The hottest name on Egypt's local fashion scene, Malak El Ezzawy knows a thing or two about style having been dressing Cairo's movers and shakers for some time now. We talk to the designer about her influences, dressing cats and her shoe obsession...
The fashion world is ever versatile. Names are constantly changing; designers could be in this day and out the next, to the point where it's hard to keep track of everyone. One Egyptian designer who's managed to hold her ground, however, is Malak El Ezzawy whose eponymous label has stayed firmly in the spotlight since its launch in 2008. The go-to name for evening wear in Egypt - everything from wedding dresses and brilliant ball gowns to sexy cocktails dresses - El Ezzawy's unmistakable aesthetic has been picked up on by fashionistas and celebrities alike. Inspired by her grandmother, esteemed designer Ne'emat Deyab, and starting on the long road of fashion design at the age of 12, the only way is up for El Ezzawy. We sit the young ingénue down at the Drawing Board to talk about her wardrobe, designing for plus size women and the electrical fire that destroyed her showroom...
Finish the sentence: “Fashion is…”
No, that’s too difficult. Ask me again later.
What’s your favorite article of clothing in your wardrobe today?
I have an obsession with shoes so it’s probably one of my shoes. The multi-coloured [Giuseppe] Zanotti ones. And I also love my studded sneakers.
How many pairs of shoes do you have?
A lot. Probably close to a hundred.
What if someone offered you global coverage for your brand for a month, but you'd have to wear the same pair of flats for the rest of your life?
But your name would be in Vogue and Elle...
But I can’t wear the same pair of shoes for the rest of my life! No way; I change my shoes maybe twice a day.
You seem pretty cool and edgy, in your printed trousers and wedges. What made you go into couture rather than ready-to-wear?
My grandmother, Ne'emat Deyab, was already in the evening wear industry. I used to go to her all the time and I think that inspired me, even though I like funky stuff and ready-to-wear and shoes. I love shoes, I’d love to design my own shoe line but that’s very difficult here in Egypt.
How involved is your grandmother in your work?
We work in the same building; she’s on the floor above mine. She checks up on me every now and then to make sure I’m fine, but she doesn’t really get involved. She always comforts me when work isn’t going very well and gives me advice on my designs.
Would you collaborate with your grandmother?
Not really because our designs are completely different and we target different markets. Her designs are for older women and they’re a bit more classical.
Is your husband as fashionable as you are?
Do you dress him?
Is there anything you bought for him and he's said “There’s no fucking way I’m wearing that”?
No, I convince him with the way I approach him with things.
Tell us the secret of getting your husband to dress the way you want him to dress...
It's all about the hype. Before I even buy it, I tell him how cool it is!
If you could dress one cartoon character in signature Malak El Ezzawy style, who would it be?
At the time you first started your label, every society girl in Egypt wanted to be a designer. What differentiates you from the rest of the pack?
It’s true. In the past four years, a lot of fashion designers came to be but only a few have managed to be distinctive and stick around. It's all about the hard work. It seems like an easy job, but it isn’t. I don’t give up easily and my attention to detail is very annoying. I have OCD and it actually helps a lot.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a fashion designer in Egypt?
It’s a bit easier now than it was four years ago when we all started because people weren’t used to the idea of an Egyptian fashion designer and buying clothes here, instead of abroad. But now, not a lot of people travel as much as they used to so they buy a lot of clothes from Egypt.
Who’s the worst celebrity customer you’ve ever had? Someone you really didn’t want to be seen in your outfit?
Actually, they were all very nice. I didn’t have any bad experiences with any of them.
Do you watch Ghada Abdel Razek’s latest series? What’s your take on her outfits?
Oh God, yes. I think they’re disastrous in every single way.
What would you have done if you were the designer on the set?
I'd go much simpler because of her body shape and her height. She’s pretty tall and with all the fur and the white boots, there's just a lot of weird things going on.
Do you cater for plus sizes?
Yeah and it feels good making a girl feel prettier and often slimmer.
Was it more expensive?
Definitely, yeah. It took more material to make.
Which celebrity do you think has looked best in one of your designs?
I really liked the one I made for Dorra for the Cairo International Film Festival. It was purple and backless with sleeves. And the black one I made for Razan for the Enigma Star launch in Dubai. And the white one she wore in the video with Amro El Meligy; that was one of my favourites.
What’s your process for designing and creating when someone asks for something, for example, for a video?
Actually, the first video I’ve ever done was the one for Razan and Amro. They came to me and I heard the song and they told me how they imagined some of the scenes would be. Then I sat down and started sketching and we started eliminating some of the concepts and it came down to the last three outfits that she wore in the video. Of course, there were fittings after that and we altered a few things.
If you could pick one celebrity to dress, who would it be?
What about locally?
I really liked working with Yousra. She’s a big name and I did a dress for her for a photoshoot. From the celebrities I haven’t dressed so far, maybe Mona Zaki.
