Thursday, August 11, 2011
INTRODUCING PRINCESS FARHANA FOR KING OF THE NILE: BELLY DANCE COSTUMES DESIGNED IN HOLLYWOOD...MADE IN EGYPT!
DRUM ROLL PLEASE….
I am so excited to make this announcement! I have a line of original belly dance costumes and class wear which will be available this fall-in just a few weeks, actually…. Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile will be making its world debut at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, September 8-12, 2011!
My partner Yaz Taleb and I are unbelieveably thrilled to be debuting our line at the LVBDI this year, and I can’t think of a better event for our coming-out party. During the festival, we will be hosting three fashion shows, and we’re also providing 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.
You can find out about how all of this came to be in a few paragraphs, but first let me tell you about the costumes themselves!
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 will include five belly dance costumes, all vintage-inspired, which are based on my own original, self-made costumes. 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.
For Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile, I tried to blend that elegant retro feeling with some modern elements for a timeless look, something that couldn’t really be pinned down to any one time period or genre of belly dance. A couple of the costume designs would be considered be straight-up cabaret style, but some of them will be suitable for Vintage Orientale or even Dark Fusion- I wanted the collection to be diverse, and wearable for multiple purposes.
Each design I created will be 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 perhaps, 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. Like most belly dance costumes today, mine are primarily made of Lycra and chiffon, but they also feature heavy antique-looking lace, which I picked out myself, in Cairo and in the garment district of Los Angeles. And of course, they’ll all be 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 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!
I will be hosting fashion shows for the line at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, featuring dancers of all shapes and sizes as my models. Here is the show schedule:
Saturday, September 10: 12:28 PM in the Main Room
Sunday, September 11: 12:28 and 3:00pm, in the Main Room
So, maybe you’re wondering exactly how this all came about?
It started in a crazy way… but also in a very natural way. I have known Yaz for years, and used to model his costumes. In 2010, we were in frequently emailing each other, because I was going to Cairo for the Ahlan WA Sahlan Festival. I had promised to bring him some items that are not readily available in Egypt – mundane things like Levi jeans and taco shells, if you must know the truth.
During the course of our correspondence, Yaz asked me where my costumes came from, commenting that he thought many of them were unique. I replied that I got them everywhere…. some were new, some used, I wore Egyptian as well as Turkish stage wear, and of course 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, from cabaret to tribal to fusion and burlesque, have admired my costumes, and many 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, so I had to decline. I have actually had women in line waiting for me to sell used costumes- some gals own three or four of my used self-made costumes and other dancers have requested dibbs on the option to buy one of my costumes the moment I first wore it!
I really would have loved 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 satisfied return customer. But I never, ever thought to approach any of them with the possibility of making my own costume line, 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. Earlier this year, 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 simple question regarding something minor like the length of a piece of fringe or the placement of a crystal became a grandiose 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, believe me, I complied immediately!
Another time, Yaz left the atelier to get us all 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 picture. She immediately frowned and 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 broadly, took me aside and said in a low voice,
“ 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 have been working together via the Internet, chatting, emailing, and sending sketches and photos back and forth. Thankfully, modern technology has made this possible, and we have been able to work together remarkably well this way, but this has been a steep learning curve for both of us. We both realized that we don’t know much about each other’s fortes. I know 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 has, and had no idea how to go about doing. On Yaz’s part, he had no idea of my creative process-or how I thought up my designs or the way I chose which colors to use. He also didn’t have the advantage of getting input from Western dancers on what they liked- or didn’t like- about Egyptian costumes. We have both learned a lot from each other, and will continue to learn… and 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!
I am planning on spending a lot more time in Cairo, and am already making designs for next year’s collection, which will include a lot of work in Assuit.
Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile is a dream come true for me, and it’s only fitting that the collection will be debuting at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, where last year, to the shock and delight of the crowd, I lived out another dream of mine- getting sawed in half onstage last year!
I hope you can make it to Las Vegas this September – LVBDI is a truly amazing festival, and of course, I want to play dress up with you and see you in my new creations!
Our "real" website will be live and operative in a few weeks, but the meantime, please visit my Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile Facebook page here: http://tinyurl.com/3pekbw4 and hit the “Like” button. I will love you for it!
For more information on The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, please visit: http://www.bellydanceintensive.com/
Top; "Warda" by Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile bra
Middle: "Ghazal" by Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile
Bottom: A close-up of some royal bling-bling from "Malika" by Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile