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Gilded Serpent presents...
A Meeting with
Hallah Moustafa,

Haute Couture Costume Designer in Cairo
by Milena Miklos

I recently met the haute couture costume designer and bellydance instructor Hallah Moustafa during a trip to Cairo. I’d heard there was an American costume-maker living in Cairo, but her clients prefer to keep her name a secret. However, just days before leaving, I discovered her name from a letter from the Gilded Serpent website and put two and two together. I promptly e-mailed her and learned that she was, unfortunately for me and my plans, very busy and under pressure from select customers. But, when I reached my hotel in Cairo and one of my roommates said she was a friend of Hallah’s, I happily shared the taxi fare to Hallah’s flat in Giza for a visit.

We found Hallah placing sequins on a skirt and watching over her table of workers in her 5th floor workshop. Immediately, my ear cued to her American accent, which is a rarity around Cairo. Hallah is a pleasant woman of medium stature with cropped white hair and clear blue eyes that reflect an inner resilience and sensitivity. Her workshop is modest, with sketches and photos of haute couture selections taped on the walls. Supplies and material were on shelves and a large worktable.

I tried on a costume that was awaiting its final touches. It was like slipping on a magical glove, and its beauty was breathtaking.

Later, we retreated to Hallah’s residential flat directly below on the 4th floor. Over grapes and 7-Up, which were most welcome after being scorched by the Egyptian sun since arrival, we talked about the Cairo bellydance scene, met her Egyptian cat, Mao, and poured over her sketchbook of designs. The sketches reflected a rare femininity, grace, and beauty appeal in layers. Hallah also showed us several pairs of jeans that she had also beaded and sequined. As it turns out, Hallah has clientele in Country Western wear as well.

Author with Hallah

The next week, we visited Hallah again and found cardboard and packaging to a small refrigerator strewn in her living room. Despite specific instructions in Arabic to unplug the refrigerator and wait before cleaning it, the maid had taken a knife to the freezer and fileted the freon system. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as just days before Hallah had used her savings to purchase an Egyptian horse. Hallah has a lifelong love of horses since reading about them as a little girl and being raised with them in Northwestern Washington State. One of the horses on her father’s ranch was a full-blooded Egyptian Arabian stallion. His name was Gai Indi, which translates to “I have come.” The stallion was the only horse to part with the herd and listen to the music Hallah played as a girl. Hallah dreamt of Egypt since those days as a child.

She commented that the animals of Egypt are different in nature from those in America.

They are raised with a family, in or near the home, or on the streets of Cairo. They live under the stark energy of the Egyptian sun. While you see many ancient statues of Gods with human bodies and the heads of animals, in modern time it's as if the animals have their natural bodies and the minds of humans. As we talked and Hallah refitted the costume I’d previously tried on. Mao the cat caught the bottom edge of the skirt and wrestled with it. He had an eye for fine fashion, too.

Hallah plans to remain in Cairo and continue her work. If you plan on visiting Cairo or run into trouble there, she offers assistance to dancers and visitors. It can be an intimidating city, especially if one is naïve to the customs, rules, and the costs of good and services. So if you are going, consider e-mailing Hallah or keeping her contact information handy (her website link is below). Bring her a book or novel if you feel inclined as these are hard to find items in Egypt. If you are interested in a costume, keep in mind that these are no “off-the-rack” items. They are one-of-a-kind works of art, and it is best to be fitted in person. Hallah’s haute couture background and qualifications are stated on her website and I’d recommend reading them. I asked Hallah if she was considered retiring, but her response was clear: “Why would anyone want to retire when they’re doing what they love?”

More about Hallah:

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