Spotlight: Monaleza of Cairo

An exclusive interview with Fanoos Magazine *Translating and paraphrasing done by Monaleza’s daughter-in-law Arielle and her son Eslam. Arielle: “How long have you been designing and selling bellydance costumes?”

Monaleza: “For 20 years. I first started making costumes for folklore, like Fellahi and Eskanderany and gradually started making more complex costumes for oriental dance. I always felt that God gave me the gift of art and creativity. I always wanted to make beautiful things in my life but wasn’t sure how to put this gift into action. Even as a young girl, I would put materials and colors together for fun. I had no idea I would one day be a designer. I actually started work as a designer of clothing before costumes. I would design dresses and things for actors on television. I would watch all of these shows and movies and think, “I can make something better and more unique.” I started these businesses from zero. I was poor

and worked hard at other jobs to pay for the materials for costumes. I did this all as a wife and mother of 3 sons. My mother and sisters would help watch the children when I would go to work. One of my sons Eslam grew up helping me as well. He is now an essential part of the business. I am happy because I have also been able to inspire other Egyptian women who are now able to work from home by helping with costumes. I have dozens of women on my staff who are now able to help support their families. I am lucky to travel the world selling my costumes at festivals and events now. I am proud to have paved my own path with the support my family and husband and hope to continue to make beautiful things for girls all over the world.”

Arielle: “What costume trends have you seen developing in Egypt over the years?”

Monaleza: “Most costumes used to be 3 pieces; bra, belt, and skirt. Often times, there would be a matching veil. Over time, these became 2 pieces with a bra and a skirt. Originally, costumes for bellydance were made of sequins and beads. Now, most costumes are made of many crystals and fancy decorations like mirrors. Eventually one-piece dresses also came into style. Galabayas for Balady, Saidi, and Shaabi used to be closed at the top, but now have visible bras and low cuts. Fabrics also became more fancy and consequently more expensive over time. Costumes used to be one or two fabrics in the same color, but now have several fabrics and colors per costume. Nowadays, costumes are less conservative, tighter, shorter, and often quite like costumes for Salsa dancing.”

Arielle: “Approximately how many hours does it take to make a costume from start to finish?”

Monaleza: “That of course depends on the complexity of the design. The most time-consuming part is the concept and choosing fabrics. The dreaming and creation in my mind takes a lot of time. Sometimes I find a fabric that sparks an idea or sometimes I have an idea and have to go hunting for fabric. After I have that part figured out, my staff and I start to cut and design the fabric, which usually takes around 8 hours. It takes around 2 more hours to sew these pieces together. A simpler costume may take 6 to 7 hours to decorate, while a more complex design can take around 12 hours. This will change if it’s one piece or two pieces, as a one-piece takes more time. Because I am always working on many costumes at

the same time, one costume will take an average of 10 days to be complete. Because the planning and concept takes the most time, a group order or re-making a former costume will only take 3 to 4 days, as the hardest part has been done already. Every time I make something beautiful, I start to think of how to make something even more beautiful and fancy the next time. I look for materials that catch the eye. Materials that look rich and elaborate like a millionaire. It is not easy, but I love my work.”

Arielle: “What is it like to see your costume being worn by a dancer? How do you feel when you see it on stage?”

Monaleza: “I am so happy and proud! According to my son Eslam, who co-runs the business, my face gets really red and I blush. When I see the girls wearing my costumes, I feel I did a good job. Something came from my mind and is now in front of my eyes. When my customers are happy, I am happy. I also become even more happy when I see the audience enjoying the costume. I want everyone to feel beautiful in my designs. I am so happy when I see a dancer live her dreams on the stage in my costumes. The dancers become queens while everyone watches her and admires her. The most important thing to

me is to have art in my heart that I can share with dancers and their audiences all around the world.”

Monaleza and her shop can be found in Khan Il Khalil, Cairo. Her unique and on-trend costumes can be seen the world over on some of the top names in the Bellydance industry. Facebook: Monaleza Instagram: @monaleza_bellydance_fashion

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