From the old traditions of Egyptian and Indian history to the world of Facebook, Nadine Dafrawy is taking the art of henna into expanding avenues of beauty, therapy and even baking.
It was during a trip to Morocco a little over 10 years ago in the company of a henna artist aunt – who came all the way from her residence in the US to the fascinating markets of the ultimate North African Mehendi destination – that got Dafrawy, a graduate of marketing communication, to shift path into the lucrative world of this fascinating body art.
“It is the free-flow drawings that start at one point and continue in creative lines that I really love about henna drawing; this is what made me fall in love with it in the first place,” said Dafrawy.
For many women, especially in Egypt, henna is a bridal activity. A few days before a woman’s wedding, she invites her female friends over for a ‘henna night,’ where an artist is invited to draw seductive drawings on the body of the bride and a few drawings on the hands of her bridesmaids.
This tradition had for decades fallen out of practice, as it was not considered chic. However, during the past few years, it has made a strong comeback, with the drawing of henna no longer just the simple job of an assistant at a beauty salon, but rather a task undertaken by trained and modern artists like Dafrawy.
“There is a large and growing Henna community in Egypt for sure; and it is not just about bridal events anymore, because more and more women want to do it for beautification on a routine basis. Certainly many women want to do it for their summer look – on the hands, back and arms,” Dafrawy explained.
Through her five years of practice between Egypt in the spring and summer and North America in the fall and winter, Dafrawy has developed a growing interest in a style of henna body art that is based on using quality henna and blending the many schools of Mehendi drawing: “the Sudanese style is quite floral, the Moroccan is essentially geometric, and the Indian is very dense.”
“Obviously, it depends on the taste and wish of the client – most Egyptian women prefer simple floral designs, but in North America I get requests for intense Mehendi drawings, sometimes for brides of Asian origin and sometimes just for American or Canadian women who are developing an interest in this captivating body art,” Dafrawy said.
During her years of work, Dafrawy has come across women who use henna solely for therapeutic purposes, “just to feel good or get over a bad experience.”
Other women wish to use the brown drawings to conceal scars or crown the head to conceal hair loss from chemotherapy, while some wish to celebrate their pregnancy with an expanded henna drawing.
Whether it is a simple floral design for a bride or an extensive drawing for an expecting mum, Dafrawy receives requests through the Facebook page “The Henna Project,” or sometimes by email.
Her clients are then invited to her house, be it in Egypt or North America. “I make home visits only for a large group of people,” she said, adding that the pricing is based on the time and effort that a drawing needs.
Dafrawy usually gets booked a few weeks in advance, or sometimes a few months in the case of brides who are planning in advance.
She discusses the drawing preference with her clients and insists on making the henna herself “to make sure that it is made of good quality herb that would not harm the skin.”
“Those who are really new to the world of henna sometimes ask me why the drawing is brown rather than black, and I always have to explain that if it were black, it would be mixed with an artificial colour enhancing material that could harm their skin,” she said.
She says that with the growing trend to re-embrace henna encouraging more women to research on the internet, women are becoming more familiar with the basics of Mehendi.
She adds, however, that “for the most part we tend to think of Henna as just body art, but it is much more than this; I use henna to decorate cakes and cookies, and I am finding a great deal of interest in this new Mehendi line that I am about to fully incorporate into my business.”
Dafrawy’s interest in henna art was at first somewhat disturbing for her family, who would have preferred if she settled for a job with her marketing degree or her post graduate degree in graphics.
Today, less than a decade on, the Dafrawys are actually encouraging their daughter to embark on the path in henna art that she has been contemplating to start in Egypt.
“I do think that yes, the kind of demand I get through social media channels shows a growing interest that should allow for a successful henna studio in Cairo,” she said.
Until she embarks on this “major business shift,” Dafrawy said that she would continue to communicate her love of henna and to share her art through her Facebook page and “this growing circle of clients that are developing their love of henna.”