Embracing, Ethnicity and Culture
Known for her exuberant collections that reminisce the golden days and celebrate our colourful present, Dina El Missiry smoothly renders the textures and hues of our surroundings into unique designs that stand out in the crowd. Her most recent collection, ‘Bohemian Vagabond’, is a pleasant blend of vintage and ethnic apparel, boasting both warm and vibrant shades that beautifully complement the simple floral and geometric patterns. El Missiry opens up to (in)sight’s Mayar El-Shamy about how her journey started, her brand’s policy on animal cruelty, and what she’s working on right now.
When and how did you realise fashion design was your passion?
I have been passionate about it since I was in school. I had my own sketch book and I knew how to draw, so I would doodle designs. I wanted to pursue fashion design as a career, but back then there weren’t specialised schools in Egypt. The only option was to travel; however, my dad was strict about living abroad, so I had to stay. I studied Mass Communication instead, but continued to sketch out designs and make clothes for myself, and sometimes for my friends.
You were previously a journalist before you shifted careers. Could you tell us more about what pushed you to making that decision?
I was a journalist for ten years before I shifted careers. I had my own column in one of the country’s most read magazines, and it was an experience I really enjoyed. I had a lot of fun, made lots of friends as well as business acquaintances, and it did shape who I am today. It exposed me to different cultures because we used to cover a variety of topics, both locally and internationally. It helped broaden my horizons and made me more culturally aware of my surroundings.
Wearers of your brand usually find your attire artistically expressive; yet you have denounced seeing yourself as an artist…
At university, I minored in art. I paint and draw very well, so I basically do deem my designs artistic, each in its own way, but I wouldn’t label myself an artist simply because that’s not my profession. I am mainly a designer who employs art in the process and sometimes collaborates with artists.
‘Bohemian Vagabond’ is a beautifully colourful collection with ethnic undertones. What inspired it?
It was inspired by this year’s trends: all the florals and hues alongside the location where we had the fashion shoot. I was at a yoga retreat there before I got the idea for that collection. It’s a beautiful place in the desert – an agro-farm. When I was there, I kept thinking about my coming collection. I saw all these colourful walls and doors, and this inspired me to use my own vibrant tones. I went home and started sketching before I bought the fabrics, and all of these processes reflected the colours I had in mind. The patterns were mainly floral, although some geometric shapes were also included. ‘Bohemian Vagabond’ is mainly a very dynamic collage of different vibrant hues. It’s a very radiant collection.
So far, do you consider any of your collections your magnum opus?
No. I still have lots of ideas to execute. Each collection is very dear to me; they’re like my babies! I do know that the coming ones will be better and better, so I’m hoping the upcoming collection will be more impressive. So to answer your question, I think my magnum opus has yet to come.
What is your policy on the use of real fur and leather?
I love animals. I think having animals endure such torturous processes to extract their fur and skin is very brutal. My fabrics are mostly made of cottons, wools and silks; and I don’t think that the garments I produce are less attractive without the use of fur and leather, which I try to avoid using.
We noticed Dina ElMissiry Designs recruits diverse models from a myriad of ethnic backgrounds – which is a hopeful aberration from many other Arab fashion retailers. Is this intentional? What’s your take on that?
I think beauty is everywhere and in every race. As Arabs, we’re always bombarded with stereotypically Eurocentric beauty standards – your usual blonde girl with blue eyes and fair skin. Recruiting diverse models subverts these standards and helps promote beauty in every ethnicity. So yes, I do this intentionally because I try to show that we can appreciate other skin tones, hair colours and ethnicities.
What do you think the Egyptian fashion scene is missing? What have we yet to learn?
The Egyptian fashion scene is heavily lacking when it comes to the production process. We lack the raw materials of accessories and fabrics that many of us are compelled to use. I have to import a lot of my material from Beirut and Dubai. When it comes to execution, we have very good photographers, choreographers, and models, so that’s not an issue. The difficulty lies in the needed materials for a seamless production, as well as the issue of marketing. We don’t have the means to market ourselves. If you look at the Emirates, they have the Dubai Design District, where designers are promoted and encouraged. It’s a hub where designers are granted the needed environment to work and display their designs. We don’t have anything like this here, instead designers work individually and don’t have the chance to be sponsored, which makes it very difficult to work in such a field here. But we’re trying and I think we’re doing a great job, and have managed to garner very supportive customers. I believe we will eventually reach that international level soon, but until that happens, it’s a bit challenging.
How would you describe a woman who wears Dina ElMissiry Designs?
Well, I love that woman! [Laughs] I would describe that person as someone who is very confident because not everybody is daring enough to wear Egyptian-made garments. A lot of people still have the mind-set that makes them think they have to wear international designer clothes, or at least imported clothes to be considered fashionable. So this isn’t just something exclusive to my designs; wearing any Egyptian brand requires this kind of confidence to break the cycle. I would add that she’s someone who’s willing to experiment with a lot of patterns, colours, and a lot of my bling-bling touches, since I use embroidery. She’s also very feminine and very sure of what she wants.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Anywhere, anything and anyone. I can get inspired by a painting, a coloured wallpaper, or a piece of fabric. Sometimes, I even buy fabric which I have no idea what I’m going to do with. I just make sure I like the colour, and I let it inspire me and give me ideas on what to do with it. However, I don’t do this often. Usually, I start with sketching before I decide on what materials to use, but sometimes I really get inspired by a hue or a colour scheme, maybe a classic movie. Pretty much anything with a hint of art or hint of pigment can inspire me – anything that’s beautiful. Sometimes it’s the colour of the sea, other times it’s just a picture on Instagram. There are no limits to a particular source.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m carrying out some preparations for my summer collection. My spring collection was out last February, my Ramadan collection was launched in Ramadan; and now I’m working on my beach and summer collection. It’s very beachy, cheerful and light; it reflects the sun, the sea, the tanned skins, and the fun we have in summer. I just think it’s very optimistic and ebullient in appearance. I think visually, it will make people happy.