Fashion designer Nourhan Sawa talks us through the inspiration for her brand and her big plans for the future.
Originally from Egypt, Nourhan Sawa had a dream to create fashion for the kind of women she was inspired by from the Ancient Egyptian culture. These were strong powerful women who were in fact, very ahead of their time. After finishing fashion school Nourhan Sawa set out to begin her brand Casa Di Nourelle.
Casa Di Nourelle follows an artistically driven design aesthetic where the creations are rich in a fusion of luxe, flowy, delicate fabrics made by the hands of Italian artisans and Egyptian craftsmen who are highly skilled artists of great knowledge of genuine Egyptian hand work and ancient embroidery techniques mixed with Sawa’s own vision of abstract art.
Here we discover more about the brand and Sawa’s big plans for the future.
What can you tell us about your brand?
Casa Di Nourelle is simply the reflection of me and everything I’m deeply influenced by in a form of storytelling. Growing up in Egypt with all the history, subcultures, diversity and charm this land holds, my brand’s culture is inspired by a Mediterranean mix, projecting the rich and sophisticated art found in the Fatimid period and the Greco-Roman Egypt which I discovered through Alexandria’s catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa. The mesmerizing historic site merges the ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek culture under one roof, it’s a culture of all the common elements found in supposedly contrary worlds. Aesthetically, my creations are rich in flowy, delicate fabrics such as silk, tulle and organza, applied in flattering silhouettes that make women feel feminine, confident and powerful.
Who is the woman that you design for?
Regardless of age, ethnicity and size, I design for all powerful women who can be in charge of their own lives while embracing their femininity. The woman I design for has a deep passion for art and can spot beauty in the simplest things in life. her style is classic, graceful and timeless, yet trendy and sometimes edgy.
How can you explain to us the term “demi couture”?
Demi couture or semi couture is a special hand crafted design made with high attention to detail and premium craftsmanship, exclusively produced in a very limited number of pieces per each design, ready for immediate purchase in standard sizes with a less expensive price than haute couture.
What is the biggest challenge you face with your brand?
Starting a fashion brand is not an easy thing to do, it’s a long road that requires a challenged spirit, hard work, consistency and most importantly transparency and authenticity. the most challenging part for me is delivering the message I want to deliver in the way I imagined, through authentic storytelling in a form of a fashion production. The challenge is that this can be very hard sometimes when you are your own boss and working in the creative field. Everyone you work with tends to interpret their vision in a different way, from stylists and makeup artists to photographers and art directors, so in order to make this a successful team who perfectly translate my vision to reality, I feel like I’m the one responsible for all these parts and my role doesn’t stop at being a designer or a creative director, I must have control over each detail of these and it can be overwhelming sometimes especially as a person striving for perfection. I think any creative has been through what I’m saying, but at the end, when I see the final outcome and I’m happy with it I feel like I really enjoyed the challenge and it was worth every minute.
What can you tell us about the Egyptian artisans that you work with?
These are the magic hands behind it all, I call them my second family. Coming from Egypt, artisanship is the primordial part of the Egyptian heritage, all the artisans I work with inherited their skills from their parents and grandparents which makes them extremely dedicated and passionate about their roles as craftsmen and this is very important to me.
One of the very dear tailors on my team actually used to make dresses for the late Egyptian Arab cinema star, the diva Hend Rostom. Having a member like him on my team adds a lot to my brand as it is dedicated to powerful and successful women who leave a mark wherever they go, it’s great to have someone on your team who actually worked with such an example, and I’m proud to say that I learn from him every day. That’s how it is with my team of Egyptian artisans, everyone has something to teach to the other regardless of age, experience or position.
Your brand is still quite new, what would you like to achieve both in the short term and long term?
Honestly, I’m a very big dreamer the list is so long but if I have to name a few, one of my biggest priorities would be to build a community within the brand where the women of Casa Di Nourelle would feel a sense of belongingness. I’m planning to work on this in collaboration with other creatives from the industry through workshops and discussion panels about different topics that the brand will address with each new collection such as empowerment and art. By dedicating a part of the sales to organizations supporting the topics we’ll shed a light on within this community, I want each woman wearing my design to feel that she too is creating an impact and can be a part of a significant change. Another goal I would like to achieve in the short term is gaining international recognition, locally launching my first flagship store and then having my flagship stores in every fashion capital in the long term, introducing my heritage and my vision to the world through my brand.
Who is your inspiration?
My parents are my greatest inspiration. I call my father superman – he never takes no for an answer and he will always find a way to achieve whatever he wants, he taught me that nothing can stop me in the way of achieving my dreams no matter how big it is, with strong will and determination there’s no limits. My mom is a superwoman as well, since I was born she has taught me how to fearlessly voice my opinion, how to stand up for myself while she was supporting me all the way. Not to mention her amazing fashion flair; she used to let me pick her outfits when I was a little girl and I used to enjoy it a lot, I think she’s the reason why I wanted to become a designer!
What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
Actually my biggest achievement so far would be starting Casa Di Nourelle. I started planning for this five years ago after I graduated high school. I have been facing a lot of challenges ever since in the build-up process, from studying the market, sourcing materials and selecting the right team to work with in Italy and in Egypt, to manufacturing, sampling, production and shooting. There’s a lot of failed attempts in between but these are what kept pushing me forward and made me even more determined and never willing to compromise the dream of building my brand so it feels great to finally see what I’ve been working so hard on actually becoming a reality, this will always be on top of the list of my achievements.
