Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cairo Modern

As the Lifestyle Editor of the Daily News Egypt/International Herald Tribune, Heba Elkayal gets to sample Cairo’s chic boutiques, cutting edge art galleries and interview everyone from Christian Louboutin to Rosita Missoni. The stylish editor opens her little black book for The Polyglot to reveal the fabulous side of Cairo life.

How would you describe Cairo’s contemporary design scene?Cairo is currently undergoing a revival in fashion, the arts and culture. In the last few years alone the scene here has been shaping into a dynamic movement to rival anything going on in London or New York. There is a lot of local talent beginning to push notions of fashion and design forward by establishing their own labels, as well as creating retail spaces that defy traditional concepts. It’s an exciting time to be here.

Are there any local designers reinterpreting tradition in unique ways?There’s a new generation of designers tapping into traditional crafts to create modern pieces. Nadia Zarkani, the name behind handbag label NuniZ, designs seductive evening clutches from supple ostrich leather and mother of pearl inlaid clasps. Another label I’ve had my eye on is Amina K. by Amina Khalil, a graduate of the London School of Fashion. She reinterprets traditional kaftan silhouettes for the modern girl, inspired by local textiles and patterns found in traditional Egyptian tents.

Were you surprised when Azza Fahmy selected you as their brand ambassador?More than anything it was a privilege. Fahmy, along with her daughter Amina Ghali, has helped place Egypt on the design map with her line of contemporary jewelry that combines traditional craftsmanship with cutting edge design.

Is there a one-stop shopping experience in Cairo?Amuse in Zamalek is Cairo’s answer to Colette. The brainchild of Viviane Abdel Messih, Dina El Batal and Gailan Fahim, the large loft-like space (occupying a former film studio) boasts a chalkboard with handwritten quotes by Coco Chanel and YSL, as well as a curated selection of fashion, books, and accessories. The upstairs loft is an in-the-city outlet for Articulate Baboon, an art gallery in Designopolis that exhibits urban and street-themed art. There is also a corner dedicated to furniture and products by Karim Mekhtigian, head of design firm Alchemy. My personal favorite is his Soheimi lounge seat with its geometric detailing lacquered in bright white.

Where can one go to experience Cairo’s past?El Muizz Street in Old Cairo, which was immortalized in Naguib Mahfouz’s trilogy “Palace Walk,” has become the must see area to visit. Its winding historic streets and mashrabiya-clad mansions have reemerged from extensive renovations. Recently “+20 Egypt Design,” the Cairo counterpart to the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, was held in three adjoining 17th century monuments; Beit El-Suhaymi, Hamam Inal and Beit Silihdar. Curated by famed Italian designer Paula Navone, the exhibit showcased the work of cutting edge Egyptian furniture designers as well as international names. It was an amazing experience to walk through the spaces, where one felt the past rubbing shoulders with the 21st century.

Do you have any favorite dining spots in the Egyptian capital?I’m a fan of La Bodega’s Bistro and its newer restaurant Aperitivo, which has practically become my second home. Part of La Bodega’s allure, lies in its familiarity and cozy atmosphere. It’s the closest Cairo has to a neighborhood restaurant, where you are never quiet sure who you’ll bump into, from Egyptian movie stars to your old college professor. It’s housed in a 19th century mansion that has interesting architectural features, such as a working wrought iron elevator from the 1930’s. The pasta with black truffles, as well as the leek and potato soup are my current favorites on the menu. When it comes time to burn off those extra calories, I recommend hitting the dance floor at Tamarai, Cairo’s chicest nightspot. The music is fantastic and its outdoor terrace boasts breathtaking views of the Nile.

Any hidden Cairo gems you would like to share with Dia readers?If you want to catch a whiff of Cairo’s Belle Epoque past then head to Bajocchi, arguably Egypt’s oldest jeweler. Located steps away from the site of Cairo’s old Opera House on Abdel Khalek Tharwat St., its historic art deco interiors glitter with the kind of exquisite heirloom jewels one would find in Paris or Rome. It was established in 1900 by an Italian family whose descendants still run the business today. Over the decades the jeweler has catered to the whims of both Egyptian princesses and members of high society, including Empress Farah Diba of Iran and Jehan El Sadat, who selected her wedding ring there in 1953.

Image of Heba ElKayal by Joe Kesrouani

All other images courtesy of Amuse, Karim Mekhtigian, Amina K and Nuniz, La Bodega and Tamarai.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

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