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Egypt's first lady of jewelry

  • Story Highlights
  • Azza Fahmy is Egypt's preeminent jewelry designer
  • She collaborated with fashion designer, Julien Macdonald on his A/W '08 collection
  • International exposure has increased sales in the lucrative Middle East markets
  • Azza Fahmy on the competitive luxury industry: "Like any business, it's not joke"
  • Next Article in World Business »
By Alphonso Van Marsh
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- At London Fashion Week, all eyes are usually on the clothes.


Egyptian Azza Fahmy is one of the Arab world's preeminent jewelry designers

But the Arab and Islamic-influenced brooches, bracelets, necklaces and rings adorning the models heading down Julien Macdonald's catwalk are also getting attention.

They are part of a collaboration between the fashion powerhouse and former British Designer of the Year and Egyptian jewelry designer, Azza Fahmy.

"I really love the craft and the skill and the romance that goes into the pieces. So, that teamed with my sense of high octane glamour and my London high living twist is a great mix and a contrast. And that's what I like," Macdonald enthused to CNN.

In return, "Azza Fahmy Jewellery" gets international exposure, to the likes of Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal and OK!.

But don't -- as one London paper did -- call the catwalk collection "designer bling."

"It's quite a deep and nice collection -- not bling bling. I hate bling bling collections," Fahmy exclaims.

Starting at $250 to 'the sky's-the-limit', Fahmy's pioneering blends of gold, silver and precious stones, makes her one of the Arab world's preeminent jewelry designers.

The only problem is, a mere 30 percent of these 'jewels of the Nile' are sold outside Egypt -- Fahmy was missing out on the lucrative Gulf Arab market.

One of the challenges of marketing designer jewelry in the Middle East is getting past the traditional mentality that measures an item's worth not by exceptional finishes but by its weight in grams and karats.

To do well in the East, Fahmy and her daughters Fatma and Amina steered the family business to the West.

It started with the Julien Macdonald collaboration, and now exclusive Western stores like Kabiri, Harrods and Harvey Nichols are selling their jewelry.

Arabs tend to imitate Western spending habits, paying big money for luxury foreign items like Bulgari or Cartier -- but they don't give the same attention to their own Arab brands.

Fahmy believes that as her jewelry becomes popular in the West -- more Middle Eastern buyers will follow suit.

The marketing strategy seems to be working. Her team says the collections now sell in the U.A.E., Qatar and Bahrain. Next stop -- Saudi Arabia.

"To have a product which stands beside Cartier, etcetera -- it's a challenge. But we are sure of the ourselves because we are presenting something special, something which is different from all these brands," Fahmy said.

At her workshop on the outskirts of Cairo, Fahmy's craftsmen work in the belief they're turning precious metal into something different -- art.

Fahmy's daughter, Amina Ghaly, works for the family business as a designer and says there's value in the design, the marketing and workmanship poured into each item.

"At least 20 to 25 people will have touched that piece just to have one perfect piece at the end," Ghaly explained.

In the 60's, Fahmy was the first woman to apprentice in Egypt's jewelry district. The one-time government employee used to run a one-woman shop in her spare time.

Today, more than 180 employees drill, solder, hammer and file under her watchful eye, crafting two to three thousand pieces every year.

The luxury goods market is a crowded one, as Fahmy well knows: "Like any business, it's not a joke," says the designer.


Going to the West to find a better footing in the East is seriously savvy move.

A move that could lead to future success on the catwalk -- and with more consumers worldwide.

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