The Emirati fine jewelry designer and co-founder of Sawa opens the doors to her fantastical life.
Salama Khalfan wearing a Dries Van Noten blazer and skirt, with David Webb ring. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia
The vibrant world of a jeweler
Emirati designer Salama Khalfan founded her eponymous fine jewelry label on the idea of creating whimsical diamond-studded designs and bold bespoke pieces featuring colorful gemstones and fine metals. She drew inspiration from her passion for horses, thirst for adventure, and the exploration of cultures. “I enjoy the places my collections take me to for inspiration, and sometimes for production,” says the award-winning jeweler, who took home the best daywear jewelry prize at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Ebda’a Awards. She is currently working on a collection that sees her split her time between Venice and Dubai. “Pandemic aside, I had to travel back and forth between the two cities. The Venetians showed me a different side of the city that I had never experienced before,” she shares. Since launching in 2014, Khalfan’s designs have adorned Hollywood leading ladies, including Meryl Streep and Emma Stone. “When I received a call that Kendall Jenner wanted to buy four of my rings, I knew that creating beautiful things with quality will get you there the right way, no matter how long it takes,” says the designer. “Every time I see a woman wearing one of my pieces, I feel like I have extended the message of what I create, which is wearable art. And, to them, this art is well-received.”
A Fendi Mini Peekaboo bag and Valentino heels. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia
What started out as an exchange of messages over Instagram between Khalfan and fashion entrepreneur Ghizlan Guenez has since blossomed into a friendship powered by similar goals and ambitions. “Both of us had our offices in Dubai Design District, and we decided to have lunch together. Sitting with her didn’t feel like meeting for the first time; it felt like we were school friends connecting again. She is genuine, transparent, and so sincere,” Khalfan says of Guenez. Four years later, they launched Sawa in April this year, an exhibition platform that supports small businesses in the fashion and creative fields. “As two women and entrepreneurs from the region and from the creative industry, we are passionate about our ecosystem and about coming together to support where we can. We have experienced first-hand the detrimental effects of Covid-19 on our own businesses and peers. Seeing companies of all sizes close their doors compelled us to take action,” she shares. The Ramadan exhibition showcased 58 regional brands, business owners, artists, and creatives under one roof for four days at Dubai’s creative stomping ground, Alserkal Avenue.
In a choice silk coat and Hashimi dress, with a Gabriela Hearst bag, and Sam Edelman Mules. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia
“My closet accommodates my daytime calendar,” says Khalfan about adapting runway and editorial looks into her lifestyle. “Getting ready in the morning for the office, I opt for something functional and smart with an edgy flare.” Before heading out for the day, she packs her riding gear in her Balley shopper handbag, which was hand-painted by Los Angeles-based artist Oliver Coreaux. “It fits the contents of a small apartment. Really,” Khalfan says. She spends most evenings at home entertaining friends over dinner. “I like to put on a nice kaftan, something beautiful and comfortable, while I spend an evening with the girls,” she says, shifting through her kaftan collection and pulling out a Taller Marmo number. “You caught me on a special day, it’s my seven- year wedding anniversary today,” she smiles, flashing a pair of earrings designed by her friend Sylvie Corbelin that her husband gifted to her on the same occasion last year. Jewelry plays a leading role in Khalfan’s style. “I love Alexandre Vauthier and Alex Perry, both have fine cuts and are quite structured, especially around the shoulders. They leave plenty of room for accessorizing with jewelry.”
A Viera by Ragazze Bag and Isabel Marant Blazer, with a turquoise ring by Salama Khalfan, and Attilio Codognato Memento Mori ring. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia
Imbued with meaning, Khalfan’s personal jewelry collection is laden with family history. “I always appreciated jewelry and I loved seeing it on my mother and my aunts – some of the most influential women in my life,” she shares. “Every time my mother took off her jewelry pieces and placed them on her dresser, I would pick them up and put them on my head, neck, and arms. I loved wearing them in unusual places. I remember breaking a beautiful necklace with diamonds and a dark blue sapphire while trying it on – luckily, she took it with a grain of salt,” she remembers with a laugh. The most sentimental piece is a diamond necklace centered with an emerald heart that her late father gifted her mother after his first trip to Belgium. “I grew up watching my mother wear it without knowing how much it meant to her. After my father’s passing, she gave it to me. I feel very sentimental when I wear it and become overwhelmed with emotions. I only wear it on special days when I miss him and need to feel closer to him.”
A collection of Salama Khalfan jewelry and accessories. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia
Khalfan’s passion for horseback riding served as inspiration for her first jewelry design: a gold bracelet intertwined with a leather wraparound strap. “My devotion to horses is important to me. The purest state of meditation that I have ever experienced is on a horse. I feel more connected to life when I am on a saddle.” The accomplished show jumper shares, “I have had my fair share of injuries but since I had my son, I have become more mindful of preserving my health.” With countless shows under her belt, the secret to keeping her head in the game is recognizing small wins, discipline, and habit.
Khalfan wearing a Stella Jean dress, traditional Palestinian embroidered abaya coat, Manolo Blahnik mules, and a ring of her own design. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia
Khalfan has also been immersed in music since childhood. Her instrument of choice? The piano. “I started playing before learning to read the notes. I played what I could hear, and I composed my first short piece as a teenager.” Khalfan commissioned an instrumental piece produced and recorded by a Hungarian orchestra to serve as ambient music in her flagship boutique. Meanwhile, to enhance the multisensory intimate experience, the designer is currently developing a signature scent for her jewelry salon. “Music and scent are two things that teleport us through time and I want to instill those within our brand’s image.
