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Life Style: Egyptian heritage rug maker Kahhal 1871 presents carpets with contemporary Arab vibe

DUBAI: Egypt’s oldest maker of handmade rugs and carpets, Kahhal 1871, is taking a contemporary turn by presenting a series of carpets created by 14 of Egypt’s most promising artists and designers.

The Outloud Collective, a multidisciplinary art and design exhibition, will take place in Cairo’s iconic Cinema Radio — built during the 1930s and one of the Al-Ismaelia Group’s ambitious downtown restoration projects — over the course of three days.

The brainchild of the event is Mohamed A. El-Kahhal, the fifth-generation managing director of Kahhal 1871 whose vision is to strike a meeting point between the brand’s heritage and reverence for the traditional art of carpetmaking and contemporary art and design.

Portrait of Mohamed Kahhal. Supplied

“Everything we do is handmade, which means we are using the same craft that my great grandfather implemented in 1871,” Kahhal told Arab News. “What is crucial now is that we also showcase modern designs through collaborating with local designers, artists and fashion designers — this is the best way to support, grow and gain international traction for the Egypt creative scene.”

Established in 1871 by Abdallah El-Kahhal — a young Syrian who immigrated to Egypt — and specializing in handmade carpets and rugs, over its 151 years the brand has become one of Egypt’s most respected carpet makers. It built its first factory in 1902 and opened its first showroom in 1936. Most recently, in 2017 when Mohamed became managing director, in addition to producing its own collections Kahhal 1871 began to commission specially made collections by artists and designers.

Fernand Leger carpet for Kahhal 1871. Supplied

The event, which is now in its second consecutive year, features carpet designs for Kahhal 1871 by some of Egypt’s brightest talents, including architect Ahmed Fayyed; architect and designer Cherif Mursi, fashion designers Mounaz and Aya Abdel Raouf, founders of fashion brand Okhtein; founder and creative director of Form Design Engi Jaouda; managing partner and design director of Design Avenue Karen Fadel; renowned architect and founder of Alchemy Design firm, Karim Mekhtigan, Parson’s graduate and Maram Paris fashion label founder, Maram Aboul Enein; leading architect and chief designer at Alchemy Design firm, Mohamed Fares; managing partner and creative director of Design Avenue firm, Mohamed Talaia; designer and Mahally founder Mona Hussein, Design Point co-founders Nehal Leheta and Karim El Hayawan; and interior designer and founder of her eponymous firm, Yasmine Makram Interior Design Studio.

“Mohamed El-Kahhal approached us last January and the fact that he included fashion designers was intriguing to us,” Aya Abdel Raouf, one of the founders of fashion label Okhtein, told Arab News. “We were given the ultimate freedom to choose any theme and treat the carpets like they were canvases.”

Karim Fayyad carpet design for Kahhal 1871. Supplied

Mounaz and I are artists, and art is not only limited to one form of design,” she said. “Both of us like to design and redesign many things. It was very easy to merge in our opinion. The carpets were canvases and the threads were like paint.”

Okhtein produced four carpets — two silk ones and two kilms — all of which are handmade and took three to six months to produce.

As the distinctions between art, design and fashion continue to blur, an exhibition such as the Outloud Collective demonstrates the power of such marriages — and in Arab capital cities such as Cairo where there is once again a burgeoning creative scene.

Kahhal 1871’s showrooms are in Heliopolis and Khan Al Khalili, Cairo, Egypt.

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