Dolphina and I have known each other for years. We came up together in the Los Angeles belly dance scene and shared many fun and memorable times! Back when I was a baby dancer, I never thought belly dance would become my career, let alone that I would have my own belly dance costume line, made in Egypt…but Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile made it’s debut in September 2011.
Every piece of my costume line is hand made in Egypt, at the King Of The Nile atelier in Giza. King Of The Nile is well-known among belly dancers for their quality and service, and I am so proud to be working directly with the company’s president, Yaz Taleb, who is not only a great partner, but has taught me so much about the process of costume-making. My first collection includes five belly dance costumes, all vintage-inspired, which are based on my own original, self-made costumes, as well as five hip scarves and some class-wear sets.
The different designs pull from the costuming of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. I took elements and ideas from Edwardian-era Orientalist photo postcards and Turkish cigarette packs, as well as from some of the fabulous film costumes worn by Golden Age Egyptian favorites like Naima Akef, Samia Gamal and Tahiyya Carioca.
My costume line started in a crazy way… but also in a very natural way. I have known Yaz Taleb for years, and used to model his costumes. In 2010, we were emailing each other, because I was going to Cairo for the Ahlan WA Sahlan Dance Festival. I promised to bring him some items that are not available in Egypt.
During our correspondence, Yaz asked where my costumes came from, commenting that many of them were unique. I replied that I got them everywhere…. some new, some used, Egyptian as well as Turkish stage wear, and that I designed and made a lot of my own costumes. Then Yaz requested that if he sent pictures of my costumes, would I please tell him where each one came from? Since we were already good friends, I said yes.
It turned out that the five pictures he sent to me were all my own designs… and so he offered me a partnership as a costume designer!
Over the years, many dancers have admired my costumes, and asked if it would be possible for me to make costumes for them. Because of my hectic schedule, this was always impossible- it takes me weeks if not months to complete a costume for myself.
I really wanted to make costumes for people, but I love dancing too much to be able to devote the time to making stage wear for others. But in the back of my mind, I fantasized about it.
I’d always wished I could have what they have in Egypt - a whole staff of people making my designs, and doing stonework and beading them…but of course, I never thought this would ever happen. Because I go to Egypt so frequently, I know all of the major costume designers, and naturally, I am a return customer. But I never thought to approach any of them with the possibility of making my own costumes, because when you think about it, that would have been as ridiculous as if I approached Gucci or Prada and asking if I could design a line of clothes for them!
However, when Yaz took the initiative and approached me, and I didn’t have to think twice about saying yes!
This whole process has been very hard work, but also extremely rewarding. Yaz and I began working on the designs right away, the moment I arrived in Cairo, in June of 2010. With my co-tour leader Zahra Zuhair, I was bringing 17 belly dancers on their first trip to Egypt. We were taking the gals sight-seeing all over Cairo, and I was also taking classes, teaching classes and performing at Ahlan Wa Sahlan… and then running over to Yaz’s atelier to work on the costume proto-types. I swear I didn’t sleep for two weeks! With jet lag thrown into the mix, it was utter insanity- but still, we somehow managed to get work done.
Later in 2010, Yaz came to Los Angeles and we worked on the line again, finalizing my sketches, measuring and photographing my existing costumes. But in LA, we didn’t have his staff to make up any prototypes, so what we could do was limited. Early in 2011, I tried to get to Egypt work with him again, but the Egyptian Revolution and Osama Bin Laden’s capture and death got in our way- my family didn’t want me to travel to the Middle East during the unrest, and I didn’t blame them!
Zahra and I cancelled our 2011 tour, but in the end, I decided I had to get to Cairo solo, not just to attend Ahlan Wa Sahlan, but because I really, REALLY wanted to finish my costume line! So, once again, during Ahlan WA Sahlan, Yaz and I worked together. Again, we got a lot done, but the learning curve has been steep for both of us!
There were a number of operational barriers Yaz and I both needed to surmount in the launching of this costume line. To begin with, I don’t speak Arabic fluently, and Yaz’s employees don’t speak English… like…at all! Every question regarding something minor like the length of a piece of fringe or the placement of a crystal became a game of charades, a flurry of sketches, or took three times as long to get answered, with Yaz acting as the interpreter.
