our online presence as well.
How does your mother influence you, both on a professional and personal level?
My mother influences me a lot. For me, she is a super woman, both as a designer and as a mother. I can see how hard it must have been for her to balance a household and a successful business now that I am a mother myself.
Fahmy’s youngest daughter Amina spent three years working behind the scenes after joining the company in 2005. Designing and developing pieces and adding her touch to various collections, Amina has brought a contemporary, modern twist to Fahmy’s unique pieces. Amina’s interest in design began at a very young age when she frequently visited her mother’s workshop.
After studying contemporary jewelry at Alchimia School in Italy, followed by a BA in jewelry design from the UK, Amina launched her first collection, entirely her own, in 2008 under the name of Azza Fahmy. Since then, she has worked closely with her mother. Amina’s most recent feat has been taking on the ‘Azza Fahmy for Matthew Williamson’ Fashion Week and catwalk collections and the launch of the 2nd ‘Azza Fahmy for the British Museum’ Bespoke culture collection celebrating the museum’s exhibition ‘Egypt: Faith after the Pharaohs.’
When did you realize you had an interest in jewelry?
I realized my passion for jewelry when I was 17. I took a year off, and I decided to study in Alchimia design school in Florence, Italy. When I pierced my first brass ring, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
How did your own designs evolve over time?
We keep up with people’s tastes by constantly researching and exploring exhibitions,
following new innovative designers and new technologies, and most importantly keeping up with the trend scene. Together with the design team, we are constantly working with trend forecasters in London to stay ahead in design trends and techniques.
Did you ever consider branching out on your own and creating your own jewelry line?
Never! I believe too much in the brand and its values. This is not something I do, this is who I am.
Other than Azza Fahmy, who else are your role models in design?
Theo Fennell and Miriam Haskell. They are, in my opinion, the definition of true artists. Haskell is a pioneer in faux bijoux. Her layering, techniques and colors have always been outstanding. Fennell, on the other hand, continues to be a brilliant artist who is constantly designing breathtaking masterpieces.