“We used to travel a lot and we had fabric from all over the world. In a rectangular piece of fabric, there are a million different possibilities and the only limit was my education.”
Between talking animatedly about her designs with visible passion and frequently asking me if I was bored, Deana Shaaban speaks and thinks at a faster pace than most people, and with a contagious energy that is impossible to ignore.
But Shaaban’s journey from a business student with imagination and resolve to a successful designer with orders from all over the world has not been an easy journey. After a disappointing attempt to study fashion design in Egypt upon graduation, Shaaban took a chance and put together a portfolio with the help of a professor and applied successfully to a design school in London.
“I was never an A student but here I was at 4am, not having slept, eaten or seen friends but it was so euphoric,” she recalled, “I graduated one of the top people in my class.”
When she came back, getting her business in order was another challenge. “My parents haven’t lived here in a long time so I didn’t have connections and I didn’t have money. Slowly and with the help of my sister, who is also my business partner, we got the website up and running and we had our first open house. The collection was all over the place but it was also one of my most creative. I poured everything into it. Slowly, we sold the items one by one,” said Shaaban.
Shaaban’s radiant personality and easygoing charm shows through her designs, which mix different fabrics and use draping techniques that result in clothes that add an elegant, dignified beauty to the woman wearing them. “I like designs that make women look majestic. No matter what size you are, there is always a design that will accentuate your best features. Your waist, for example, will always be the smallest part of your body and designs that accentuate that will make you feel beautiful with dignity.”
Shaaban takes inspiration from different cultures and eras but following her vision of majestic beauty, she highlighted certain models of female beauty as inspirational which included Victorian, Roman, Grecian, Renaissance and Indian, with a focus on royalty.
Her creative forte is designing evening and wedding gowns. “There are just so many possibilities. I like mixing together different fabrics,” she said pointing to a beautiful gown with Italian lace, French inside lining, Indian fabric and Egyptian chiffon.
Shaaban recognised that offering more practical and affordable options are important to clients. “The average fitting takes about two hours, so a gown is an investment and not everyone has the time or money to invest. [So] from a business perspective, it’s best to have different options,” she said. So additionally to the more formal gowns Shaaban designs summer dresses and clothes for professional settings.
Shaaban has already expanded regionally and plans to have her brand displayed and sold internationally are underway, as well as exciting plans to expand her line to include products like shoes, handbags and a men’s line. For the time being, her website caters to clients that include people as diverse as lawyers in New York to the yuppies of Cairo.
“The only way you can be a great designer is if you know how to create yourself. But your ability is limited by the knowledge of how to make it happen,” said Shaaban. “There are a million possibilities but you don’t know what they are yet.”