Fashion from our ancestors

Sarah Elhosary , Tuesday 3 Jan 2023

Three contemporary Egyptian designers are reviving the legacy of ancient Egypt through a set of new fashion designs, writes Sarah Elhosary

Amira Quzamel s designs
Amira Quzamel s designs


For thousands of years, ancient Egypt has inspired innovators around the world. Taking upon their shoulders the responsibility of presenting the ancient Egyptian legacy to the world, a number of young Egyptian fashion designers have now gone the extra mile in transforming history into innovation.

“In addition to natural surroundings, buildings, and people, each with their own spirit and personality, I also draw inspiration from ancient Egypt in my work,” said young Egyptian fashion designer Amira Quzamil. 

“As I am fascinated by ancient Egypt and its rich designs, I have designed a collection that celebrates Egypt and its history. It was a challenge to take responsibility for presenting the authenticity of ancient Egypt, including its images and colours, while at the same time creating clothes that would be fashionable today.”

Despite studying pharmacy at university, Quzamil’s first passion has always been fashion design, which she has pursued from a very young age. She has sharpened her design skills over time, learning to choose what looks best on each person, a skill that is only earned with practice and working with different people. 

Quzamil’s family encouraged her to continue developing her fashion sense after she graduated from university. In 2016, she kicked off her career in fashion and eventually opened her own design studio. In creating her designs, she combines colours and motifs from outside with those from her own imagination.

“My mission is to create each design from genuine drawings from ancient Egypt. I studied the names and shapes of the ancient Egyptian gods before using them in my designs so that the symbols remain intact,” she said.

Sahar Zaghloul is another designer, this time of jewellery, who has always been interested in fashion. She started her career in fashion design, but quickly moved to jewellery. Wearing her own unique pieces fills her with satisfaction. Every item she sees can be a source of inspiration, even if it is just a table or a lamp. Ever since she was a child, she would imagine everything around her changed into jewellery.

When travelling, Zaghloul is sensitive to the pride of each of the cities she visits in its heritage. “Why not resurrect our ancient Egyptian heritage and weave it into the minutiae of daily life? We have something that no one else has. We have incredible structures, for one thing, like the Pyramids, sphinxes, and temples, that are unlike anything else in the world,” Zaghloul said. 

When she designs, she follows her intuition. She lets ideas flow through her mind and straight onto paper. “When I feel joy or happiness, I draw lotuses. When I draw scarabs, it gives me a feeling of positivity and good luck. Initially, in making my designs I created hollow moulds as a foundation for creating ancient Egyptian symbols such as lotuses, scarabs, and others,” she said.  

“When designing, I re-compose and shape the symbols. Then, I try the designs out by hand and imagine next steps before sending them to the workshop for final production. That’s why I prefer the design stage, because I get to interact directly with the ornamentation. Then comes the final stage, when I hold the finished design in my hands. I am always pleased with the results of collaborative efforts.”

She used to work with silver at first and then with gold and enamel. Later, she began manufacturing her designs in gold and inlaying diamonds into them to give the ancient Egyptian-inspired look a modern touch.

She had difficulty at first in drawing designs, but she overcame that by training and experimenting, eventually managing to create the shapes she desired. 

“Besides my psychology studies at university, I faced challenges in the field of design. Then I had trouble juggling my work and children. However, I believe we all have dreams that we must pursue. For me, where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Zaghloul said.

Bag by Abdel-Shahid

ACCESSORIES: In order to celebrate her Egyptian identity, Marina Abdel-Shahid remembers searching for accessories that would speak of her Egyptian heritage. 

After a long search, she did not find what she was looking for, so she decided to create her own brand that would reflect the ancient Egyptian identity with a modern twist. 

Abdel-Shahid faced various difficulties at first and admits that she did not know much about ancient Egyptian civilisation, except for general knowledge of temples, museums, and some famous stories. 

But she chose each of her design ideas based on an ancient Egyptian tale and sent out the designs accompanied by a papyrus telling the story behind them. “When designing a bag, for example, I chose the shape of a hand fan invented by the ancient Egyptians. I explained in the papyrus that comes with the product that the hand fan was one of the treasures discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun,” she said.

Driven by the need never to give up, Abdel-Shahid kept going through all the stages of her work. She began by researching the background of each design and then progressing through the design process — far from her own field of study — and even executing some of her ideas.

Drawing inspiration from ancient Egyptian civilisation also has its own set of rules. “There is a creativity in every ancient Egyptian symbol that I am keen to transmit to the current generations. Therefore, I reproduce the symbols in every detail and in their exact shapes. I then finish off the designs on modern lines,” she said.

“For example, I use the figure of the Egyptian key of life ankh symbol in my ankh bag design. It represents the union of male and female and the continuity of life.

“By embellishing the ancient details, I made the bag design illustrate the love story of the ancient Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris, and it has the symbol of Horus depicted as a bird at the top. I edged the bag with leather pieces inspired by the ears of the ancient Egyptian god of death Anubis.”

Earrings by Zaghloul

After choosing the main theme for her designs, Abdel-Shahid consults Egyptologists and does background research on each symbol she uses. “This stage is the longest and hardest of the whole design process. It took me seven months to find the information and symbols I wanted about the ankh symbol before I started designing a piece using them. There are multiple sources, and there are no standardised references,” she said.

When finishing a design, she produces two or three different models to combine and experiment with materials. Her work also does not stop at ancient Egypt, as Abdel-Shahid is also fascinated by other parts of Egypt’s heritage with its Coptic and Islamic roots.

Abdel-Shahid has launched three collections including handbags, backpacks, and wallets inspired by ancient Egyptian civilisation. She chooses natural materials such as leather and copper to create her designs, and she also uses ancient Egyptian colours like red and green, giving them a metallic finish. 

Abdel-Shahid received a Top Business Award in 2020, the same year she started her journey as a designer. She was also invited to participate in the World Youth Forum, which she considers to be a form of recognition of her revival of ancient Egyptian symbols.

Connecting to Egyptian history has always been an essential aspiration for Abdel-Shahid, and she displays her designs in shops attached to Egyptian museums. She is also currently working on a new Tutankhamun-inspired bag collection drawing on the ancient treasures discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb. 

She will launch the Tutankhamun collection soon to mark the centennial of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and to celebrate the inauguration of the Grand Egyptian Museum on the Pyramids Plateau that will display the treasures from it.

A version of this article appears in print in the 5 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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