Haute Couture Costume
Designer in Cairo
by Milena Miklos
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.
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.
tried on a costume that was awaiting its final touches. It was
like slipping on a magical glove, and its beauty was breathtaking.
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.
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.
commented that the animals of Egypt are different in nature
from those in America.
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.
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?”
about Hallah: www.hallahmoustafa.com
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