Drawing on a quarter century spent in the heart of Cairo, 25-year-old jeweller Jude Benhalim looks to the history of Egyptian jewellery to shape her contemporary designs. Born and raised in Egypt, Jude, who is of Libyan/Syrian origin, mines the chaotic capital of Cairo for both culture and creativity, turning ancient tradition into modern accoutrements that feel current yet truthful to the past.
With a mother who worked in fashion and a father who is an architect, a career in the creative industries was somewhat inevitable, demonstrated in her designs, which fuse architectural shapes and abstract constructions with fashion and function. Taking Bazaar on a meandering journey through her beloved home city, Jude discusses the people and places that she loves and landmarks that have inspired her work.
Harper’s Bazaar Arabia: Where are you based in Cairo?
Jude Benhalim: I live in New Cairo City, with my family. It’s highly populated yet the compound we live in is very quiet. Both aspects are an inspiration to me and my work. I’m a city girl, so I love being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of this city, but I also love going back to a quiet home where I can recharge and brainstorm new ideas.
HBA: How does the city influence you and your work?
JB: Cairo has always been a very majestic city, busy and fast-paced. Kind of overwhelming at times, which is why I think my biggest inspiration comes from realising the great need to take a step back to noticing the small things in life, which are often the most beautiful. My last collection was inspired by the craze of the digital world and its rebellion. My newer collections, however, represent the beauty one can find in every tiny corner. Cairo has awakened an attention to detail in me and I’ve learned to see patterns in everything. The desert that embraces Egypt has been capturing my eye most recently.
HBA: Which areas fuel your creativity most?
JB: The beaches in Egypt have always been a major source of fuel for my outlook on art and life in general. I especially love the Red Sea beaches. I also love Sidi Heneish Beach on the north coast, which has beautiful still water and white sands.
HBA: From a cultural point of view, where do you look to in order to help drive your vision?
JB: Growing up I’ve always loved creating stuff, and doing arts and crafts, so I always knew I’d end up with a career that would feed my creative side. I like to describe the aesthetic of my work as a combination of contemporary art and Oriental Arabic craft, resulting in a young and modern take on traditional Egyptian jewellery. Art portrays the contemporary fresh twist integrated in my designs, and Arts-Mart Gallery is one of the best places in Cairo where people can go to admire and purchase Egyptian art made by leading or aspiring Egyptian artists. This truly inspires me and fuels my creative side, giving light to a lot of my designs.
HBA: Which building do you feel a true connection to?
JB: Growing up, my father would always take me to visit cities with him, so I learned to have an eye for architectural design. The location of Dakhli West El Balad in Downtown is the perfect portrayal of Egyptian art and architecture. I particularly admire the refinement and heritage of the building, with its high ceilings and deconstructed antiques.
HBA: Are there any places in Cairo that have helped define who you are?
JB: Yes, Khan El-Khalili bazaar, because it’s where I started my path in jewellery making eight years ago, and it’s where I still draw inspiration from. My workshop is situated in the bazaar and it is where all my designs come to life. I employ a talented team of female artisans and I feel very thankful to have given opportunities to women to help them realise their potential and to break societal limitations. What our society overlooks most of the time is that women have the creative capacity to embody Egyptian culture, heritage and craftsmanship and I love to help shed light on the work of artisans that is slowly dying in our technology-driven world.
HBA: Who do you turn to for inspiration when in Cairo?
JB: My mother and partner, Rana, who I share a huge part of my life with. It’s not your typical mother-daughter relationship. Not many people know this, but she is the main force behind the success of our brand. She pushes me beyond my comfort zone to reach my goals and expands my horizons more than I knew possible, yet at the same time she keeps me grounded.
HBA: How would you describe life in Cairo?
JB: It’s very unique. It pushes you to deliver your absolute best, because it’s always necessary to stand out. It’s also very humbling when you see so many people around you fighting and struggling to pursue their dreams. Life can get tough when you face the daily struggles of a third-world country like Egypt, but it makes every small accomplishment worthwhile.
HBA: And Egyptian women, what are you most proud of ?
JB: It’s been in their blood to be strong and empowering since the time of Nefertiti. Egyptian women have no bounds, providing for their families and excelling at all areas of their life with great strength and determination. Egyptians have always been pioneers in the region, challenging existing norms and fighting for equality, education and basic rights. It is truly inspiring.
HBA: If you could tell the world about Cairo, what would you say?
JB: That it’s warm, lively and cultural – a great city, filled with so much heritage. It has also amazing food and people with big, big hearts. Every day in Cairo is a new adventure.
Hotel: Villa Belle Epoque boutique hotel in Maadi
Restaurant: Mezcal in Zamalek
Place to relax: Home
Nature spot: Blue Lagoon Bay in Dahab, Sinai
Best fashion spot: Cairo malls
Top Insta spot: Moez Street in Khan El-Khalili
Dinner date: My fiancé at Olivo Pizzeria
Cultural spot: The Citadel
What to buy: Funky hookah flavours and the best mangos
Place that means the most to you: The Mohamed Ali Citadel
Icon: Umm Kulthum
Egyptian designer: Yasmine Yeya
Boutique: The Pop-Up Shop
From the September 2018 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia
Styling by AISHA YOUSSEF
Photography by MALAK EL SAWI