The first lady of Cultural Jewellery.
To immortalize heritage, some write books, others take pictures, on the other hand, we design jewellery
“My long journey with jewellery-making all started with a book…” AF
It all started when Azza Fahmy came across an art book about classical jewellery of the Middle Ages in Europe. The book was in German and cost 17.5 EGP - a fortune at the time- but neither language nor price barriers stopped her from buying it. Fascinated with the designs of the jewellery, this book was the light that ignited her inspiration. With a B.A. in Interior Design, Azza Fahmy had planned to join the Faculty of Fine Arts to get a second degree in the Applied Arts Department, she soon discarded this plan in favour for an on the job training in the field of jewellery design.
She decided to become an apprentice in Khan El Khalili and learn at the hands of one of the most skilled masters in this craft. "So I tied my hair back, put on my overalls and spent my days in a workshop full of men learning the tricks of the jewellery making trade."
It was culturally and socially unacceptable for a fine arts graduate who held a respectable job in the government to work as an apprentice in a workshop. Though she was deemed crazy by colleagues and friends, her goal was crystal clear for she had found her niche in life. ”My apprenticeship period in Khan El Khalili stretched for two years I recall with nostalgia and affection” Azza Fahmy reminisces.
The first time Fahmy actually handled the tools of the craft, she made a few small rings that were sold at her first exhibition attended by friends, journalists and intellectuals. However, in the mid seventies when the British Council decided to send her on a fellowship to study jewellery craft in the City of London Polytechnic School Azza saw her real chance of turning her dream into a reality. There, she learned the theoretical aspect of what she had practically learned of the craft. It was an enormous leap forward, and she felt deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn how to best execute most of her designs.
Fahmy came back to Cairo with a wider horizon and greater confidence as a jewellery maker. By the early eighties, she had set up her own workshop and employed a team of only two workers.
Always searching for new sources of inspiration and innovation that would shape her creations, Fahmy began exploring the artistic, intellectual and cultural history of Islamic design. Combining her research with her love for architecture, Azza Fahmy began to design one of her first collections which won her wide appeal and gave instant recognition to the collection. The collection was titled 'Houses of the Nile' and was inspired by Nubia and the traditional architecture of Egypt. It featured jewellery in the shape of small houses gorgeously encrusted with palm trees or rocks. As one critic wrote at the time, "the beauty of this collection is that most people never thought of wearing mud houses...Azza Fahmy did." Fahmy did not stop there. She conducted countless hours of research and readings with the desire to translate one of her other passions, poetry, into jewellery collections of her own. As a result, her rendition of colloquial poems became an instant success. Fahmy read the poetry and engraved the verses on necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings and key chains. This brought broad and immediate appeal as many people not only chose beautiful, unique jewellery but the approach seem to satisfy a much needed cultural requirement as they feasted their souls with meaningful verses. From that point on, jewellery with inscribed and engraved verses became Fahmy's signature. Fahmy took this a step further through her love and passion with traditional jewellery. Her studies of the various ages and civilizations were the catalyst for the next turning point in her design career. Fahmy had found the winning combination; she chose traditional proverbs, had them written with beautiful calligraphy, inscribed them on silver and laid them with gold and, so, the Azza Fahmy trademark Culture Collection was born. She became an instant success; one so strong it would take her through the next twenty years.
Azza Fahmy continues to take her passion to new heights. She continues to do her favourite thing - designing jewellery, researching, being inspired and inspiring other people through her jewellery. By doing so, she has successfully transformed the concept of jewellery making from a craft to an art, and has managed to add a new dimension to the wearing of jewellery.