By: Anum Khan
Gizelle Begler, born and raised in the US to an Egyptian mother, arrived in Cairo last year and has already shaken up the fashion world in the Middle East. Her gowns have been featured alongside Cairo’s biggest designer names at fashion venues such as the Four Seasons and Intercontinental Hotel at City Stars. She not only has a degree from Cornell in fashion under her self-made belt, but experience working in couture in Italy. She spends hours in local souks to handpick all fabrics to be used for her bridal and evening dresses. While the average Egyptian may not know the difference between real silk and half-pure silk, Gizelle is emotionally unable to replicate the polyester dresses that fill most of the bridal shops in Cairo—and still, her prices are fairly reasonable.
Gizelle, like most newly established entrepreneurs, takes on multiple roles with the highest professionalism. On any day, Gizelle can be found choosing material at the fabric market (wakala), organizing photo shoots for her latest designs, setting up dresses at a bridal show and meeting with clients until late into the evening. She works with sewers and pattern makers that have distinct personalities and puts up with the bickering between them, that she finds all the more amusing. They fight about which sewing machine to use as well as whose music; radio drama or Qur’an should be playing.
This fashion designer came to Cairo because she recognized the demand for custom-made bridal and evening gowns in the Middle East. She decided to set up her base in Cairo because Gizelle is familiar with Egyptian culture and understands what Arab women want. Since fashion design as a profession is relatively new in the Middle East, Gizelle faces the challenge of convincing clients that she is not a seamstress, nor tailor. She does not copy pictures, torn from magazines, which is the way that Egyptians have been accustomed to operating for the last century—Gizelle is an artist with a vision. As a designer, she aspires to make something that represents herself an artist, but also reflects the client’s taste and personality.
In her interview with Elan Magazine, Gizelle talked about the desperate need for female empowerment. She hopes she can inspire other women to travel abroad for school or work. She describes the reactions Egyptians give her when she tells them she goes to the Friday market and haggles with shopkeepers, or interviews 200 sewers and patternmakers, solo. They ask her why she does not have a man to help her and are even more surprised when they find out she created and handles Gizelle Couture by herself. Gizelle does not see this type of response as a discouragement, but an opportunity to show other women that men are not standing in their way.
In a deeper discussion about gender in Egypt, Gizelle says men may underestimate women’s strengths and abilities because they are not used to seeing independent women. Gizelle says, “A woman is not encouraged to leave Egypt and work for instance, as doctor or start a business in a foreign country. No one is holding them back, but also no one is pushing them forward.” She says that culture encourages women to take the easy road, where getting married, thinking about where to live in Cairo and being supported by the husband becomes the priority and expectation, in lieu of encouraging women to grow as individuals and develop their minds. As a single female entrepreneur in Egypt, both her clients and workers are impressed by Gizelle’s abilities and talents, but never once was she told she is unable to do something because she is a woman. Within the next five years, Gizelle hopes to have a stable and respected business where she is also able to help inspire and empower women to travel and start their own businesses abroad.
Find Gizelle Couture on Facebook: Like her Facebook page