Kamal Shohbur: Making Dresses in the Most Unlikely of Settings
Tanya El Kashef
Cairo is all about the mystery, the hidden secrets and what isn’t obvious to the eye; it’s a city of intrigue and contrast, one that never fails to entertain, amuse and time after time, prove to be a one of a kind experience.
It is true that this city isn’t always the most extravagant in shopping options, specifically for eveningwear, both for males and females. However, this does not mean that the women of Cairo need to sacrifice their wardrobe; it merely means they have to be more cunning in seeking it out. Though this may sound like a little bit too much effort, it is in fact quite refreshing; opening up new doors you may have never entered before – literally.
Kamal Shohbur is a simple man with an atelier located in Mohandiseen, just off Midan Aswan in an unmarked building on Abo El Mahasen El Shazly Street. Recommended by a friend to make a dress, the experience turned out to be quite a memorable one, oozing with contradictions that deeply resemble life in Cairo as a whole. The atelier itself is downplayed, with a front window boarded with newspapers – it is in no way extravagant or polished on the inside either. It is simply an office with a fitting room to one side and a workshop in the back. No fancy lighting or luxurious furniture; just your design, Shohbur and his work.
Shohbur himself has been making clothes since he was a child, under the apprenticeship of his father. Having travelled to Italy for some time to study design, he returned to Cairo, working mostly on a small scale. Although he has been encouraged by friends to market himself more in the fashion world, by hosting fashion shows and such, the man behind the dresses told us that he prefers to stay low-key, with a smaller clientele.
The process begins with an initial meeting where the design is discussed, your measurements are taken and the amount, as well as type, of fabric needed is given. In the city, the best place to go shopping for said fabric is Salem, also in Mohandiseen. After settling on the design and buying the fabric, the magic begins.
Shohbur is accommodating and more importantly, comfortable to be around. His pleasant, soft-spoken demeanour quickly erases any pre-conceived notion of the atmosphere one stands in; in any other circumstance, his would be the last place a girl could imagine taking her clothes off. But once the process is on its way, there seems to be nothing more natural, ironically enough.
Completing a dress can take up to a month, or in some cases could be delivered in a week. This of course depends on the how complicated the design is, and your own time contraints. Several fitting sessions take place about once a week – if you’re taking your time – and because Shohbur values his customers, with time he comes to learn their bodies, thus producing dresses that are better and better fitting. He will also patiently calm one’s nerves during moments of doubt, apprehension and outright despair – which could happen several times throughout.
The tailoring work is done mostly by Shohbur himself, with some minor help from extra hands that invariably change. He says that it is difficult to find good handiwork these days for lack of experience, and on top of that, has no desire to become a full-fledged business, so having a flock of employees is not high on his priority list.
With a framed ‘Allahu Akbar’ picture in the fitting room, one had to wonder what this calm, private man felt towards some the designs he’s being given. He’s seen short, backless, open mid-riff, low cut, and all other revealing varieties and yet it doesn’t shock him; however, does he approve? Giving us an honest answer, Shohbur admitted that the concept once filled him with guilt; it was a concern that led him to Al Azhar to seek spiritual guidance. Shohbur has thankfully made peace with his profession and avoids filling his mind with unnecessary conflict.
The pieces he produces are highly commendable, well-tailored and most of all, personalised. His prices are reasonable, where a dress could cost just a little over 1000LE, also depending on complexity. But above all, Shohbur himself is pleasant and humorous, making the somewhat strange experience all the more enjoyable.