Nermine Said is a very interesting young artist. Like many of her Egyptian counterparts who never considered exploring only one artistic field, she has been designing theatre costumes for the past ten years and creating jewelry forever.
She invited me to her workshop–a vast office with navy blue walls, covered with paintings from floor to ceiling. In a corner, a fantastic collection of Fayoum dolls show off their exuberant shapes and flashy colors, while another nook bustles with bottled beads of every size and shade.
Nermine graduated from the American University in Cairo (AUC), where she majored in theatre, in 2000. She is currently working on a master’s degree in folk theatre at the Academy of Arts in Giza’s Haram district.
“I joined AUC believing that an art major would be created the following year,” confides Nermine. “But after a while, I realized this would remain a pipe dream–so I chose theatre instead, and have never regretted it.”
She goes on to explain how, as a result, she became acquainted with various aspects of theatre–from direction and acting to décor and costumes. Unsurprisingly, she developed a long-lasting passion for the latter.
“I was mesmerized by the costumes’ colors,” she explains. "And so I gradually learnt how to link a character’s personality to a specific color."
“It was in 1996 that I designed the first set of costumes for Tennessee Williams’ ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ which was performed at AUC,” Nermine recalls, noting that the play was set in 1940s America. “The women were wearing very simple and elegant outfits, mostly drape dresses and laces.”
Considerable research is necessary to come up with appropriate costumes. To make sure her costumes are suitable for the era in which the play is set, Nermine resorts to a number of different mediums.
“If I am to design costumes for an Egyptian play set in 1946, for example, I’ll watch all the movies that were produced that year, look for old family pictures and search through books,” she explains, adding that the Internet, too, is a valuable research tool. “Then I read the play–over and over–until I get an accurate idea of the characters’ personalities, at which point I picture them with the outfits and colors that match their characters.”
She then draws a costume sketch for each character, which she then submits to the director. “The director tells me which character he wants to focus on and which one will remain in the shadows," she says. "The choice of colors is then made accordingly."
Bold, courageous characters will benefit from dark or bright colors, Nermine explains, while less conspicuous characters are best served by light-blue or gray costumes.
“I remember designing costumes for the play “The Thief” by Tawfiq el-Hakim, the set of which was entirely done in black and white,” she says. "Some characters’ personalities were really dark at the beginning, but as the play unfolds, they become more joyous and the shade of their costumes lightens."
The whole process–from initial research to the completion of costumes–takes her an average of one month and a half, she says.
Despite her relative youth, Nermine has already worked on a dozen plays and is currently designing costumes for a Romanian troop in Bucharest. “The dress rehearsal is in April in Bucharest, so I’ll have to make the final alterations to the costumes then,” she explains.
Involuntarily touching her earrings–long enough to caress the base of her neck–Nermine moves on to her second passion: jewelry. “Although I’ve been making jewelry for a very long time, I never took it very seriously until now,” she says.
A few months ago, though, she decided it was high time to start working on a proper jewelry collection–this is how her “Movie Star” collection was born. She uses images of legendary Egyptian cinema icons, which she includes in her jewelry among colorful beads, buttons and crochet.
“I’m perfectly aware that icons–such as Omar el-Sharif, Ahmed Ramzy, Samia Gamal and Soad Hosny–have been widely used by Egyptian artists; the idea in itself is not new,” she admits. “But the novelty lies in what can be done with these icons: inserting them in necklaces and earrings, for example, is new.”
The notion of including cinema stars in her collection, however, came late in the creative process. “At first I simply worked with buttons, as their shapes and colors were very attractive to me,” she recalls.
Delicately seizing a long necklace featuring a picture of Soad Hosny, she draws my attention to a small piece of woven fabric worked into the necklace. “This is called an ‘oya,’" she explains. "Women in the Egyptian countryside used to sew them on to the rim of their headscarves.”
According to Nermine, the art of the “oya” has largely disappeared–only the old women of the Nile Delta province of Damietta still keep the tradition alive. “For me, it’s very important to integrate pieces into my collection from Egyptian folklore,” Nermine concludes.
Nermine Said will showcase her “Movie Star” collection on 19 March in the Spring Bazaar, organized by the Swiss Club in Cairo.