Sensing there was a need for luxury accessories produced in Egypt, design duo Aya and Mounaz Abdelraouf launched Okhtien in 2013. And it didn’t take long for the brand with the name that fittingly means “sisters” in Arabic to start making waves. After the siblings, who were born and raised in Cairo, won the DDFC/Vogue Arabia Fashion Prize for accessories in 2016, their brand has continued to grow and gain attention, in the region and abroad.
Aya and Mounaz of Okhtein
Beyoncé was one of the first celebrities to give the luxury label the A-list stamp of approval after seeing Okhtein designs displayed at Curve Boutique in Los Angeles thanks to their award feat. Queen Bey even went as far as posting pictures of herself wearing the bag she bought on Instagram. The Cairo-based brand has also been seen on the arms of several other celebrities, including Gigi Hadid and Emma Watson, as well as Kris Jenner and Emma Roberts, who were both spotted wearing the oval gold “Palmette” minaudière. Regionally, Egypt’s First Lady, Entesar el-Sisi, and fashionistas like Jessica Kahawaty and Karen Wazen Bakhazi have helped make the brand popular.
While aiming to bring true luxury back to their home country, Aya and Mounaz want to showcase what local craftsmen are capable of and present new design concepts to the world. Their innovative and cutting edge designs, whether inspired by architecture or the people around them, shine a spotlight on their country’s culture and artisanship. Cultural associations are evident as they infuse Cairo’s fabulous heritage into all of their pieces, from the geometric miniaudières that have pierce-like embellishments modelled after the doorknobs on Moez Street to the trademark hammered metal and leather-embossed designs. Another fine example is this season’s must-have “Aziza” shoulder bag with its ornate Islamic-inspired pattern.
The sisters, who described their clients as “daring, independent women who love to express their style with a unique accessory” to Al Arabiyah English, certainly find it rewarding to see celebrities donning their designs. However, it’s probably even more of a thrill to give back by working with NGOs who help skilled female workers facing financial hardships. The women are familiar with working with straw and handmade embroidery, which feature in summer collections. They also work on the handmade finishes on the hardware and tassels. Other materials featured in their bags include leather, wood, cotton and canvas, and for autumn, the philanthropic pair love using rich velvets.
Aya and Mounaz, who used to sift through their grandma’s closet for inspiration, have always been fascinated by fashion. And they patiently waited for the right time to start their dream. “We used to work on several projects together when we were kids, and both of us had good work chemistry and shared an artistic vision,” they said in an interview with “Arab News.” “We felt like we both completed each other, and we should pursue our dream and start a brand together. We love fashion and both of us love accessories. Growing up, we had a fascination with luxury handbags. We always wanted to wear unique bags that weren’t available in the market, so we both ended up designing our own.” Aya, who likes to juxtapose classic styles with some edginess, studied Communication and Digital Arts at the American University of Cairo. Mounaz, who is into boho chic, studied Integrated Marketing Communications and Art at the same university. The highly accomplished abstract artist has exhibited her work in Egypt and Paris.