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The Concept Store Telling the STORY of Egypt’s Untapped Fashion Talent

The brainchild of designer Amany Shaker and retail expert Clair Seffeen, STORY is the new concept store hoping to catapult local brands to new heights by offering a dedicated shopping space.

As a resident of New Cairo, it wasn’t my first time walking up the marble steps of Garden 8, a destination I often frequent for its outdoor eateries. This time, though, my trip was premeditated by an altogether different purpose -  not food, but fashion. It was my first time meeting Claire Seffeen, an Australian-Egyptian retail consultant, though I’d previously met her business partner and fine jewellery designer, Amany Shaker, at a glitzy fashion event in Cairo. Over coffee and croissants, they talked about a shared vision. They told me a story about STORY - a unique concept store and labour of love, which is set to open its doors two floors above the very place we were seated.

While Seffeen hurriedly wrapped up a meeting with her marketing team, Shaker joined me first, her eyes seemingly on her croissant lest it get cold. The American-Egyptian designer explained that she’d only been in Cairo for a few months, working alongside Seffeen to get the shop up-and-running as smoothly as possible. As we settled into our seats (and our croissants), she took me on a trip down memory lane, recounting the story of how she met Seffeen for the very first time. Fittingly, it was a chance meeting in a showroom during Paris Fashion Week five years ago that sparked a friendship between the two. Out of this encounter blossomed a friendship that she described as instant and effortless. We nodded in unison, agreeing that the best friendships often are.

Some years on, last winter to be precise, the idea for STORY really came into being. Looking to usher in a new era for Egyptian fashion and retail, they envisaged a dynamic luxury concept store dedicated solely to showcasing Egypt’s spectrum of local upscale retail brands. From BFFs to business partners, the duo set off on a mission to introduce a new level of opulence to local fashion while highlighting the massive untapped potential of the country’s artists, designers and innovators. Every move leading up to the launch of STORY is as carefully calculated as the store’s meticulous curation.

“We want to offer our customers a highly curated experience that is entirely different from fast fashion and bazaar-like settings,” Seffeen explains. “We want the store to become a dynamic space that will allow them to discover and appreciate local talents with the help of a dedicated team of in-store stylists.”

Ultimately, however, there’s one objective front and centre: supporting local talents and helping them spread their proverbial wings onto the international stage. Nestled on the second floor of Garden 8, the shop is more than a shop in the minds of its founders - and to simply label it a boutique would be a great disservice to the pair’s ambitions. Set to the officially launch in the first week of March, the shopping experience is but one small slice of the pie. Seffeen and Shaker talk of STORY as a hub for fashion, a trigger for creative collaboration and space for local fashion designers and entrepreneurs to flourish. This all makes for good copy, but Seffeen and Shaker are backing it up by doing something that no local concept store currently does: it mentors emerging brands on how to grow their businesses.

“Our real goal here is to help position Egyptian talents as credible on the international stage, so it only makes sense that we would combine our experiences on both the design and retail side to give emerging designers a better understanding of what they need to do to grow,” Seffeen says. “Ultimately, what’s good for one local brand is good for the repertoire of the entire Egyptian fashion industry.”

Designed by local design firm Dellaform, the shop’s crisp interiors can be best described in this one, simple word: exclusive. Curved arches, powdery grey velvets, gold metals, tasteful accent lighting, and blush pink details dot the space, creating a perfectly minimal yet feminine ambience. Beyond the aesthetics of it all, that careful attention to detail is a reflection of STORY’s core aim.

“The objective of our sleek and minimal interior is to keep the focus on the product,” Shaker says. “We want our customers to appreciate the craftsmanship and quality of the brands we have in store.” STORY’s atmosphere is kept cosy and warm, intimate and inviting, allowing customers to feel at home. Through a well trained team, and their different backgrounds, they hope to change the narrative of the common Egyptian shopping experience.

The perspectives of Shaker and Seffeen, given their different career trajectories, aren’t entirely identical, but rather complement each other. Shaker's global background and exposure to different cultures and experiences led her to start her demi- fine jewellery brand, AMMANII Jewelry in 2015 in Los Angeles. Making undeniably chic creations, the Egyptian designer — and former women’s counsellor in conflict resolution and peace education — has built a luxury brand spanning continents. Shaker has been globally recognised for her achievements and most recently awarded the Fashion Trust Arabia 2020 Award for the jewellery category, which was the catalyst for my reaching out to her for the first time two years ago. Her work was judged and highly praised by international fashion icons such as DVF, Elie Saab and Olivier Rousteing. Her pieces have adorned the likes of Shay Mitchell, Sofia Vergara, Demi Lovato, Normani, Yara Shahidi, and a handful of other Hollywood A-listers. Laced with Egyptian motifs, the cultural poignancy in Shaker's designs hits right in the gut, and with it the ‘I need this’ factor. The brand’s pieces don’t shy away from snakes, evil eyes, stars and crescents, and other motifs that are practically second-nature to Arab jewellery but, in Shaker's hands, are anything but cliché. At first glance her designs strikingly present as what a modern-era Nefertiti would wear: unforgivingly feminine, and emboldened in pure drip.

Seffen’s story in fashion lies not in the design realm, but in the business of fashion. With a history in retail consulting, Seffeen came back to Egypt from Dubai to launch her own boutique agency, The Design Narratives. She provides tailored services in brand and retail strategies, as well as fashion business workshops to emerging talents in the local fashion scene who want to pick up a thing or two about marketing their business. As a former luxury fashion buyer, Melbourne-born Seffeen has worked with some of the world’s most recognised and prestigious fashion designers, brands and stores across the globe during her 20-year tenure. During her 10 years in Dubai, she oversaw the store launch of Bloomingdale’s in Kuwait and has held Senior Buyer positions for Bloomingdale’s and Harvey Nichols Dubai, where she managed a portfolio of over 50 brands including key contemporary names such as Alice & Olivia, Rag and Bone, Helmut Lang, Kenzo and See By Chloe. She was also pivotal in the launch and expansion of multi-brand store Ounass across five locations in the UAE and Bahrain.