Sabrine El Hossamy went from sashaying down the world’s catwalks to moving and shaking with global power players as Head of Communications at Orascom. Enigma’s Yashreeka Huq speaks to the former model turned business whiz about a life less ordinary.
Ask Sabrine to define glamour and her answer is immediate, “Glamour is something very subtle. It can be found even in eye contact. It’s a sparkle. It’s the way you look at something, it’s the way you tilt your head over your shoulder. It’s the little things. The way you dress is the least of it. Personally, I feel the most glamorous at night, when everything is mysterious and a bit discrete; not obvious. And then, when a little light shines right on you, at that moment, I feel glamorous.”
As Head of Communications at Orascom, her eloquence is to be expected. Her journey to success however is a little more surprising. As a model/PR exec/music extraordinaire, her personal and professional biography reads like a rollicking raucous roller coaster ride. As a tall, gorgeous blonde, she kicked off her career on the catwalk. While most 16 year-old girls are worried about curfews and nail polish, she was concerned with her image and portfolio diversification. She was a student at the Lycée Français in Egypt when after doing her first shoot for Benneton, she was asked to participate in the Salon de la Femme fashion show where she met Tarek Nour, Egypt’s most sought after director who put her on the track to stardom. “This was the most glamorous fashion show of the year in Egypt. It was the talk of the town and believe it or not, at that time there used to be much more prestige, respect and glamour around models in Egypt,” explains Sabrine. “It all happened by coincidence. I happened to meet the right people at the right time and something just clicked.”
Sabrine’s half-French mother, Mariam El Kholy, a former professor and writer, was her biggest supporter. “I didn’t think I looked particularly different from anyone else. It was my mother who gave me the confidence to become a model and she supported my career completely. She once told me that if a designer ever gave me what I would consider the least attractive dress for a runway show, they were giving me a compliment as they depended on my beauty to compensate.” Her father, of Syrian descent, Magdeldin El Hossamy, was less thrilled by this career move at such a young age, but he never forbade Sabrine from doing anything. He simply delivered his opinion and left it up to her. He eventually came around especially upon learning of Sabrine’s strong principles over what she wore. “Here in Egypt, it was not difficult because the clothes were modest. But I had to make some tough decisions when I travelled to Italy and they expected me to wear more revealing pieces. That was just not right for me.”
Even as Sabrine went on to attain her undergraduate degree in business administration, her modelling career continued to flourish. As the Cindy Crawford of Egypt, she was at the top of her game, asked to represent the biggest names in fashion at the hottest fashion shows in Egypt. And she strutted around and enjoyed photo shoots with with fellow models and future stars Khaled Abol Naga, Tamer Hagras, and Ahmed Ezz, to name a few. She was soon starring in a host of commercials and even acted alongside the singing sensation Amr Diab in one of his music videos and the musical movie Ice Cream Fil Gleem. Despite the slew of scripts that came her way, Sabrine didn’t really envision herself as a full-time actress. She was now in her early 20s and the life of a model was beginning to lose its lustre. “If I enjoy something and it adds value to me as a person, no matter how off the traditional path it may be, I jump into it head first. Yet the minute it ceases to add value, I will be done. And that is what happened with modelling.”
Next up was a stint in communications with Samih Sawiris at Orascom Touristic Development. She applied like everyone else, but Sabrine admits, “I’d imagine hiring one of the top models of Egypt to work in a people-oriented business like tourism was a good idea for Orascom, but it was hard to get my colleagues and clients to take me seriously since they often recognized me as a model. After some time, however, I fell into the rhythm of the marketing world and gained respect.” So why would a beautiful young woman swap a high-flying and desperately glam career for a 9 to 5 job as brand manager for Orascom’s El Gouna resort? “In the end, fashion is about beauty, and beauty fades,” she explains. “What you’re left with is your character, and I felt I could build my character better in the real world.” By age 25, she had ended her modelling career entirely and decided to leave her job at Orascom to build even more character with a Masters in International Business from Maastricht University in Holland.
Which brings us to the biggest twist in her story, Sabrine is actually a world-renowned darbuka (Egyptian drum also known as the tabla) player. “I realise this instrument is considered a very masculine and extremely local instrument. It is certainly not taught in any conservatory. But when it comes to music, none of that matters to me. I picked up the darbuka for the first time when I was 25 and I tackled it head on.” Although she became a well-known darbuka player in Egypt, her musical career truly took off abroad. She was invited to Chicago, New York, Paris, and she even lived in Turkey as part of the percussion project, ‘Dawool’, produced by The Fire of Anatolia. When she was hired by business mogul Naguib Sawiris to work at Orascom Telecommunications three and a half years ago, she struggled to find the time to keep playing, but managed to continue her music. She has a 13 track album, recorded throughout the world, but is currently in negotiations with a label to release this cultural collaboration of rhythm and skill. Surprisingly, Sawiris is incredibly supportive of her music and encourages her to pursue her musical passion, understanding the added value of a colleague with diverse interests. “Naguib is very different compared to the chairmen of other companies. He has an artistic inclination, and although he is very dedicated to his business almost to the point of being a workaholic, there is another side to him that has a strong appreciation for art, music and film.”
During the day Sabrine reports directly to Sawiris. Together they ensure that Orascom’s many telecommunication systems – from Algeria to Bangladesh – are upholding the marketing standards the company prides itself on. To that end, Sabrine is responsible for Orascom Telecom’s worldwide branding; taking care of communications and public relations at the top levels of the company. She thus takes major decisions daily about the company’s global media and branding strategy. As a result this high achiever has spent the past three years travelling almost 24/7. In that time she improved Orascom’s cost-efficiency in Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, Greece, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, introduced corporate social responsibility as a permanent department across the group, and was solely responsible for the elite and sophisticated OT Milestones events including the ‘50 Million’ and the ‘Barcelona GSMA’ extravaganzas. Yet she’s quick to credit the whole Orascom team whom she describes as her family. “Orascom is one of the top five companies in the world, but to me, it’s only a job,” she says modestly. “All that matters to me is that everything I am doing in my life is adding value to it; otherwise it’s not worth it.”
She’s lived La Dolce Vita as a high fashion model and the simple life of a musician, and now she’s trying to find a balance between both. “I’ve lived both extremes of life, but I’ll never make any decisions about what my future will look like. I want to leave it open-ended. Everything has its beauty, but timing is everything.” The world is seemingly Sabrine’s own private runway, and she can walk down it any way she feels. No matter what she chooses to do, you just know she’ll carry it off with style, substance and plenty of glamour.