THE LANGUAGE OF ART
In 1969, Azza Fahmy was a twenty-something interior design graduate who came across a German book about the jewellery of medieval Europe. She could only reflect, admire, sigh, then put the book back in its shelf. In 1960s Cairo decorative craft including jewellery making was the domain of skilled artisans working in small workshops in Khan el Khalili souk. Young girls from respectable families with a university degree were not permitted to work side-by-side with labourers in a strictly male-only environment. The khan was located close to Al-Azhar Mosque and in the area known as Bayn Al Qasrayn (Between The Two Palaces), at the middle of Cairo's most important zone of economic activity. It was built during the Mamluk period of the 14th century, and was a dynamic hub for the exchange of goods arriving from central Asia, before making their way to North Africa, and across the Mediterranean to Europe. But Azza charged undeterred and insisted on breaking down all the barriers that stood between her and her dream. In fact, the dream turned into a challenge. And almost fifty years later, her global brand of jewellery inspired by her ancestry roots materialised into 14 stores, 200 artisans and a worldwide reputation from Cairo to London.
Fundamentally, Azza's experience working alongside skilled artisans in Khan el Khalili bazaar was the reason for her success. When she finally managed to convince her family and left to study jewellery design in London in the mid-1970s, she already had a preconceived idea about the type of designs she wanted to explore. From the onset, Fahmy decided that each piece in her collection will be handmade in her Cairo atelier, fusing ancient techniques such as filigree and hand-piercing in jewels, which are as much about cultural and historical storytelling as they are about the fine artistry. Hence, from the hand of Fatima and the evil eye to snakes, most of the pieces feature Arabic script portraying messages of love, friendship and peace, along with traditional symbolisms from across Arab culture. The result of scrupulous research, collections generally take between 18-24 months to develop. Ultimately, through jewellery Azza Fahmy managed to convey a message of intangible value about the art, history and culture of Egypt. But above all, she proved the worth of an unstoppable woman who defied the odds to succeed in a tough man's world.
"I’m a bookworm, I read a lot, so culture and literature inspire me,” says Fahmy. “I started off by using my favourite poetry and proverbs in jewellery – especially classics from the Arab world – because in literature everyone can find something they can relate to.”