Elisa Sednaoui Dellal finally finds her way home to Egypt after two years of a pandemic-enforced separation – with feelings of nostalgia and longing.
Like the long-awaited daughter she is, Elisa Sednaoui Dellal makes her way back to a place she has never visited before yet already knows like the back of her hand. Its high ceilings and grand arches speak to her of days spent in his embrace, of conversations that were ordinary but unforgettable, of the ease she instantly feels in his presence. While others travel for miles seeking serenity and wellness between these walls, Sednaoui Dellal came to evoke childhood memories of an extraordinary father and her unbreakable bond with the country from where she first discovered the world.
Describing the Ardi Dahshur retreat as emblematic of her father’s work, Sednaoui Dellal – model and social entrepreneur – makes no effort to hide her awe as she roams the corridors, plays with the tented shades, and observes the palm trees surrounding the estate. Located only a few kilometers away from the Dahshur pyramids, Ardi was built 10 years ago by Olivier Sednaoui, an architect who is synonymous with unconventional, state-of-the-art designs. A graduate of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, Sednaoui is the mastermind behind several well-known buildings, including La Maison Bleue in El Gouna and Al Moudira Hotel in Luxor. He was also part of the team that designed the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Originally commissioned as a house for Shereen Malak, Ardi gradually transformed into a haven of peace; a place where people could connect with themselves through alternative holistic wellness workshops.
“It is a powerful moment for me to finally see this house; to truly experience its energy,” Sednaoui Dellal says. “I instantly feel an emotional connection. It reignites the unwavering admiration I have for my father’s work as I am often deeply touched by his sense of space. My father has a specific way of designing rooms – a certain height of ceilings, a way that he designs his curves, raises his arches, creates his shades, lays his corridors.”
A fervent lover of Egypt, Sednaoui Dellal’s trip to Ardi was delayed for a decade due to a packed schedule that often limited her trips to either Cairo or Luxor. Nevertheless, it was much needed after two years away from the country, where she spent the first five years of her life and found the inspiration for her non-profit social development enterprise, Funtasia. “Coming back, I feel that there is a new kind of energy that is trying to do things differently. There is a new generation that is doing a lot of interesting things in a diversity of sectors. I truly feel that, even though we are still navigating through a pandemic, Egypt is progressing not just economically, but also culturally,” she says.
Born to an Italian mother and a father with Syrian-Egyptian and French roots, Sednaoui Dellal founded Funtasia in Egypt, her father’s chosen country of residency. After building an illustrious career across the world’s biggest cosmopolitan cities, Sednaoui Dellal still refers to her heart as Egyptian due to the country’s deep-rooted influence on her life. “What makes me Egyptian is my love for life and human connection,” she shares. “It is my acceptance of God and the idea of Inshallah – God willing – that I do not take lightly. If it is in God’s plan, then it will happen. There is a mixture in Egyptian culture; a romantic contemporary spiritual side on one hand and a joy of life on the other, along with kindness, humor, and a way of being so present in the moment.” Her relationship with the country has evolved, she adds. “Over the past eight years building Funtasia, I had to deal with one obstacle after another, trying to build an organization like this in Egypt and give opportunities to Egyptians – it can never be more complicated. At the beginning, I saw myself act based on blind passion and love for this country. Yet, the past few years have been a learning journey for me and my love for Egypt has grown and deepened, but it is now less naive. It remains unexplainable but it has evolved and become more realistic, more balanced.” With a gaze that reflects all the good days she has seen in her father’s land, Sednaoui Dellal continues about the bond she shares with a country that she describes as vast, unpredictable, and eventful. “I love Egypt in a way that is part of me. I do not think there is anything that Egypt can do for this love to go away. I am deeply moved being here again after two years. Like every country, it is about the space, its aesthetic, and how it makes you feel; but it is also about the quality of the experience you have with the people. I have had powerful human moments in Egypt at all levels.”
Much as she shares commonalities with the country she loves the most, Sednaoui Dellal also sees her father’s qualities reflected in her actions and character. Describing him as an untraditional father, she believes that she was brought up by a man who does not expect women to cook for him or to take care of him. This contributed to the way she approaches her personal life. “I always loved when I spent time with him because he does not expect anyone to take care of him and I find that so refreshing, it makes me want to do it anyway. He never believed in gender roles. In that sense, I was never designed to be a nurturer. I do it now after being a mother for eight years, but I was not brought up in a house where, because you were a woman, you were expected to spend your time in the kitchen and take care of those around you. A lot of women are natural nurturers, it is who they are, but a lot of women are also programmed to embrace that role.” Sednaoui Dellal adds, “I always felt an incredible admiration for my father, admiration for his intellect. My father is someone who would spend his days reading. He can read three books at the same time. He’s always reading a new book, always knows what is the latest thing that just came out. Growing up, when I would go to visit him every holiday, he would ask me to bring the latest Nine Inch Nails album, and he would always tell me about the latest song Nelly just dropped. He lives in a remote area in Luxor in Egypt, often working on the most ambitious projects, and he always has his finger on the pulse of culture. Reading is a big thing that we have in common. It is a big tradition that we have had in the family for many generations. Like him, I grew up to be a maven in that sense. I live to learn. My purpose in life is learning.”
Originally published in the March 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Anne Mehany
Hair: Moustafa Hany
Makeup: Diana Harby
Production: Temple Studios
Photography assistant: Yousef Talaat
Style assistants: Rana Soliman, Salma Adly, Carol Mehany
Location: Ardi Dahshur