One morning on our way to buy fabric at Khan Al Khalili, Yaz and I got stuck in a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration in Tahrir Square. Luckily, we were in his car and the demonstration wasn’t violent, but when Yaz requested that I take my scarf and cover my hair with as we slowly drove through the crowd, I complied immediately!
Another time, Yaz left the atelier to get us some lunch. I was left alone with one of his beading ladies. Grabbing my camera to get some pictures of the work in progress, I pantomimed to her that I was going to take a photo. She shook her finger at me as though I was a naughty child. I figured that maybe she was just modest and didn’t want to be in the picture, so I politely let it go.
When Yaz returned, she ran into his office and stayed for a lengthy amount of time. I could hear them having a discussion in Arabic behind the closed door. When they finally emerged from their conference, Yaz came out smiling, took me aside and said,
“ You are going laugh so hard at what she just told me… she said ‘ That lady is taking pictures of your designs and she is trying to steal them!’ She doesn’t believe that you are the designer!”
And between our trips to Cairo and Los Angeles, Yaz and I worked together via the Internet, chatting, emailing, and sending sketches and photos back and forth. We were able work together remarkably well this way, but everything was steep learning curve for both of us. I knew nothing about making costumes for other people- only for myself. The concept of sizing them proportionately, not to mention mass manufacturing them is something I never dreamed have and had no idea how to go about doing.
Yaz had no idea about my creative process-how I thought up my designs or the way I chose which colors to use. He didn’t have the advantage of getting input from Western dancers on what they liked- or didn’t like- about Egyptian costumes. We both learned a lot from each other! I also have to thank his wonderful wife Julie, and daughter Amerah profusely for all their help! Any time Yaz questioned a design choice I made, Julie and Amerah would come in as The Cool Girly Squad and set him straight on what women want!
Finally, the costumes got done, and shipped to the USA for their debut at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive in September 2011… but as soon as I started to track the shipping boxes, all that came up was:
“ALL INTERNATIONAL PACKAGES DELAYED INDEFINATELY DUE TO HURRICANE IRENE”
I was panicking-but finally, they arrived.
The debut of the line at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive was amazing. During the festival, we hosted three fashion shows, and provided a custom-made costume as part of the grand prize for the first-place winner of the “So You Think You Can Belly Dance” competition, Andalee of Northern California. The costumes sold like hotcakes!
It was incredible- on a personal as well as professional level- seeing my costumes on real live dancers, not mannequins! I seriously had to wipe away tears of joy and disbelief. Seeing famous dancers like Aradia trying on my costumes had me beaming, and Vegas-based dancer Farasha (also one of my models) bought my Ghazal costume and wore it during her performance at the after-party...that was about as big of a compliment as I could have hoped for.
Each design I created is done with a few color options, and made in a variety of sizes. One of the most frequently-heard laments about belly dance costumes which I’ve heard over the years is that it is extremely difficult to find pretty costuming for women who wear larger sizes…and I want women of all builds to be able to wear my costumes and feel lovely in them!
The designs also will be available for custom order so, if you liked a certain style but wanted a different type of skirt, you wouldn’t just have to wish for it, you could have it. My costumes feature heavy antique-looking lace, which I picked out myself, in Cairo. And of course, they’re decorated with large rhinestones and that wonderful hand-done Egyptian beadwork.
The Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile collection also includes chiffon hip scarves edged with crochet and beads or coins, with some really cute and original (dare I say hip?) Designs-taken from my own sketches-, which are embroidered on them in metallic thread. Some are tricked out with gorgeous, drool-worthy metallic trim Yaz bought in Saudi Arabia. There are also some stretch velvet class wear sets with midriff tie-tops and matching hip scarves. Both pieces come with unique sequin decorations on them, and the hip scarves will have fringe and/or beads… believe me, though, they are nothing like what you have seen before!
Click here to watch Princess Farhana's Fashion show video!