We know you travel a lot what do you think travel adds to your character?
Travel adds a lot to my creativity and it’s constantly helping me evolve in so many ways. The hours I spend in the sky when moving from a place to the other is when I feel the most serene and I get to think of life and how I view things from a different perspective. Having my work based between Cairo, Dubai and Italy, I get to meet a lot of people from very diverse cultures and that’s what adds to my character, it’s the people I meet who add to my character with all their different mentalities, traditions, vibes, and stories. I became able to see through people, understand others’ differences and delving in the stories they get to share with me about different parts of their lives and culture which really inspire me every time.
Why is it important to you to show your heritage through your creations?
Well, from an artistic point of view, the Egyptian heritage is very rich in breathtaking architecture, especially the ancient Egyptian architecture, from temples decorated with beautiful handmade paintings in vivid colors, to detailed wall carvings of the temple of queen Hatshepsut for example which was a turning point in the Egyptian architecture. These elements truly inspire me, it’s art.
I have this concept of creating one art piece in each collection which I fully construct with my hands in a form of an abstract painting using embellishment inspired by the elements of the ancient Egyptian architecture, my heritage allows me to express my true self in each collection and I believe that’s what makes me original. Another reason why my heritage is an important part of my creations is being a brand dedicated to the powerful woman. Women in ancient Egypt were really ahead of their time, Hatshepsut for example was the first great woman in recorded history to hold the title of a female Pharaoh, she is the woman who was a king! Queen Tiye was the first woman in history whose name appeared in social acts. That kind of power is how I want the woman wearing my designs to feel, that’s why it’s very important to me to show my heritage through my creations.
What is your take on sustainable fashion?
This may sound a bit philosophical but honestly earth is such a beautiful place, I tend to be in a very peaceful and inspired state of mind when surrounded by nature and it deeply saddens me how parts of the fashion industry can be very harmful to the planet with all the beauty that it holds. For this reason, I try to contribute to sustainability as much as I can through making sure all the materials I use are ethically sourced. I minimize any waste that may occur in production through reusing excess fabric in new collections. I am constantly trying to create a healthy, friendly environment for all the artisans I work with so no one is unfairly treated or working beyond the average hours, and most importantly I am working to sustain the artisan crafts in Egypt something that is in jeopardy. I do this through my vision of “ancient luxury renovation” referring to the Egyptian crafts as ancient luxuries which include Egyptian copper patchwork and Khayamiya which is a technique that has never been used in fashion before and we are proudly introducing it in the next collection inspired by a very interesting ethnic minority in Egypt “The Amazigh of Siwa” in a totally renovated way where we’ll use the ancient Khayamiya technique to create artworks on silk and organza, I really can’t wait to share this collection with everyone.
Is there any one thing you would like to change in the industry?
Yes. of course this doesn’t apply to the whole industry but I would say imitating other’s work. We see a lot of brands nowadays lacking originality and copying other brands and this is very frustrating to watch. I hope one day there will be an end to this.
What are your thoughts on the fashion scene in the Middle East?
I always thought that the Middle Eastern woman owns a very unique and impeccable style which is very sophisticated and elegant. This has been the case since the queens and princesses of the golden age of Egypt such as princess Faouzia Fouaad known for being the epitome of style and glamour alongside her mother queen Nazli Sabri, to the modern queens of our modern day such as Her Royal Highness Queen Rania of Jordan who was seen dressed in amazing middle eastern talents recently. I think the fashion scene in the Middle East has been evolving in a very impressive way, now we see a lot of middle eastern designers dominating couture week such Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad to name a few. Regional talent such as Reema Al Banna and Arwa al Banawi making revolutionary waves in how the world views the modern Arab woman, not to mention the modest fashion movement. I think the Middle Eastern fashion scene is very original and is getting more impressive everyday with the rise of new bright talents and creatives shaping the scene.
What’s your personal motto?
Always stay true to yourself. Also there’s a quote by Rumi that I find very inspiring “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop”
And your professional motto?
It’s a quote by Diane Von Furstenberg “ I don’t like to talk about my dreams. I like to make them happen. I prefer to talk about them when they’re done.”
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t over stress, stay calm yet focused and trust the journey.
What would you tell yourself 10 years from now?
I believe I’ll be in a great place in 10 years, hopefully I would’ve achieved a lot of what I planned for, I’d tell myself “I’m so proud of you and where you’ve become, don’t stop and keep moving forward”.
How would you describe your style?
Effortless, classic, feminine with a trendy twist and edge.
What do you say ‘no’ to?
I say a big no to toxicity and anything trying to hold you back from achieving what you believe you can achieve, be it a person, a thought, or whatever kind of toxic energy that makes you underestimate yourself and your abilities in conquering anything.
What book are you reading at the moment?
I Just finished reading The Forty Rules of Love which really helped me evolve spiritually, now I’m reading another one by Elif Shafik called The Architect’s Apprentice.
How do you want the world to remember you?
I would love the world to remember me as an inspiring woman who inspired others and lifted them up. A woman who left a mark and made a change in her industry, and a woman who was a ray of sunshine to all the dear ones in her life!
How would you describe your brand in one word?
It’s hard to describe in one word but If I have to, I would say dreamy.