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Thursday, 19 September 2019

Bahira Bahir: A journey back to the belle époque

Do you ever wish you were born in the 1950s? A new concept store takes its visitors back in time

Ghada Abdel-Kader, Wednesday 4 Sep 2019
Bahira Bahir vintage (photo : Ghada Abdel kader)
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Located in Zamalek, the Bahira Bahir Boutique takes pride in specialising in home accessories, decors and antiques from the 1950s and 1960s.

Iman El-Sayed and her husband Ahmed Shalabi, co-founders of Bahira Bahir Boutique, talked to Ahram Online about the concept of their store.

"It took us some time to find a space that felt like it had an old soul to be compatible with the idea of the boutique," El-Sayed said.

Bahira Bahir vintage (photo : Ghada Abdel kader)
courtesy of Bahira Bahir

Inaugurated eight months ago, the boutique displays an array of vintage items including radio sets, phonographs, gramophones, LP (long playing) Vinyl records, corded landline phones, unique wall clocks, classic books, magazines, jewellery, Chinese sets, tableware and mattresses.

El-Sayed said the 1950s and 1960s belonged to the golden age. “The main characteristics of this vintage period were elegance, grace, beauty and simplicity."

 “I always felt my lady and I belonged to that period. It was a dream world, a beautiful world. Everyone was happier," said Shalabi.

The couple, now married for 18 months, used to work in the media. El-Sayed was a science journalist and her husband was a documentary filmmaker. They first met at Groppi, one of Cairo's iconic coffee shops, and soon discovered their shared passion for the 1950s and 1960s.

Both believe the concept of Bahira Bahir is a reflection of their lives and cultural taste.

Bahira Bahir vintage (photo : Ghada Abdel kader)
Bahira Bahir vintage (photos : Ghada Abdel kader)

As they were preparing their forever home, Shalabi gave El-Sayed a present on her birthday. It was a vintage phonograph and an Edith Piaf CD. The gift was an instant source of inspiration.

"We decided to decorate our home and choose its accessories à la 1950s,” she said.

It wasn’t easy finding these items in Egypt, she added. “It took us a lot of time and research to furnish the house. We were also looking for decorations we can afford."

The couple had to do extensive research about the paints, textiles, fabrics, furniture, home accessories, costumes, movies and music used in that period. The experience they gained helped them set up their small business.

El-Sayed and Shalabi have a Facebook page, Bahira Bahir, that speaks of their characters.

“The page was not created to sell our products. Rather, it is a gathering space for people who share the love of the golden age and those who are interested to know what it was like, listen to songs from that era and enjoy its mood," El-Sayed said.

The obstacle the couple faced was that not all the products they sought to acquire could be bought in Egypt. “We found antiques and vintage handmade products, but we had to import other items from Holland, China, Turkey and England, for example,” she added.

 “These products were inexpensive abroad but we had to pay custom duties and taxes." The couple are currently trying to copy the designs of the imported items, such as ceramic products, to manufacture and sell them, "but we still can't provide them with the same quality.”

How El-Sayed and Shalabi came to choose the name of their boutique is a frequently asked question the couple are asked. "Bahira's name is taken after the character Egyptian actress Rahma Hassan played in the comedy 'Samir, Shahir and Bahir' in 2010," she said. "We studied her personality, attitude and sense of fashion.

"More recently some people suggested we open a coffee shop beside the boutique. So far we like the idea," she added.

El-Sayed and Shalabi hope one day they will have their own brand house. “A big department store with all kinds of products and items from the 1950s and 1960s,” she concluded.

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