While she always had a passion for fashion, Dunia Anabtawi decided to study Business Administration and Marketing before pursuing fashion design full-time. Today, Anabtawi is a rising couture designer in Egypt, with several collections already under her belt. eniGma’s Farida El Sayed sat down with the designer to discuss her journey in fashion design, her unique work formula and how she hopes to strengthen her new brand, By D, in the period ahead.
When Dunia Anabtawi returned to Egypt after completing her university studies in Canada, she wanted to go into fashion. Already admired for her own personal style, she soon became the go-to personal shopper, first for friends then to a much wider circle of society figures. “It started off with a few friends, and then it grew. Once I learned what someone’s style was all about, I would then start finding items specifically for her,” she explains. Anabtawi was also known around town for designing her own soiree dresses. “I had a genuine love for that. Every time I would go to a wedding, I would design my own gown. I would first buy the shoes and then based on the shoes, I would choose the fabric, and from there, I would build the dress,” says Anabtawi, describing the process with which she builds her designs to this day.
In 2014, yearning to take the next step as a professional, she decided to test the waters by designing a 10 to 12 piece ready to wear collection to see how it would do. To her delight, the collection sold out, thus eliminating any hesitation she had to start her own fashion label, which she called ‘By D’. Anabtawi’s debut collection, exuded sophisticated elegance, and featured imported Italian fabrics and luxurious embellishment, ranging from lavish leather to luxurious fur trimmings and velvet ribbons. Its success prompted Anabtawi to open her own atelier in Egypt, and set up her brand, By D. She proceeded to release six ready-to wear collections a year. At the same time, she offered her couture services all year round.
Establishing her brand from scratch has not been easy, of course, and she is quick to admit that her husband’s support has been invaluable. However, Anabtawi believes that it is her intuition that has brought her this far in fashion design. “You can even give me a piece of tissue, and I can make you a dress out of it!” she jokingly says. On a more serious note, Anabtawi explains her design process, “I get the fabric and put it on the mannequin. I proceed from there.” Clearly her design process works. Her elaborate designs and fitted gowns are a testament to her notable talent in creating beautiful masterpieces with her hands.
According to Anabtawi, creating one of her iconic couture dresses involves a very meticulous process of client consultations and fittings. She starts with a careful conversation with her customer about her preferences. “The first time I talk to the client, I hear her out. I ask her about what colours she likes, what colours I should avoid, and I write it all down. Lastly, I measure her up,” she explains. During that meeting, the designer and the client discuss suitable fabrics and colour palettes. Once Anabtawi gets an overall sense of the client’s preferences, she proceeds to draw a sketch. Sometimes, she draws more than one. Her beautifully fleshed out sketches are themselves a testament to her genuine talent.
Anabtawi notes that designing for couture “has to be done very slowly, and I have to listen to you in order to guarantee your satisfaction.” She adds, “I need to fully understand what you love about your body, what you hate about your body, what you like to reveal, and what you don’t like to reveal.” Anabtawi prefers the consultations to take place one-on-one. “I would much rather be alone with the person I am designing for, as too many opinions can ruin the design,” she explains.
Anabtawi’s unique approach to couture design means that she gets to meet a range of women and gets to understand each woman’s own unique style, which she tries to bring out through her own design. “Each woman has her own character,” she explains. “I never deal with every woman in the same way; instead, I like to see each client as, herself, a piece of very fragile art.” As a result, her couture pieces truly embody the unique style of each client.
Recently, on the occasion of eniGma’s after party celebrating the closing of the Cairo International Film Festival, our Editor-in-Chief, Yasmine Shihata, chose Anabtawi to design her dress for the party. Amazingly, it took just one week for Anabtawi to complete a truly gorgeous dress that was talked about for weeks after the event. Recounting it all, Anabtawi graciously explains, “Even though Yasmine reached out to me right before the event, I didn’t want to let her down.” After her usual one on one consultations, Anabtawi’s design consisted of a dusty pink gown made of expertly beaded lace and tulle. The whole dress was covered in hand-beaded payette sequins, with feathers sprinkled on the bottom, meant as an ode to old school Hollywood glamour. Anabtawi lovingly recalls, “When we did the first fitting, it was just a wow moment! And shortly after that, the dress was completed. Working on the dress with Yasmine was such an easy process.”
Anabtawi receives an average of 6-10 couture clients a month, and sometimes more during wedding season. As a result of her busy schedule, her biggest challenge is maintaining a balance between her role as a loving mother and her career. She says that no matter how busy she is, she always makes sure to be home for her two girls when they come home from school and before they go to bed.
Looking ahead, Anabtawi’s schedule is not slowing down anytime s
oon. She has an upcoming collection, where she intends to stick to her authentic style of ultra-feminine and timeless designs as well as her flawless finishing. The collection will incorporate a lot of leather in all its variations, from encrypted to laser cut. It will also include her signature lush fabrics, of course. Additionally, she says we will see a lot of funky shirts and vibrant colours, all part of a more polished look she is aiming for this season.
Another piece of good news for Anabtawi’s growing clientele, is that she is also preparing to open a showroom in 6th of October City, which will provide a permanent place to showcase her designs. So, to all the fashionistas out there, stay tuned!