Based between Paris and Montreal, Egyptian designer Maram Aboul Enein has become a fixture at fashion week, as her eponymous line continues to turn more and more heads. Here she tells her story from humble beginnings to catwalk glory...
A country which once had no room for something that was considered as frivolous as fashion is now breeding a new generation of designers and Maram Aboul Enein is one such sartorial human who is proving that a career path in fashion is not only feasible for Egyptians but is also a thriving professional option. The young designer is rapidly making a name for herself among international style circles with her eponymous label, launched only last year. After making the move to Paris at the ripe old age of 17, the young designer studied at the prestigious Parsons and then proceeded to train under some powerhouse names in the fashion field including Oscar De La Renta, win a slew of accolades, before deciding to embark on launching her own label. Currently based in Montreal, the brand’s aesthetic is a seamless blend of streamlined luxury and Parisian chic. We talk to the up and coming designer who is making her mark in the fashion world…
How did you get into fashion and design to begin with? What's your background in that?
I moved to Paris at 17 to study fine arts and sculpture at Parsons Paris; I always knew this would be my career path. But it was then that I was exposed to other forms of expression and realised that painting became a static medium for me - it was too free and I needed something with more structure. I felt like something was missing in my art, I needed it to have a purpose and a function, so I applied to the fashion department and it took off from there.
You've trained under some powerhouse names in fashion like Pierre Balmain, Oscar De Le Renta, and Zac Posen - what was that experience like?
It definitely shaped me as a designer. Other than preparing me for the somewhat harsh reality of the industry, my work experience unsheltered me from the guidance I constantly had in art school. I learned how to balance unrestricted creative freedom with the necessary discipline and work ethic required to survive in this industry, which was something I was always struggling with and I'm still learning to perfect.
Creatively, I learned strong skill sets working under each designer which I continue to nurture and improve with each collection I make. Ultimately, I saw the challenges they were facing which helped me prepare for mine.
How and when did the line come about?
I founded the brand in September 2014, and started designing the debut collection for Fall/Winter'15 in November. I had three months to make a collection, build a team and make an atelier before Fashion Week. How? Dedication, persistence and coffee.
How come you decided to go solo, which is obviously more risky, as opposed to retaining or looking for a position in of the major labels you worked with?
I was offered, but I always knew I wanted to have my own line at some point. I had a vision and I couldn't let it be muted under another designer's voice. I realised the more I grew up and saw, the more the responsibilities and the realities of life started piling up in front of me as excuses, and the more fearful I became of taking risks. Last summer my father told me 'If you're waiting until you're ready, that day will never come.' I wrote my business plan that day.
How would you describe the aesthetic of your brand?
Nonchalant Parisian luxury mixed with traditional craftsmanship techniques. It's not about wearing your money on your back, head-to-toe logos or wearing the flashiest dress to a party. True luxury is discreet, modest and effortless - it reflects a certain lifestyle, your values and mentality. The woman I aim to dress understands and appreciates that.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in starting your own line?
Self-discipline, organisation and multi-tasking. You are your own boss and it's not as fun as it sounds, because not only do you have to set the rules for your team but you have to set the rules for yourself. I couldn't just be a designer, I had to be an accountant, a hiring director, a manager, a product developer, a sales person and a hundred other people at once. It's scary...you start from scratch, you are completely alone and held accountable for everything, but I had to learn to be kind to myself and not so critical. I had to accept that I was going to make wrong decisions and mistakes. It's the toughest thing I have done so far but I learn and grow every day.
Where do you get inspiration and ideas for the pieces?
I have too many unanswered questions about the world, my inspiration comes from my curiosity in systems, philosophies, theories, politics and spirituality. I see each collection as an opportunity to grow, to learn something new, to research, to question things and gain clarity. My collections are always directly correlated to my thoughts, experiences and obstacles at the time. It's almost like a visual diary to my life which makes it more of a challenge because I always feel very exposed, but with that comes a certain authenticity and rawness that I cannot achieve otherwise. I try to indirectly raise these questions in other people’s minds through my collections.
What is the design process like for you?
I try to build a world around each collection and completely immerse myself in it. It starts off as theoretical research, reading, writing notes, making sense out of things. Then I start researching visuals that match the idea by collecting music, photographs, pieces of fabric, colour swatches or even random things like a piece of marble or an antique keyhole. Then I start sketching and draping; this is where I have to simplify and translate all this information into a cohesive storyline.
Do you have a favourite piece from the collection? If so, why that one?
That's like picking your favourite child! But I would say the knitwear pieces with the fur sleeves, they were the first pieces I designed for this collection and the hardest to make. I got turned down by so many manufacturers who claimed it was too complicated to make but I fought for them and eventually had them made with beautiful Italian finishing.
You're originally Egyptian but you eventually decided to establish your line in Paris and Montreal - can you tell us a bit about that?
I was born and raised in Egypt. I initially established and registered my brand in Paris but decided to open my atelier and design from Montreal because this is where I'm settled at the moment.
Do you plan on coming back to Egypt at some point? Do you think it's important that local designers either start their brands in Egypt or set up their brands here at some point in order to help propel the fashion industry here forward?
Of course I'm planning to come back to Egypt, I was blessed to have the education and experiences that I have had but it would be a waste if I don't bring it back and use it to contribute to the industry's growth. Egypt has a booming fashion industry with so much potential, but I think that there is a lack of education, resources and support for it to reach its full potential at the moment. I found it difficult to try to establish my brand there because it's too sheltered, I wanted to be challenged, uncomfortable and exposed to the international competition and market from the get-go.
Egypt has great potential in terms of creativity but it's lacking the essential foundation to carry and maintain a fashion industry, meaning: manufacturers, suppliers, machinery, workmanship, proper training, educational systems and governmental support. I think it’s really important for local designers to establish themselves in Egypt but opening a brand or a store isn't enough, we need education and experience first, then we can contribute to building these foundations correctly so the industry could grow in the right direction.
What do you miss most about Egypt when you're not here?
My home, my grandmother, the unmatched Egyptian kindness and the sun.
Do you have any future plans for the line?
I am planning on bringing in more evening wear and an accessories line in the coming seasons. Other than that, I will let my curiosity lead the way which always takes me to interesting places.
You can check out Maram’s Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram @maramstudio