Egyptian Fashion Design Students Look to Heritage as They Face the Future
Egyptian fashion design students in university applied arts programmes are dedicated to achieving excellence in their craft, despite knowing they will face many challenges in the labour market.
In recent graduation projects, students in the fashion technology and design department of Benha University’s Faculty of Applied Arts sought to balance the present and heritage. Their projects found inspiration in designs of 1960s books and movies, which the students artistically shaped into contemporary clothing designs.
Some graduates of the department see their work as a message on the impact of literary and cinematic heritage on the academic and practical world.
Fashion Design Education
“Unfortunately, we do not have a fashion design culture. We are still faced with options for imported and ready-made clothes. I hope I will be able to change that attitude through my designs, so we can support our own culture.”Israa Eid A fashion-design student at Benha University’s Faculty of Applied Arts
For their graduation project, Israa Eid, Zainab El-Gammal, Zeyad Nabil and Nada Afifi combined contemporary ideas with motifs from Egypt’s cinematic and literary heritage after visiting an exhibition earlier this year of works by the artist and academic Sally Elzeiny.
The exhibition, called “The Scene”, featured paintings based on 1950s and ’60s literature, especially books that were turned into well-known movies. Elzeiny’s paintings drew on works by great writers such as Naguib Mahfouz, Taha Hussein, Abdel Quddous, and others.
Graduation projects are students’ last step before they get their bachelor’s degrees after five years of study, including a preparatory year, at Egypt’s Faculties of Fine and Applied Arts. At Benha University’s Faculty of Applied Arts, fashion technology and design is one of 14 departments.
In the first four academic years, students study the different types of clothing, like children’s, women’s, and men’s clothing, in addition to topics like designing patterns and shaping the mannequin.
They also study the properties of fabrics, caring for them, factory machines, production materials, design software, presentation and packaging methods, environment-friendly design, as well as various branches such as color science and psychology, and fashion and art history. In a course on clothing accessories, they study bag and shoe designs, the leather industry, and recycling.
The past academic year was dedicated to studying the design and implementation of special occasion clothing.
Inspired by Art that Reflects Heritage
In their graduation projects, students had to create designs inspired by works by contemporary artists that reflect Egyptian heritage, just as the paintings in Elzeiny’s exhibition did.
Israa Eid told Al-Fanar Media that she and the other students who collaborated with her were inspired by paintings that highlighted the fashions of mid-20th century Egyptian films.
Gallery: Fashion Students’ Designs
“We started imagining turning these paintings into scenes woven on dresses. We spent about two weeks in the initial sketches to test our perceptions,” she said. “We used different techniques on the dresses to employ the elements of paintings and their visual scenes, through printing, coloring techniques, fabric cuttings and installation.”
The students were keen to use raw fabrics, highlighting the variety of the films of that period of Egypt’s history, such as “The Beginning and the End” (1960), “Midaq Alley” (1963), “The Nightingale’s Prayer” (1959), “Cairo 30” (1966), and “I Am Free” (1958), among others. After completing the costumes, the students shot videos, using a model wearing their designs.
Sally Elzeiny, a professor of graphics at Helwan University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, describes the students’ graduation project as an interdisciplinary bridge of cooperation and inspiration between different branches of the arts.
“I am currently coordinating to display my paintings again. Next to them, we will display the sketches of students’ graduation projects that were inspired by the paintings, in appreciation of their professionalism.”Sally Elzeiny A professor of graphics at Helwan University’s Faculty of Fine Arts
The real gain, she said, is that students in their 20s approached and interacted with treasures of cinema and literature of the 1950s and ’60s.
“I am currently coordinating to display my paintings again,” Elzeiny told Al-Fanar Media. “Next to them, we will display the sketches of students’ graduation projects that were inspired by the paintings, in appreciation of their professionalism. This will also be their first display in an art gallery.”
Labour Market Challenges
The project is the first practical activity the students will include in their portfolios as they seek to join the labour market. While she is passionate about design, Eid confesses that design graduates face many challenges.
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“Unfortunately, we do not have a fashion design culture. We are still faced with options for imported and ready-made clothes,” she said. “I hope I will be able to change that attitude through my designs, so we can support our own culture by choosing designs that reflect our identity in a modern way.”
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