Which of your designs are you most proud of?
One of the ones I made that took a lot of work was a dress I made for a friend’s katb kitab. It was a short and all hand-beaded so it took us three weeks just for the embelishments.
Did you give your friend a discount?
Not really. I don’t do discounts that often, but sometimes when I have to, I do.
What’s the most expensive piece you’ve designed and how much did it go for?
It was a wedding dress with lots of beading. It was about 17,000 LE.
Who would you like to be the face Malak El Ezzawy?
Lara Scandar, definitely.
Who are your fashion influences?
I love Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad. And then there’s also Maaz and I like Dior for their eccentric stuff.
What would you say if Elie Saab said “I love your designs and I’m willing to take you under my wing, but you have to design a line for the Muslim Brotherhood”?
I would do it if it was for veiled woman, but if it’s the official line for the Ikhwan then no, I wouldn’t do it.
Do you design things for veiled women? Like for example, couture 3abayas?
The only thing I did was the galabeya that Razan wore to the Saad El Soghayar's show El Moled. It was light red with two slits that you wear over jeans. After that I started selling them for Ramadan. Other than that, I do dresses for veiled women or modify designs for them.
Would you ever make a custom burka if a customer offered a big sum of money?
I don’t like things that don’t look pretty...
Who would you say is the best Egyptian designer right now?
I like Yasmine Yehia a lot. I love her stuff.
Who is your arch enemy in the Cairo fashion scene?
I don’t have any. I don’t even look at the competition. I just do what I want to do. Competition doesn’t bother me at all.
Your runway shows are always packed out with Cairo's high soceity. What percentage of people do you think are genuinely interested in seeing your show and what percentage do you think are just there to compliment you?
Very few people come to compliment me but some people come just to be seen or because they know somebody that’s going. But I think a lot of people come to see the show.
How many specific orders do you get after a show?
The peek of sales for me is 10 days to two weeks after a show, private viewing or a small event.
How hands-on are you in the actual production of things?
It’s definitely a one-man show. I do everything. Obviously, I have a team for the beading, sewing and pattern making. But other than that, anything that has to do with design, I do myself. I also handle all the finances and the graphic design.
How big is your team right now?
I have 10 people, including the beading girls, the finishing girls, the pattern maker and the tailor.
Have they ever disagreed with one of your designs or refused to work on them?
No, they don’t do that. But if I give them a design, they sometimes try and add their own touch to it. I always make them feel like it’s one big team project to help make the working environment better.
We heard that your store that burned down two years ago. How did that happen?
Electricity. The entire store burned down. Everything in it was either wood or fabric. The fire started at my desk and I had a rack of dresses next to it, so the fire caught on to that, then onto the curtains. All the dresses burned and the whole store was reduced to ashes. It was a very difficult time; I had to start everything from the beginning.
People say “everything happens for a reason”, so why did God decide to burn your showroom?
I don’t know, but my showroom burning down lead to me having a nicer one and producing nicer dresses. I had a clean slate and I started everything all over again.
If you could ban one material from the fashion industry, what would it be?
A: There’s this shiny type of satin that I hate. It makes ever dress look like a nightgown.
How about if you could ban one color?
There’s a shade of bright pink that I think doesn’t go well on anyone.
If you could ban one designer from the fashion world, who would it be?
I think Hany El Behairy.
Do you design anything for men?
I only designed t-shirts for men once, with Abdel Halim Hafez and Om Kalthoum on them. They were sort of a pop art endeavour.
Would you ever go into different genres of fashion?
Probably not. I’d like to design shoes for women and maybe something for men. I do have a kids’ line though. It’s called the Little Princess collection.
Do you have kids?
No, not yet.
We follow you on Instagram and we see that you cook a lot. When did you start cooking?
I actually started cooking after I got married. My sister also only started cooking after marriage. My dad always jokes about how we seem to have spent our entire lives in a kitchen because of how fast we learned to cook. We never used to cook, even my mother didn’t.
How did you learn to cook?
I’m very persistent. When I set my mind on something, I have to do it. One time my husband asked for spaghetti bolognese and when I told him I’d do it he didn’t believe I could, which drives me crazy and motivates me more to get it done.
What’s the dish you’ve cooked that you’re the most proud of?
Well, I’m a vegetarian so I don’t taste his food, I just smell it. Although, I’m very proud of a salmon dish I made once for guests. I baked a whole salmon fish with butter and garlic.
How long have you been a vegetarian for?
Seven years now.
What made you decide to be a vegetarian?
The texture and the taste of meat disgusts me.
Would you make a banana dress for cats? And how would you make such a dress?
Well, you could use the skins and stich them together...
What do you think about our fashion sense?
Would you say this is the weirdest interview you’ve been through?
What would you like your legacy to be?
I have a lot of ideas. I would love for my line to be international. I’d also like to get into event planning.
Alright, finish this sentence: “Fashion is…”?
For me, fashion is simple and elegant.