About the Designer
A Bird’s-Eye View of the World
Waseem first started thinking about fashion when he was growing up in Egypt, watching people as they walked down the street from his family’s balcony. He was born in 1985 in the Nile Delta, and that era and place shaped who he is. The building he spent much of his childhood in was right at the border between a newer district and a popular neighborhood, and he would spend hours just watching and noticing every facet of the community go by. From that vantage point, he saw an eclectic mix of styles; the traditionally dressed woman carrying goods to the market, the upscale housewife bringing her children to school, a day laborer heading to a job site, or an office worker marching to a long day at the office in his suit. Waseem was intrigued about how people carried themselves, how the things they chose to wear matched or contrasted with their daily activities.
One of Waseem’s other early memories was attending Friday prayers with his father. He was too young to understand the sermon but would focus his attention on the main door of the mosque to see who was coming in and out. Waseem had a keen desire to probe the differences in what people wore and how that connected to their personalities. Some would enter the mosque with multiple layers of wide, flowing robes, expressing the piety and devotion they wished to project to this important day of the week. Others would simply step in right off the street, ready to pray and make a deep religious connection just as they were.
Sight and Touch
Even the smallest of things interested Waseem. A ring, although framed in unpolished silver, could hold a bright and beautiful precious stone of green, red, or black. Each of these colors, the sizes of the stones, had a purpose behind it. A walking cane could be just as relevant. It could be heavy and wooden, meant to serve a practical purpose. It could also be short and thin, reflecting a sense of stature. Whether proscribed by a doctor, a long-standing family heirloom, or simply something that they found interesting in the market and decided to bring along with them, Waseem understood that these minute accessories shape who we are and the message that we convey to the world.
His focus on the visual was complimented by an early fascination with texture. Waseem’s mother was blind, and from an early age, he was introduced to her world of touch. Although she was unable to see what something was directly, she complimented that with a deep understanding of how things around her felt. The roughness of a burlap sack meant durability and a willingness to protect against the pressures of daily life. The smooth flow of cotton reflected breathability and flexibility. Honing an acute sense of touch was critical as Waseem became more interested in fashion, and he had to learn to discern the specifics of various textures and fabric styles.
It was a common practice in Waseem’s family to visit my mother at work. On the way, he and his father passed by a long main street filled with clothing shops. Their front display windows always caused him to stop in amazement, much to the displeasure of his father who was just interested in getting them to their destination. The way these displays were setup; the mannequins positioned in just the right way and the level of subconscious detail that went into everything was overwhelming to his senses. At one point, Waseem distinctly remembers sneaking away into one of the major shopping centers and was mesmerized by a glass display case of silver belt buckles. The way the light hit them and caused them to shine made him immediately think: Which ones were more valuable than the others? Which one would fit for the right person, and how could one work in combination with other colors and fabrics?
This degree of fascination was infectious. Waseem couldn’t stop thinking about these questions, and every night he would think in anticipation about the next opportunity to visit again and discover something new. On other occasions, whenever he was allowed to leave the house on his own, he would find his way into the textile market. He would ask the shopkeepers to show him different fabrics, pushing their patience to the end as he combed through an ever-expanding array of visual input. It was through these experiences that Waseem first realized that fashion could actually be something more than a passion. It could develop into a vision and form the foundations of a career.
The Spirit of Egypt
Egypt and the world developed by Waseem’s generation are embodied in every aspect of his brand. Egypt is a land of contradictions, where something and its opposite can exist in the same space and moment without the feeling that it is out of place. A brand-new building can sit next to an abandoned one or a prince can walk right alongside a pauper. That contrasting blend of sights, sounds, and feelings can only come from Egypt.
In Egypt’s history, the Khedival period developed these contradictions into an art form, resulting in a unique theme and color palate that Waseem personally loves. One color that sticks out for him is the unique shades of olive green that were common in Egyptian antiques. It is both regal and common, exclusive and popular, and a product of a time where East and West came together to create a home-grown identity that defined their generation and those that came later.
Waseem also thinks that his generation was right at the cusp of a period of extraordinary change. When he was growing up in the 1980s, he and his colleagues were exposed to the wider world in small doses and had the ability and responsibility to create a mindset that was largely independent of outside influence. His earliest memories of television were watching black & white comedies from the greats like Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy. There was just enough input around him to get him started, but there so much more that was left to the imagination and gave his generation room to grow.
The following generation had a completely different task in front of them. They woke up and realized that the whole world, with its preconceptions, viewpoints, and cultural impact was right at their fingertips. Television, the internet, and social media give them all so many different influences, and it is the job of new generations to figure out how they are going to fit within that mix and find their own voice.
The Nature of Fashion
For Waseem, fashion is a combination of three worlds. One the one hand, it extends from the basic human need to clothe ourselves. Designers create things that people wear to fit a need, just like architects and construction workers create spaces that provide a place to live. More specifically, a fashion designer plays a role in creating the things people wear based on the culture and history of a particular time and place. Fashion is also about identity. It is a way that cultures can share with others and be transformed themselves. It is also about art. Fashion is probably the only place in the world where 1+1 can equal 3.
Combining these three things together requires a special balance struck between pure art and practicality, one that requires training and a set of skills honed over the course of a lifetime. Waseem’s role in fashion is almost a requirement of his nature. He has a viewpoint to get across, a world he wants to create and share with others, and it is as natural to him as breathing.
Waseem often feels that people have strayed from the base purpose of fashion and turned in a direction where fashion is about looking at the world through the eyes of how the wearer is judged. We are all interested in showing off and want to say “look at me” and what I’m wearing. We’re constantly worried about the opinions of others when we should be focused on pleasing the most important person of them all – the one staring back at us in the mirror.