In an area rich with a heritage of design and craftsmanship, Azza Fahmy’s Design Studio sits next to Darb 1718 in Old Cairo within walking distance of the hanging church. Fahmy’s design studio teaches designers how to create their own brand through an intensive three year programme.
“It’s when you have a dream with no support. If it weren’t for the British Council and a scholarship I got to go to the UK, I wouldn’t have started my brand. I want to give others that opportunity because no one teaches jewellery in Egypt,” said now famous designer Azza Fahmy, on why she founded the studio.
The studio’s curriculum encompasses practical and theoretical approaches, giving students necessary knowledge in marketing, conceptual development, art history and drawing, in an effort to expose students to different ideas.
“We want students to be inspired by Azza’s example, but they do not have to follow her designs. We encourage them to experiment until they find their own language in design,” said Estela Saez, director of the Design Studio.
The programme has classes that will fit those with the most challenging schedules. “Some of the people who want to enrol are mothers or have jobs, and three years is a commitment,” Saez said. “So our programme is flexible and has several options. We have one to three week summer courses which either teach basic skills or focus on specific topics like wax, enamel or hammering. We have evening and weekend courses for those who have a busy schedule, and finally, we have tailored courses which will be introduced in April 2014 for those who cannot commit 100%.”
The studio accepts 10-14 students each year and works in collaboration with Alchimia, a design school in Florence. It encourages students to take advantage of several exchange opportunities with schools like Alchimia and the Metropolitan University of London.
The designs on display, the work of both students and teachers, showed a wealth of materials and a healthy amount of experimentation. Besides the different concepts, they used different materials like brass, silver and foam. “It’s important for the students to show their work and put it on display because it helps them develop artistically,” said Saez.
Berhard Stimpfl-Abele, a designer and teacher at the studio, said design ideas were radically different in Europe, and particularly in Sweden where he is from, compared to Egypt. “In Sweden designers tend to experiment with materials a lot and go for more minimalist designs. Here, designs are more ornamental and Arabesque. We want the students to experiment and be exposed to different styles that are prevalent outside their own culture,” he said.
Nina Bakry, a second semester student at the studio, said: “It’s been an amazing experience so far. I think the most important things I’ve learned, besides the basic techniques, are the commitment and discipline. Though we are all encouraged to experiment, I think many people who come here are inspired by Azza Fahmy’s designs.”
May Wahdan, another second semester student said she moved from San Francisco back to Egypt specifically for the school, “I worked in interior design for nine years but this takes you back to the basics of design. It’s more of a creative outlet whereas interior design is very practical.”
Some of the exchange students said they have benefitted from the emphasis on building your own style, “There are less students here so there is more of a focus and more of an opportunity to experiment,” said exchange student Kyla Murrihy, originally from Australia but in her third year of studies at Alchimia in Florence.
The studio has plans to expand but is dedicated to mastering the basics first. “Because this is our first year, we want to build the foundation but later we want to expand through workshops across the Arab world,” said director Saez.
Whether the Studio’s plans to expand materialise or not, all parties seemed satisfied with the Studio’s first year, most of all founder Azza Fahmy, who concluded: “I could not be happier with the results.”