Strolling down the runways of prestigious international fashion weeks this year alongside the likes of Chanel, Burberry, Matthew Williamson and Stella McCartney were collections by Egyptian designers Marie Louis and the new kid on the block Heba Elawadi, both of whom lured in urban fashionistas and won the acknowledgement of the industry’s leading critics.
Renowned and now internationally-acclaimed Egyptian fashion designer Marie Louis was at the Paris Fashion week last summer where she showed her latest designs at L’Ecole du Louvre in Paris.
Louis raised the bar high as an Egyptian, displaying her “Marie Bishara line and an entire collection inspired by Pharaonic colors like turquoise and symbols like the Key of Life.
And across the channel from where Louis was launching her exquisite collection, Heba Elawadi unleashed her first high-end pieces under the couture label Hebz, featuring sultry Morocco-influenced garments. The popular party girl got all the attention this summer when she held her first fashion show in London during the Wimbledon Fashion Week. Quincy Jones and Beverley Knight even made it to the catwalk that day.
It may be overwhelming for a 21-year-old to compete with the fashion moguls at one of the fashion capitals of the world, but for Elawadi it was “far from it.
“I was excited by the whole experience. I learn so much from all the other pioneers and I relish the challenge, she explains.
Elawadi chose London to launch her first high-end collection because she believes that it’s the perfect platform for young aspiring designers.
“It’s one of the most creatively exciting cities in the world, right at the cutting edge of design innovation, so it really was a great privilege to be afforded the opportunity to show my debut collection there, she says.
Hebz made such an impression that Mohamed Al Fayed offered to sell her collection at Harrods, an offer she wasn’t quite ready to accept. “It’s not a race for me, it’s a marathon, says Elawadi, “when I feel I’m ready to make such a move, to take my collection to one of the largest department stores in the world and really compete in the fashion world, I will.
Her own cross-cultural background helped her surpass many boundaries. Born to an Egyptian father and a Moroccan mother, she grew up between Cairo and London, thus experiencing a host of different cultures all of which have influenced her designs.
“The Hebz design philosophy is constantly inspired by different cities and cultures of the world, mixing Moroccan ethnicity with the vibe of modern day Cairo, said Elawadi who studied fashion in London.
Another aspiring young fashion designer, Bosaina El Kahal, also chose London to launch her first collection dubbed Basbousa.
“I’m a Chameleon, was how Bosaina described her style as a designer. “I adapt to my environment and its time-frame, re-inventing myself and my label constantly, like Madonna has done with her look in music which made her the icon that she is today, she explained.
“My current inspiration is finding romanticism in the whole grunge look, with an inclination towards Gothic accents and urban-wear, she added.
But why London? “I know the consumers. I know what they like. I found a niche and I decided to go with it, she says. “I was born as a fashion stylist in this city, I have the contacts, and it’s strategically the best place for me since I also have a full-time job at a luxury brand here.
Bosaina currently works at Burberry after obtaining a degree in fashion from London’s Instituto Maragoni.
“I rarely go out in one of my own jackets without people asking where I got it from [.] it’s not always the brand, sometimes its about the personality behind it and I’ve always been a gifted salesperson, she said.
Bosaina already sells some of her items online through her website www.basbousa.com. “I’m taking my time updating the collection, getting feedback, seeing what works.
The influence of Egyptian culture influenced her style only inasmuch as she rebelled against it. “It has made me rebellious in my designs and in the way I market them, she says, “because it brought out a certain defiance inside me.I make clothes for antagonists.
Another Egyptian fashion icon and owner of Cairo’s ultimate shopping spot HIP at Elements, Rania Shahin, has also left a mark in the international fashion scene this year when she was voted by the organizers of London Fashion Week as one of the world’s top fashion buyers.
Shahin believes there is great potential for Egyptian designers abroad.
“There are designers now from everywhere [around the world], and Egypt is famous for its cotton and has a unique place in the minds of foreigners, she says.
“The only thing that Egyptian designers must do is be inspired by Egypt. Otherwise if they do what the Europeans do, then they might as well be based in Europe, she adds, citing Indian designers who are have shot to international fame with styles blending ethnic Indian with modern cuts.
Shahin asserts that having a certain style, adhering to it and developing it every year is key, but that publicity is a key element of success as this is a very competitive industry.
The courageousness of Egyptian designers to promote their work abroad springs from the whole international fashion movement, says Shahin.
“Half of the designers out there are from various countries, not only Milan and Paris… so why not Egypt, we are talented and Egypt’s name is as capable of drawing attention to a product and design as any European country. In addition, Egyptian craftsmanship is less expensive, and we can compete very well out there, she says.