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Dina El Missiry: Fashion is Not Art and That's Fine

We sit down with fashion designer Dina El Missiry to discuss her latest collection, Art-to-Wear, which depicts contemporary Egyptian art pieces.

In a world where art and commercialism confound and non-art can often pass as a sincere attempt at artistic expression and therefore be labelled as art, Dina El Missiry is a pleasant anomaly. The journalist-turned-fashion designer has no illusions of grandeur – not for lack of confidence, achievements, stature or talent; she simply opts to see things for what they are.

"I'm not an artist," she said, giggling with sincere humility, in the middle of Zamalek's Art Talks, to the horror and shock of the gallery's highbrow and often pseudo-artistic denizens. They have all come to celebrate the unveiling of her latest collection, Art-to-Wear, where the work of Egyptian contemporary artists Hady Boraey, Guirguis Lotfy, Hossam Dirar, Eman Osama, and Riham El Saadany take sartorial form.

To the unrelenting originist, the art fundamentalist – which, let's face it, most art enthusiasts are – the idea of a work of art being replicated and reduced to a clothing line is an outrage; El Missiry might as well have committed a mortal art sin, the penalty for which is death by cerebral implosion from listening to a Donald Trump speech on infinite repeat. But this isn't a vacuous dilettante blowing daddy's money on her fashion brand, this is the designer whose first capsule collection, Nostalgia, left its indelible marks on every fashionista's Instagram with signature celebrity prints.  

So, caution and an Absolut Vodka martini are in order… Tell us about your educational background.

I majored in Mass Communication, Journalism, and Advertising, and I minored in Art at AUC.

How long have you been a fashion designer?

Just over a year. This is my fifth collection; the first one I did with the prints of celebrities, like Hind Rostom and Soad Hosny - figures from Egyptian pop culture history, basically. It was called Nostalgia and it was very successful. Then I did my spring collection, my summer collection, my Ramadan collection and this is the second capsule collection.

What did you do before that?

I was a journalist.

How did the Art-to-Wear collection come about and how did the artists feel about you using their art?

I have always been interested in art, and I wanted to do something about women, so I called Faten and Shireen [from Art Talks] to tell them about the idea and they loved it. I told them I wanted women on my blouses and clothes and they said they'd take care of the artists. They called the artists and apparently they loved it, so we started the paperwork, the copyrights, and the signing. And I started working.

The idea of Art-to-Wear in particular came about because I thought art is quite expensive and not everybody can afford a Hossam Dirar or a a Guirguis Lofty, so why not make people actually wear them and see them in the street and the buses and the malls and the cafes? They're very affordable; you don't have to go to an art gallery to see it. You can just see it in the street. So that's how the whole thing came about.So the inspiration behind the collection is mainly women?

This one. If this goes well, maybe we'll have other themes; maybe if this one goes well we'll explore things like abstract or men or sex or taboos. I don't know. Depends. We'll just have to see what we have in the market.

What does that say about Egypt's contemporary art scene?

Art Talks gave me a list of artists they worked with and I chose these artists in particular because I liked their work – it's very colourful, it's very vibrant. Each and every one of them I loved in particular; I love Hady Boraey, I love Guirguis Lotfy – I just love them! I love Hossam Dirar, I love him! This actually reminds me of something that happened; I didn't know Hossam Dirar in person, he takes my number and Whatsapps me and tells me, "Hi Dina, if you don't mind, can I see one of your pieces?" I said, "OK." So I send him the things - of course you know they don't look the same like the original paintings because I added some things. He sees it and doesn't answer, and I'm like, "Oh, God, he doesn't like it, probably!" I wait for an hour, two hours, and then after three hours, I text him back, "don't you like it?" So he says, "No, I love them, I love them!" And a lot of flowers and hearts and everything and smileys! [...] I was really scared he wouldn't like it because I completely changed his original painting. So apparently, he likes it.

How does your creative process go?

I don't know. I sleep at night, I dream of something, and then I wake up in the morning and people like Rasha [her manager] make it come true. She handles everything, really. I have no idea what I'm going to do next, but definitely something fun. Definitely. It has to be fun. This was fun for me.In terms of artists, who did you look up to during your formative years as an artist yourself? 

I'm not an artist, I'm just someone who happened to study some art at university; so yes, I have a background in art. Who do I like? I don't know, I like everyone; I like art in general – I like Barcelona, I like Gaudi's architecture and sculpture, I wrote a huge paper on Michelangelo. I don't know, I like beauty.

What would you say inspires you most?

You know where I like to go to get inspired? I like to go to old Cairo. I get inspired by the colours and the scents. I just love this very Egyptian feel – the colours, the scents, even people and what they wear, Aswan... some place like Anakato, this very colourful village there. I just like colours. Nothing in particular, just colours.

What is next for you? 

If this one goes well, maybe we'll branch out to the Gulf, maybe we can go to Europe. But I don't know, it depends.

What would you like your legacy as a fashion designer to be? 

Would you believe me if I told I have no idea what I'm going to do next? I don't want to leave a legacy, I'm just having fun; would you believe me if I tell you this? Do I sound stupid telling you this? I'm just having fun.

So you don't dream of 'revolutionising Egypt's fashion scene'?

Not really, I'm just having fun. Pure fun. I like colours, I like fabrics, I like new ideas. And as long as I can do this, I'm satisfied. I have no idea what I'm going to do next. I have nothing in mind.

Photo shoot by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.


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