London Fashion Week: Egypt's Norine Farah weaves the history of cotton into couture design

Ati Metwaly in London, Monday 20 Feb 2017

Ahram Online talks with Fashion landmark Norine Farah at the Egyptian exhibit in London Fashion Week's International Fashion Showcase

Fashion designer Norine Farah with her designs, part of the Egyptian booth's display during London Fashion Week (Photos: Ati Metwaly)

Egypt's exhibition is grabbing attention at London Fashion Week (LFW), which kicked off Friday to showcase the spring collections of new and established designers from the UK and abroad. Egyptian designer Norine Farah--one of the designers showcasing in Egypt's booth--sat down with Ahram Online Monday to discuss her contribution to LFW this spring.

Egypt is the only Arab country displaying at this year at the International Fashion Showcase — launched in 2012 by the British Fashion Council along with the British Council as a fashion and cultural cooperation initiative.

Alexandria-born Farah, a young designer who has taken the Egyptian fashion scene by storm in the past few years, is also the first Egyptian designer ever to showcase her garments in a New York fashion show. the 28-year-old is known for her panache and bold, experimental design choices which have graced red carpets at home and abroad.

Tell us more about your display, cotton seems to play a pivotal role…

Our room is a representation of the development of cotton as a fabric: from the beginning of the cotton flower and seed, to its realisation as fabric.

So Maram and myself, decided to try to incorporate both modern and traditional aspects from the traditional Egyptian cotton farmer, with a modern twist to the men’s shirt.

Basically we chose to use the men’s shirt because, of course its cotton, and it's modern.

We also wanted to use flower motifs that women farmers used to wear on their tunics.

So basically the tunic would be a very bright colour with flowers of orange, blue, pink, red and so on.

We took inspiration for the dresses from that, and we also added the pompoms [to echo] their headdresses and trimmings with pompoms. Combining the traditional with the modern gives [the pieces] more of a contemporary look.

Tell us about your passion for couture and how it all started…

I was born and raised in Alexandria, where I studied hotel management. In the summer I went to Milan and Florence [to study] fashion, and then when I graduated I studied interior design in London for six months. Then I worked as an assistant food and beverage manager for a year. I realized that was not what I wanted to do.

Since I’m a painter, I have my own little studio in Alexandria. I woke up one morning, signed my resignation letter, and decided to hunt for a tailor. This was in 2014, so I’ve been working for 3 years. My father thought I was crazy but he fully supported me.

So I found a tailor and sent him to buy all the machinery, scissors, etc. because I didn’t know… I had an idea from the courses I took, but didn’t know exactly what I needed, so I delegated the task to him.

And I literally spent hours and nights learning from him. I believe that studying through reading and writing is not really practical and that’s not how you learn. You learn when you see and try and do it yourself.

After two months, I dressed up my best friend and my sister in law, and they went to big weddings, one in Gouna and one in Alexandria, and the feedback was really good and people started calling me… I hadn't expected that; I was only playing.

And then I got a big job with Davidoff in Cairo, and that worked very well. Five months after I opened my atelier in Alexandria, I moved to Cairo, and it just worked. I believe I was very lucky.

What are your plans for the future in this field? Because it’s is a very challenging field, very competitive…

It's okay in Cairo and Alexandria, but of course if I want to take [my business] international it will be very challenging. But I like the challenge.

My plan now is to keep the haute couture but on a smaller scale and stick with the bridal as well, but open a new independent company, for ready-to-wear. I believe ready-to-wear is much easier to sell and produce in [larger] quantities. And so if I would like to go international, that’s my path.

For my last collection, I was inspired by a photographer friend who travels around the world and takes pictures.

I took his pictures and digitally printed them on fabric. All of these dresses were inspired by his pictures (the designer gestures to certain pieces).

So that’s the Northern Lights in Norway (Farah refers to a dress), and I have a couple more photos from Sinai.

I also made a mini-collection of jewellery, with gold and semi-precious stones, and I worked with a fabric upholstery store, and made a collection for them.

I did the FitBox boxing team’s shorts and jackets, for fun. I worked with a belly dancer and gave her three costumes.

I believe fashion is art at the end of the day; it’s the way you look at it.

 Do you think for young designers like you, it is easy to make a living?

At the beginning no, I’d be lying if I said my father didn’t help me at first. The thing is, you don’t have to invest a lot; you only need someone who knows how to cut, and tailor, who you can pay per day or per week. You would need a sewing machine, which is not that expensive.

Then it’s a matter of renting a place, or even [working] at home, and just trying it out. So the initial investment is not very high, and if it doesn’t work out, all you can do is sell the equipment.

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