Thousands of years ago, a visionary was born with the need to create, shuffle, and reinterpret art, religion, and culture. Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty was a wunderkind who found his own god and established his personal capital.
For a tad less than 20 years, the city of Amarna ruled as the official Egyptian capital, where art and culture thrived to unprecedented heights. In a city mostly constructed out of mud brick, artists were inspired to swim against the conventional tides.
For the first time in ancient Egypt, royals were portrayed with realism and affection. Meanwhile, women were captured with a precise eye after being constantly painted in a lighter shade of colour.
Even though the city and its religion were soon suppressed after the death of Akhenaten, its art has managed to survive the changing of times. Decades and centuries later, Egyptian designers Ahmed Sabry and Daki Marouf decided to narrate the historic tale to a contemporary and global audience.
The designing duo are well-known for their statement avant-garde accessories. Their eponymous brand is an articulate ambassador of their homeland, with designs inspired by ancient Egyptian sculptures and significant pharaohs.
Catering to a selective audience, the two designers seek to create objects that have not been seen before. Undisturbed by the need to fabricate mere statements, they follow the lead of their ancestors—aiming to create objects with the ability to unfold stories.
For their long-awaited comeback, the founders of Sabry Marouf chose Amarna as a sole source of inspiration. Their debut handbag collection features few geometrical shapes, which pay artistic tribute to the forgotten city. Much like sculptures, the bags are a result of thorough digital designs and progressive, articulate manufacturing.
Daily News Egypt spoke to Sabry to learn more about the intricate collection and their definition of avant-garde fashion as well as their mission to dive into Egypt’s heritage and retell it to the world.
How would you describe your debut handbag collection?
Amarna is the culmination of three years of research and development. Since it is our first foray into leather goods, we took the decision to approach things differently.
We were moved and inspired by the story of the lost city of Akhetaten, currently known as Tel El Amarna. What particularly intrigued us was the journey of Akhenaten and Nefertiti in creating this city and what it stood for.
It was a revolutionary period in which things never seen before were created; meanwhile, it only lasted for about 20 years. For the first time in the history of ancient Egypt, this city indicated a complete transformation in art, religion, and culture.
Our goal was to distil this essence of the Amarna period and express its mystique through modern pieces, which can speak to today’s luxury acquirer. We really wanted each bag to be emotive and stand alone as a sculpture, like Thutmose’s work. The way light hits the shapes in order to create precise shadows was very important.
Why did you choose this season for your long-awaited comeback?
Special things need good preparation and the time was right. We spent two years completing both our master’s programmes, then we started establishing the business infrastructure and getting the supply chain right.
Also, the story behind this collection is quite special to us; accordingly, we wanted to have everything play out right.
What made you choose jewellery and accessories as your form of expression?
Instinct. They are both very effective tools to communicate luxury and advancement—our ancestors clearly thought the same. Jewellery is something the ancient Egyptians favoured and mastered, in terms of material innovation, artistic expression, and unparalleled craftsmanship.
Their control over matter is mind boggling sometimes! Jewellery and artefacts to our ancestors were much more than just methods of accessorising—those pieces were talismans, materialising their beliefs into personal totems which meant something deeper than its face value.
Bags are an extension of the same concept—we develop close relationships to those objects, which help us carry our necessities while simultaneously expressing our personalities to the world. It is this added layer of functionality that makes bags different to jewellery—presenting a new challenge, and with challenge comes breakthrough.
Your designs fully embrace the ancient Egyptian heritage. What made you decide to establish your brand abroad?
We started in Egypt, working in Khan El-Khalili on our jewellery capsule collections back in 2011. It was right before the revolution and its consequential political turbulence, which went on for a couple of years. Nonetheless, we continued to develop new collections and take part in private events, where we grew our client base and started developing our narrative.
When we got the opportunity to join LCF in 2014 to complete our MAs and get to collaborate on our brand through the programme, it was a chance we needed to take. With the help of the University of the Arts London, we established our company in London.
We regularly visit Egypt, for inspiration on top of all and for production—some elements of our products are sourced and made in Egypt. Now that Egypt is continually moving towards a more stable growth phase, we are planning to do more work in Egypt and support our artisanal community—this is, after all, the message of our brand: retelling our inspiring history and heritage from our homeland to the world.
How would you define avant-garde designs?
Apart from it being a 20th century art movement, we think the word today has become a bit diluted. To us, a design that is avant-garde is not just simply different for the sake of it, the rules of good taste, skill, and superior craft still need to apply. For the design to be ahead of its time, it needs to be of high value in idea or message, craftsmanship, and aesthetic. Avant-garde designs need to question a status quo.
You have been a crucial part of the Egyptian participation in the International Fashion Showcase. Why was that experience vital for the selected local designers?
It was a very valuable experience which we were fortunate to take part in twice. It gave us and other selected designers great exposure to an international audience, press, and a community of like-minded creatives from all over the world. You get a chance to discuss your work with some of the most influential people in this industry.
We were also fortunate enough to work with Susan Sabet, Egypt’s curator for the IFS, on project managing the installation both years. To work closely with the Egyptian team and the British Fashion Council team in parallel was a very valuable experience through which we became connected to this rich network of professionals in the industry. It was definitely a milestone for us.
What is keeping the Egyptian showcase from taking the 1st prize home?
We actually got very close to winning the first time around (the Contemporary Rebirth installation in 2016), receiving an honourable mention at the prize ceremony. Both times we participated, our installations were a great success with visitors experientially. The world is paying attention and interested to see narratives from Egypt’s creatives; but also, you have to bear in mind that the IFS is very competitive.
It is quite an achievement that we got an honourable mention the first time we participated as a country. The countries that won are a few years ahead of us in terms of resources and knowledge of the global industry. However, we certainly did leave a lasting impact; moreover, we are catching up fast.
When we spoke to the panel of judges, they thought Egypt’s pieces and the installations in both years were brilliant and they hoped to see more ready-to-wear designers coming out of Egypt—those who speak to a contemporary audience.