20 - 26 June 2002
Issue No. 591
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Enchanted afternoon

Rasha Hassan steps into the world of Dior

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l-r: Brigitte Lefebvre, Dior's Middle East representative; Peruvian hat, gladiator crest and yeti boots; new proportions for men's fashions
Peruvian hats with gladiator crests, Yeti fur boots, suede stilettos adorned with pom-poms, denim bags, short and long hems, dresses, skirts and trousers in riotous colours, there is something for everyone in the Dior ready-to-wear, Autumn-Winter 2002-2003 collection.

Looking at the models striding down the catwalk, to the strains of Jeremy Healy's music, their hair coiffed in amazing styles by Orlando Pita, I found myself thinking of jaguars, Amazonian birds with fantastic feathers, Roman soldiers, Inca royalty, Asiatic princesses and Mogul horsemen. "You can be anything you want," the clothes said.

Starting in January this year, it has been officially possible to import Dior clothes into Egypt. Brigitte Lefebvre, Dior's Middle East representative, told Al -Ahram Weekly that Dior accessories, bags, shoes, watches, glasses, perfumes and beauty products had been available for some time. At a press conference and luncheon she gave at La Bodega in Zamalek on 12 June, Mrs Lefebvre welcomed Mrs F Doppfer, wife of the French ambassador to Egypt and members of the Egyptian and Arab press. She treated them to a film show of the March Paris défilé of Dior's ready-to-wear clothes for the next season.

Before the show, Brigitte, dressed in simple black with a bright Dior jacket, spoke to us in Arabic. She introduced us to the Dior family in Egypt: the Gassers, agents for Dior watches; Ashraf Abdel-Meguid and his wife, agents for spectacles and sunglasses; Hala Ibrahim, training manager and Tarek Mouawwad, marketing manager for Dior perfumes. Brigitte told us that John Galliano, who had taken the helm at the fashion house in 1997, had been entrusted by Bernard Arnault of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH) to interpret Dior's style and make it relevant to modern times. Hedi Slimane was appointed design director for men's fashions in the year 2000 and Victoire de Castellane, jewellery designer since 1998, was responsible for a range of products that was full of fantasy, poetry and femininity. At the end of her speech, Brigitte showed us the new bag "Street Chic". Introducing the film, she said that it would provide a glimpse of new trends whose ethnic inspiration had come from Russia and Latin America. Materials and colours were blended with fantasy accessories. Rib-knitted hip wraps made it easy to turn short dresses into long ones.

When Christian Dior presented his very first collection, in February 1947, his philosophy was apparent and it corresponded with that of the women of his time. He conceived the "New Look" which, according to the fashion press, allowed women to become feminine again. His clothes made elegant women beautiful and beautiful women elegant. Galliano is carrying on the tradition of expressing the feelings of the age. At a time when e-communications have brought the world into everyone's home, he is showing us how we can dress stylishly and comfortably by mixing and matching each other's clothes.

Prior to the show, Hala Ibrahim told the Weekly about the Dior creams and perfumes that were available in Egypt. She said, "A number of products are on the market and there are more waiting to be registered. Every product has to be officially approved and this sometimes causes delays, still the full range is becoming available, slowly but surely."

Speaking about Dior's eye-wear, Ashraf Abdel-Meguid said, "The latest Dior sunglasses and spectacles can often be seen on the market in Egypt before they are available anywhere else. People here appreciate the new, lightweight designs."

Lunch in the newly decorated, Asian-French style La Bodega restaurant, was delicious. The dessert was strawberry pastry with the name "Dior" traced in red syrup on the plate, ensuring that everybody came away with their share of glamour.

After lunch Brigitte told the Weekly why she was based in Cairo. "For personal reasons," she said. "I am married to an Egyptian. And Egypt is 'Om A-Donia' [Mother of the World]. It has tremendous influence in the region. It is easy to travel throughout the Middle East from Cairo. I have been to the Gulf, including Dubai, several times."

Brigitte said, "Before, Dior had agents, but it has now changed its strategy and is running its shops itself. Christian Dior brought the 'New Look' to women after the war. He gave them hope and glamour at a time of deprivation. The fashion house has been associated with older, more mature women, for some time, but Galliano has widened its appeal and it is now for women, and men of all ages. He says: 'Here are some ideas, take your pick, choose your own style, whatever your age.'"

Talking about the new collection, Brigitte said it had energy and colour and was inspired by many cultures. It blended printed and striped designs and it used cotton, eel-skin, chiffon, wool, denim, velvet, brocade, silk, tulle and lace.

Brigitte spoke about the way Egypt and France had influenced each other throughout the ages. She said that Dior's dress named "Cairo" was presented at his first Paris fashion show and Galliano's 1997-98 "Nuda Veritas" was unveiled at Beit Al-Harrawi in Cairo, in May 2001. They were both made out of telli, an ancient Egyptian cotton and silver fabric.

"The relationship is profound," she said. "Egyptians appreciate the French and vice versa. Ancient Egyptian styles and make-up have influenced the French and France has been the world's fashion leader since the 18th century. There has always been an exchange."

Brigitte mentioned that the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina had a museum housing the relics which had recently been found underwater, off Alexandria. There was a statue of Isis wearing a gown which had been draped across her body, with an Isis knot at one shoulder. The sculptor had achieved delicacy, transparency and movement. "A very modern look," she said.

Leaving La Bodega at sunset, the guests seemed to spring lightly down the stairs like jungle felines. They strode out into the street with strength and grace. Were those gladiator headdresses flowing down their backs? The glowing faces of the people outside seemed to reflect the new and wonderful colours of their plumage. They could reinvent themselves, any time. That was what the show was about.

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