Thirty years in the making, Azza Fahmy’s ethnic-inspired jewellery designs have taken the international design world by storm. Today, her daughters Amina and Fatma are helping transform the brand into a dynastic legacy. With an exclusive peek inside their factory of wonders, Enigma’s Hassan Hassan meets three feisty females who are truly on top.
Artists are a temperamental lot, creativity is a difficult business and it’s very easy to turn into a diva. Azza Fahmy is not a diva. She says hello to everyone in the room cordially, with her signature subdued smile. She does, after all, have a creative secret, a mystery you get little glimpses of in every piece of her awe-inspiring jewellery. Thirty years ago, Fahmy was a young woman learning her craft in the winding alleyways of the Arab world’s oldest market – Khan El Khalili. She dreamt of creating a jewellery line that would showcase the culture and craftsmanship of the Middle East to the world. And sure enough, her one-woman show eventually turned into a major international design emporium, boasting 10 flagship stores across the region – from Bahrain to Qatar to Jordan.
Her collections are stocked at some of the biggest department stores in the world – including Harvey Nichols in Dubai and Kabiri in London. She has collaborated with British designer extraordinaire Julien Macdonald and her long list of avid celebrity fans and admirers include the eternally elegant Queen Rania of Jordan. “I knew I would someday accomplish something. From when I was in overalls in Khan El Khalili, I knew I had something special and I worked towards everything I’ve accomplished.” Fahmy clearly epitomizes the strong woman – running an empire and raising two girls; all with a regal air. She may be the ultimate modern woman, but her manners and demeanour exude the grace and class of yesteryear.
The same can be said of her daughters. Amina and Fatma Ghali appreciate their good fortune and their mother’s hard work. You won’t find a Paris Hilton wannabe lounging around looking at rows of jewels, pretending to have designed them. These girls understand the craft and have travelled from London to Milan to learn it. They’ve climbed the ladder – just like everyone else – to get to where they are today… the very top. The Fahmy factory is huge, a melting pot (there are literally two or three) of design and creation; from the tantalising trinkets adored by a young generation of glam girls to the fantastic statement pieces seen on the runways. Fahmy’s world is a hub of people, action and conversation; it isn’t a loud, overbearing noise that you’ll eventually need a break from, it’s the subtle sound of people working in harmony.
The factory is divided into two areas, the upstairs offices and the factory floor below. In one corner, a group of men mould silver, gold and stunning stones into pieces of art. In another, a group of girls lean over some sketches, pencils brimming with ideas. And beneath it all is the tangible feeling that nothing but absolute perfection is acceptable. Fahmy has settled into her position at the top of the regional jewellery design industry, and exudes the quiet confidence of a woman who knows no one will shake her reign. Fahmy’s office is bright, large and immediately relaxing. The room is a comforting pink, where sunlight floods in and paintings and photographs adorn the walls (including several portraits of Queen Rania and her family). An antique bookcase lies hidden in the corner of a room, and the books upon it say a lot about the woman who occupies this space. Her literature focuses on archaeology, ancient armour, architecture and flowers. “You should see the bookcases at home,” says youngest daughter Amina. “We have about two walls dedicated to books. My mother always makes sure we stay inspired by seeing the world through books and travel.”
From early on, Amina knew she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps, designing and creating her own jewellery collections. Having launched her debut line this year, she still operates under her mother’s umbrella group of companies – Azza Fahmy Designs. Although her mother’s ethnic influences are apparent in her work, there is a decided modern twist to Amina’s designs. “I am not afraid to learn from my mother’s knowledge,” she says. “It’s amazing to have such an experienced teacher. She’s open to any suggestions; we really learn from one another and have a lot of fun with it at the same time. What more could you ask for than to learn from someone with forty years of experience? She’s teaching me things you can’t get in a class; things about culture and tradition. She’s embedded the jewellery culture within me.” Amina herself spent six years studying the craft, honing her skills with a BA in silversmithing from the University of Birmingham and a diploma in contemporary jewellery from Italy’s Alchemia. She had worked at Azza Fahmy Designs for three and a half years before launching her own line. Her collection is a homage to the jungle and was released to both critical and commercial success. “We aren’t afraid to mix things up; from materials such as leather and wood, to objects that inspire us from carpets to mosques. The sky is the limit to what we use to make our jewellery,” says Amina.
Meanwhile older sister Fatma, the business brains behind the production of so much beauty, has been responsible for commercialising the Fahmy brand. She’s helped take the company from a localised business into an international brand boasting some serious marketing savvy. 29 year-old Fatma studied in Milan and graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from the Faculty of Arts in Cairo. She may have the creative legacy in her genes, but as Managing Director of Azza Fahmy Designs, she’s the most practical and down to earth of the three feisty Fahmy females; overseeing the organisational structure and strategies of the entire company. Settling into the post wasn’t easy; she had to earn it, every step of the way. Starting as a junior marketing executive in the company, she clawed her way to the top with one vision in mind. “I want this to become the top jewellery line in the world. We have the product and design, and we just need to take the right business path to develop that vision.” Since becoming Managing Director in 2006, she has added infrastructure to the institute. Fatma is all business but with a smile. And she has the ideas to back herself up. Next she wants to give back to the community. “It’s our responsibility to give back. My mother is at a phase where she wants to document her work and collaborate with international schools of design and develop a design school in Egypt.”
Judging by these girls’ personalities and success, it is clear that Azza Fahmy’s skill as a designer doesn’t come close to her skill as a mother. “I wanted to help them develop their own personalities; I didn’t want to smother them. I wanted them to learn from their own mistakes and grow and develop their own characters.” And Fahmy is equally happy to learn from her own daughters’ professional savvy. “Amina gives me a contemporary edge,” she says. “She understands how to mix modern elements with our traditions and make it look beautiful. Fatma teaches me everything about modern business and branding!” The three women are charming, polite and incredibly talented in their respective fields. They have their fingers on the pulse of design, business and good old-fashioned real life. Azza Fahmy has passed on more then just a company to her girls; she has given them a calling. As each of them separately says, “This isn’t a job, it’s a passion.” And that passion is what makes Azza Fahmy Designs what it is today… a beautiful bastion for women on top.