Okhtein, which mean ‘Sisters’ in Arabic, is an Egyptian brand created by the Abdelraouf sisters; Aya and Mounaz. The design duo launched the brand in 2013 to address a gap within the Egyptian luxury market. That is, the need to promote the refinement of Egyptian artistry in their home country and on the international stage. To honour this, Okhtein produces locally. Moreover, each product has a ‘unique provenance with deep cultural associations’.
Aya and Mounaz, who were born and raised in Cairo, began their captivation with fashion at an early age. Their grandmother played a major role in developing their tastes and perceptions concerning fashion. The sisters would comb through clothes their grandmother had kept from the 1960s and 70s, which made a fashionable impression.
Later on, they would enrol at the American University of Cairo where Aya majored in communication and media arts with digital arts and design. On the other hand, Mounaz chose art and marketing. A talented painter, she has had her work exhibited at galleries in Paris and Egypt. While Aya’s style can be describes as a juxtaposition of edgy and classic styles, and Mounaz is more Boho chic, the two are on the same page when it comes to their love for luxury bags.
For the Culture
It all started with the ‘Palmette Minaudière’ and ‘Palmette backpack’; the brand’s flagship models. Also known as a box clutch, the Minaudière is based on the original box clutch made in 1934 by French Jewellery, Watch And Perfume Company, Van Cleef and Arpels. According to an article by Arab News, ‘Charles Arpels was inspired by watching Florence Gould, the third wife of famed casino owner Franck Jay Gould, toss her personal belongings in a tin box.’ The use of Palmette in the name is also significant as the palmette flower is a decorative motif that dates back to ancient Egypt.
In fact, all their pieces are infused with cultural associations that accentuate Cairo’s heritage. For instance, the doorknobs on Moez Street influenced the pierce-like adornments on the geometric minaudières found in the SS’18 ‘Soul Handles’ collection. In addition, ornate Islamic-inspired patterns have been used in pieces such as the Aziza shoulder bag.
The AW17 collection, named ‘The Nubian Pharaoh’, was inspired by two worlds. There’s the Nubian women and their appreciation of interesting jewellery. Not to mention their cultural admiration of colour. Additionally, Okhtein expressed Islamic roots via the bag’s silhouette.
The Philanthropy Aspect
Besides endorsing the cultural value of Egyptian craftsmanship, this luxury brand is also committed to giving back. They achieve this by promoting innovative and neocentric design on an international scale. Equally important is their support of skilled female workers who fuse intricate finishes such as tassels, hardware, as well as, handmade embroidery and straw to their leatherwork and clean line. Through collaboration with local NGOs, they help many gifted crafters who unfortunately face substantial financial adversities.
From ornate minaudières and belt bags, to shoulder and hand bags, Okhtein’s creations have gained a following at home and on the international stage. Celebrities such as Emma Watson, Tracee Ellie Ross, Emma Roberts, Kris Jenner, and Beyoncé have been spotted with their signature designs.
Aya and Mounaz created Okhtein to firstly, highlight the local craftsmanship and secondly, to present novel and fresh concepts to the world stage. Their endearing and ultra-feminine design is easily recognized the world over, showing that a Made in Egypt concept is not only possible but can, without a doubt, become synonymous with luxury.