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Originally published in the May 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
The Emirati fine jewelry designer and co-founder of Sawa opens the doors to her fantastical life.
Salama Khalfan and Ghizlan Guenez. Photo: Courtesy of Sawa
A new exhibition bringing together local designers, business owners, and creatives under one roof is set to take off today, April 7. Named Sawa (meaning together), the pre-Ramadan initiative was launched by Emirati jewelry designer Salama Khalfan and co-founder of The Modist Ghizlan Guenez. With a shared goal and strong motivation, the two entrepreneurs teamed up on the exhibition to help the local businesses and talents that have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and boost the UAE’s creative scene.
Ahead of Sawa’s opening at Alserkal Avenue today, we caught up with Guenez and Salama to know more about their initiative, how it all began and what visitors can expect from the exhibition.
How did this collaboration come to be?
Ghizlan: Salama and I have been friends for a long time. We are close friends, we’re both entrepreneurs and we’re both in the same space — the fashion and creative industries. About three weeks ago, over dinner at hers, we were talking about Covid-19 and the impact the pandemic has had on all of us. We were saying how for the first time, all of us in the world are struggling with the same thing and experiencing the same challenge.
Salama was also talking about her frustration with how the brands who used to be able to pay fees in Ramadan exhibitions in the past, can no longer do the same today given the impact and given how their businesses have been challenged by the pandemic. She threw the idea and said let’s do something together to support the system and it didn’t take me a second to jump on it. Within minutes, we were sitting with a pen and paper and our notepads and just jotting down what we needed to do, how we needed to put it together, who’s in our network, who could potentially reach out to to get support from, and that’s how the idea was born.
Farha Designs. Photo: Courtesy
What can visitors expect from the exhibition?
Ghizlan and Salama: We have around 58 brands at the exhibition. They’re brands that we know and love but there are also some brands that are going to be discovered by shoppers at the exhibitions.
There’s a combination of established local and regional designers like Shatha Essa, Dima Ayad, Bambah, Bouguessa, Odeem, and then there are others who are local designers or designers based in the UAE which the shoppers may not have heard of before but have beautiful products.
It’s all curated in a way that is relevant to the month of Ramadan, including some exclusive pieces that have been created for Sawa itself. It’s a space where there are beautiful products. Still, there’s also incredible positive energy of collaboration and coming together. Truly the intention of supporting one and the other, being part of this ecosystem and uplifting it, given that we’re all in it together.
Bouguessa. Photo: Courtesy
Why is it important to support local designers and businesses at such a time?
Ghizlan: Salama says you can’t achieve any success in-silo. If any of us want to succeed, all of us must uplift one another; we’ve all been impacted. There’s a level of empathy around what is happening around us, and it is essential that a collaborative effort must take place during these times, in our industry, and that’s actually one of our goals.
By launching the Sawa initiative, other people in other industries and spaces would be inspired by the collaboration and do the same, and scale really almost doesn’t matter. We could do it amongst five friends and do things to support each other’s businesses, or we could do it on a larger scale like Sawa. It’s a time when coming together and supporting one another is probably more important than any other time.
Frou-Frou. Photo: Courtesy
In your opinion, what makes this exhibition stand out from others?
Ghizlan and Salama: The most important aspect of the exhibition is the fact that it was created to eliminate the barriers to entry into these exhibitions for brands. From our perspective as its creators, this is not a commercial exhibition. We have leveraged our network to create it — whether it is a free space from Alserkal Avenue, or the company that is helping us set up the event, Khayali Boutique. It’s all been a work of leveraging our network as two entrepreneurs and people from this industry and so we’ve passed on the minimal cost to the brand.
The largest space, which is a booth — in all transparency — is two meters by around 2.4m by 2.4m that costs AED 5,000 for the period of four days and so the idea was that we don’t want these brands to incur costs. We want them to do well, be exposed, and have an opportunity to offer their products under a beautiful umbrella. We’ve also worked on not compromising the curation and selecting brands and products while doing this for a good cause to support the ecosystem.
Again, we are customers, we enjoy shopping, so we wanted every woman who visits Sawa to experience the same.
Salama Khalfan Jewelry. Photo: Courtesy
How long did it take to put the exhibition together?
It took us less than a month. I believe it’s been about three weeks now. It’s a super small team. There are four of us, including myself and Salama, so it’s been full-on. When you start something to support and see a beautiful objective materialize, you push through.
We are entrepreneurs and used to coming up with an idea and executing it immediately, and that spirit is evident in us working together. Doing it together, we share the same sentiment, and we feel great that we have done it together because there is big support from one another, and we jointly feel very strong about the cause.
Nour Hefzi Photo: Courtesy
What is next for Sawa?
Ghizlan and Salama: Sawa started with a good intention. It began with an objective to support, and not as a hugely strategized idea. It was empathy and the need and desire to do something that brought us together in executing this idea.
Having said that, we do feel that it’s gained momentum with the support of everyone that’s been part of it. It’s a community of effort. It’s not two people; it’s not four people. It’s everyone, including Vogue Arabia, and every person who has supported us in one way or another. So it truly is a beautiful form of a community coming together to create this event — in a way that we hoped for but did not necessarily expect.
We believe that it’s going to be just the beginning of this platform supporting regional designers. We are looking at how we can continue to give it life and to fulfill the same objective.
Sawa is taking place at Warehouse 83, Alserkal Avenue, from 2pm to 10pm.
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