In early 2007, the internationally renowned Egyptian jewellery designer Assah Fahmy partnered with the acclaimed British fashion designer Julien Macdonald. The collaboration resulted in a collection that attracted the attention of media and critics worldwide. Fahmy and Macdonald recently announced their second collaboration, the Azza Fahmy for Julien Macdonald ‘08 collection.
The designers’ collaboration is an artistic meld of drastically different traditions. “We can’t always understand each other’s world, but it’s something that me and Azza both enjoy.” Macdonald told Egypt Today. “It’s fun, it’s exciting, and I think it’s something which people like as well.”
The successful relationship began when Fahmy, who was an admirer of Macdonald’s elegant and feminine designs, recognised a shared aesthetic and offered to create a range of jewellery to compliment his clothing line.
“When we first approached him about a possible collaboration, he had never heard of us, but he loved our designs when he saw them,” Fahmy told Egypt’s Business Today, commenting on her initial discussions with Macdonald. “He then suggested that we create a collection together. He came to Egypt for a few days last December, spent a day with us in our factory, and the outcome has been a very unique collection of jewellery that is very different from our usual lines.”
With a resounding introduction to London’s tough market, Fahmy and her two daughters, Fatma and Amina Ghaly, have already considered their growth plans. Assah Fahmy Jewellery hopes to step slowly into the Western luxury market with limited distribution at high-end London retailers, including Harrods and Selfridges.
Fahmy was born and raised in Sohag, in Upper Egypt, and discovered her passion for jewellery in 1969, several years after graduating from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo. Fahmy found her passion in a German book about European jewellery from the Middle Ages. The book cost her a month’s salary as a government employed book illustrator, but she bought it anyway.
“I was so moved by that book that I just had a vision that this is what I wanted to do and that I would become something very big in jewellery design,” she told Business Monthly.
Fahmy became an apprentice with Hajj Sayyed, a jeweller in Cairo’s ancient and bustling Khan El-Khalili market, where vendors hawk traditional crafts and goods. She could not afford to quit her government job, so Fahmy worked nights as the only woman in Sayyed’s workshop, moving from filing metal to eventually designing her own jewellery.
Fahmy soon opened her own workshop in a run down section of Cairo. Here, she developed her signature style—using Arabic words and poetry to create ornate calligraphy inscribed on silver and inlaid with gold to adorn pieces.
“For seven or eight years I was strictly a one-woman show. I started out doing everything from going down to the Khan and buying my raw materials to designing, making and selling the jewellery, so I really got to know all the ins and outs of the business,” Fahmy told Business Today. “But as my sales grew larger, it started becoming too much for me. I realised that this was no longer a craft but a business. At that point I hired a production consultant and things just grew from there.”
In 2002, she opened a factory in a small suburb of Cairo which today employs more than 180 workers.
As the brand looks to global markets, Azza Fahmy Jewellery is positioned to be Egypt’s next global brand and its first luxury label.