The Jewelry of Azzah Fahmy
by Sarah El Khodary
I always wanted to be the one who writes about Azza Fahmy. I have followed the footsteps of her artistic career as the first Egyptian jewelry designer acknowledged by the international markets and as an innovator in the field of creative design.
Her name makes one think of beauty, richness, and warmth. And because Love is Happiness, all her designs are transformed from being only made of silver and gold embedded with precious and semi-precious stones like Sapphires, Jades, and Garnets, to love charms that bring luck and bliss.
Azza Fahmy worships the Arabic and Islamic heritage. She has spent thirty years praising its meanings, weaving them into artistic designs and Arabic lines making beautiful pendants, necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets full of the incense and magic of the East. Every piece comes into the world bearing her very personal prints.
The words Al-Wesal (connection), Al-Hayam (passion), Al-Hawa (love) and Al-Reda (satisfaction); are the theme of her work. Other words of prayer are call the soul to rest: Al-Baraka (blessing), Ya Fateh Al Abwab (You who opens all doors), Al-Saada (happiness), and Al-Hares Allah (God is The Protector).
Because of that, her inventive and continuous production which never deviated from tradition, actually achieved her what she always dreamed of when she said, I want my name to be a synonym for the most beautiful jewelry with the most breathtaking designs.
This paved her way to international markets. She became the first Egyptian jewelry designer acknowledged by the international markets as an equal in the field of creative design. Fahmy was chosen by the international Gold Council to be one of its judges in its international competitions that reward innovators in the field of jewelry design. She also became one of its permanent members.
Her role intensified after she set a goal to export 80% of her designs outside of Egypt, after having carefully considered the outlets that would merchandize her jewelry. Azza Fahmy was born in the southern governorate of Sohaj, Egypt. She studied Fine Arts and specialized in interior design. Afterwards. becoming an apprentice to a gold and silversmith at
the ancient bazaar of Khan El Khalil. There, she became the first woman in Egypt to be permitted into a traditionally male-dominant profession. After years of apprenticeship and intensive research into traditional jewelry forms, she held her first exhibition in 1974, which launched her career, taking her around the world and placing her among the top professional women in Egypt. Working in silver, gold, and semi-precious stones, her work reflects a wide range of Arabic, Islamic traditions, and periods; including Bedouin, Nubian, Kabilli (Algerian Berber), Umayyad, Egyptian and Syrian Ayyubid and Mamluki, Persian Safavid, Central Asian Seljuk and Timurid, Turkish, Ottoman, and Indian Mogul. Fahmy has also been credited with reviving the use of classical Arabic poetry and Islamic wisdom sayings in the calligraphic inscriptions incorporated into many of her pieces.
Her distinctive style of using Arabic calligraphic inscriptions can be seen molded into gold in the center of square or circular silver pendants; or sometimes for the Middle Eastern touch by with a crescent-shaped silver pendant of Ottoman floral motifs. But largely, Cairo-based Azza Fahmys
designs feature a line from the Holy Quraan, Khalil Gibrans famous literary works, or from the sayings of old Islamic and Arabic figures. Looking at her designs it is clear why the chic Egyptian Fahmy, beginning 30 years ago, made a name for herself as a designer deeply rooted in the Islamic and Arab tradition.
Though her work may have evolved over the years through her travels and research, Fahmy still follows the Arabic style and she describes her designs as imbued with the spirit of the Arab world. Yet, Fahmy continues to tweak the ancient and the traditional by incorporating modern and contemporary styles in her work.
At her recent exhibition, her second in the capital after more than a decade, Fahmy elaborates on her individualistic work. Everything inspires me, she exclaims with a flourish, the birds, flowers, and the motifs in a house or a piece of proverb, she adds. The present trends in jewelry are lots of colors and
flowers, says Fahmy. After many years in this line [of work], your hand automatically shapes what the mind desires. But, I can say my motifs are modern Arabic, says Fahmy. Her motifs also feature the cultural message she wishes to convey and spread to the world; a message of beauty and traditions in the Arab world. She does this not through her Arabic styles but by poems and the sayings. She says, My designs always create a communication between the wearer and the designer. The bond is established because wearers are attracted and inspired by the special message nestled into her jewelry designs. They are maxims that they can identify
with and that makes them feel special. In fact, her philosophy in life is is to make everyone happy when they were one of her creations because they know that it is something special. This internationally renowned designer, whose client list boasts many famous and prominent personalities, has also designed costumes and jewelry for theatrical productions and movies. She has held more than 200 exhibitions around the world. In Cairo, Fahmy owns a large factory with nearly 100 people who execute her designs and make her dreams come true.
The prices of her designs vary from LE 500 to LE 20,000 and or more if its a specially commissioned work requiring precious stones. But her work is more special than a Gucci or an Yves Saint Laurent because its different, she says. In America Azza Fahmy has had exhibitions of her work in Washington DC, Denver, Houston, and New York. Her work has also been shown in England, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Her commercial clients include the Brooklyn Museum in New York,
the Howard University Art Museum, the Museum of Women in the Arts, the Textile Museum, the Sackler Museum at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, the University of Illinois Center for the Arts, Williams College Museum of Art, the Brook Museum of Art at Memphis, and the Institute Du Monde Arabe in Paris as well as Harrods and Liberty of London.
Her many international clients include Queen Noor of Jordan, French actress Catherine Deneuve, Madame Jihan Sadat, and the royal families of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Woman in Egypt have most always had a capacity to rise up in Egyptian society, even during the most ancient of times. However, that does not mean that it has always been easy, but it is not difficult to see why Azza Fahmy is today one of Egypt's leading women.