Creative director and CEO of Egyptian fashion house Deana Shaaban saw her world as she knew it turned upside down when Cairo went under lockdown in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19. She shares a conversation documenting her #NewNormal with fellow Cairene, Egyptian actor Tara Emad and reveals a special collaboration of dresses made from Indian silk, satin, and georgette fabrics modeled by Emad, and set to drop this coming summer.
DEANA SHAABAN: Hi Tara! This is so crazy. Now we’re having coffee over Facetime instead of together on my couch.
TARA EMAD: I know. It’s our thing and now we have to do it virtually. When this all started, I didn’t think much of it, honestly. I mean, I met you in Dubai and it was a beautiful, sunny day without a care in the world. I had been hearing news about the coronavirus and we were being told to be extra careful. It felt so far away so I didn’t think twice about it, I just wasn’t taking it seriously. I just carried on with my life as everyone else was doing the same. I kept thinking that is so far away; it’s in China, we’re in Egypt.
DEANA: I think most of us weren’t taking it very seriously, at first. Now, I feel like all the plans I had for myself and this year have been hijacked and rerouted. I’m not the kind of person that likes to be confined, and I found myself frustrated. I also don’t think that I quite grasped the gravity of the situation. I spent days on end obsessed with the news; I think I must have read every news article that had come out every day about COVID-19. As the days passed, I became increasingly aware that this is something that is very much a concern for everyone, and that everything absolutely needs to shut down.
We made a decision overnight to shut down all our operations at the studio. Every part of our design process requires people to be closely communicating with each other. Our craftsmen and seamstresses at our workshop all come from areas outside of Cairo and have to take buses to get to our workshop, and of course, once they are in the workshop they all work so closely together. But now they also work with our clients’ fabric, and it could be transferred through the fabric. When our clients come to our studio, our fittings are so intimate as well. It felt like at any part of our process, we could be contributing to the virus spreading. As difficult as the decision was, we had to shut everything down. Either way, honestly, we couldn’t imagine people’s events would continue anyway.
TARA: Wow. How did your clients feel about all this?
DEANA: Honestly, some were very understanding and applauded the decision and some were very frustrated. I think that at the time, things hadn’t really escalated in Egypt, so they couldn’t understand why we made that decision. Of course, it was just a matter of a few days, when everything became very clear.
Then, the gyms that my husband and I own had to close effective immediately, there was far too much to risk there. We shut them all down on March 15 and we suspect they’ll be closed for quite a few months. We decided to take everything online immediately because we wanted to help keep our clients at home and safe. Everyone was so frustrated that they had made so much progress with their bodies and health from the start of the year, and we wanted to immediately give them a solution to keep going. Within 48 hours we launched a website with daily exercises for people to find a way to train at home. One day at a time.
TARA: Yeah, I feel the same way as you, to be honest. My mom currently lives with me at the moment. There have been a lot of ups and downs, and even though I seem to have it together at times and as well on social media, honestly, there are days where I am finding myself under a lot of pressure to share the awareness and a lot of pressure to be a part of the awareness, pressure to do good, and offer impacting messaging during this time. And to be connected with people that are on social media that are sharing the news. It’s a very interesting time to not be socializing but also extremely sociable over social media.
You know you think these things happen to other people, but they won’t happen to me. It’s always someone else, somewhere else. And then one day you wake up and it’s here, that someone else is us. Then you become very aware that you need to stay home, and this is in fact very serious. So I stayed home, thinking, it’s just a few days and this will be completely over.
DEANA: I know. You start searching your mind for anything to cling on to. Any glimmer of hope.
TARA: Absolutely, and at that time, I was still filming. I went to the set location and everyone was wearing masks and gloves. Everyone was basically really chill, but we were told that we must abide by the rules that outside actually filming, we have to wear masks and gloves. So, honestly, I wasn’t really worried at the beginning, I was cooking my own food, making my own coffee and tea. Going back home, I was still thinking this isn’t something serious and it won’t affect anyone around me or me. And then everything just went south.
I started reading more news and a few articles that were painful and devastating to read. They had such little hope about the state that we are in, they were awfully realistic about the situation and the reality about what has to happen moving forward. We were being told that we absolutely have to stay home or we would be risking our lives and the lives of those around us.
At that moment, I had a total meltdown at home when I realized I hadn’t been taking this seriously enough. I was living on cloud 9, when here we were somewhere else entirely, that this will last for as long as it needs to with no definitive amount of time. And if we are not staying safe, staying in, and protecting those around us, then this will never end. It’s been really difficult to keep up mentally and emotionally. I’m currently trying not to drown myself in all this news. The problem is, though, that if I decide to wake up and have a lovely day and go about reading and painting, I succumb to reading an article that completely just shatters the bubble and you realize this is the reality now.
DEANA: Yeah I went through a lot of ups and downs, too. It’s a daily emotional rollercoaster, hourly pretty much.
TARA: And incredibly, the only thing you can actually control is your mind. Because it is so difficult to control the thoughts that run through your head in general, even more so at a time like this. Because it is really hard to be able to receive a hug when you need it, or a comforting pat, getting to be with your friends or family. Even though my mom does live with me, because I’ve been filming, we’ve been isolating ourselves in our rooms and not being in each other’s company, so that I don’t get her sick because I don’t know if I’m carrying anything or not.
It’s so difficult not to be able to have human contact or be in the presence of someone you love. This whole situation has just shown us that we as humans, are extremely fragile. The tiniest bacteria can completely destroy us. So again, this is a very humbling experience; it’s not easy. I do try and say keep pushing through, this is a great period for you to continue to work on yourself.
DEANA: Absolutely. I’ve really been feeling that. So I wanted to ask you, how often are you still filming? I mean, is it still going on?
TARA: So, I have only gone to film just twice, but after this last time, everyone decided that we should take a week break and wait to see what happens. Honestly, I’m quite relieved about it. Even though everyone is wearing masks, us as actors, we still need to remove our masks and gloves in front of the camera and often times get closer than the recommended six feet; it leaves us quite anxious. We have been trying as much as we can not to have physical contact, if there is a handshake then it gets removed from the script. We’ve been social distancing in the scenes. (laughing)