If 2019 strives to be the year fashion continues to celebrate diversity, Egyptian designer behind the conceptual jewelry brand Sandbox, Suhayla Al Sheikh, is committed to the cause. The campaign for her newest jewelry line, Timbre, is displayed on women with marginalized skin types in an effort to drive home an important message about body positivity.
As a little girl, Al Sheikh remembers holding her hand up to a light to examine its textures. “The hair follicles connected by lines on the skin made me think of a network—a metaphor for the connectivity of all humans, as one,” she says. Today, it’s the varied hues found in people with vitiligo, albino, and freckle-specked skin that fascinate her, to the extent that it is even a point of reference for her sixth jewelry collection.
French for a distinct musical sound or characteristic, timbre is a reflection of Al Sheikh’s personal perception of varied skin types and resolutely being “tuned in” to another dimension. Located in the heart of Cairo, in the bustling Khan El Khalili souk, her workshop buzzes with over a dozen silver artisans, crafting the metal with age-old jewelry making techniques, bringing her abstract ideas to life. “The stonework is done by me,” Al Sheikh pronounces. “I crush them, filter the sizes, and situate the stones on the jewelry pieces using a specific chemical that holds them together in place.” If her technique has become the edgy brand’s signature, her inclusive message is her raison d’être.
Where does this interest in skin stem from originally? A childhood memory?
Although I was raised in an environment with people from all kinds of nationalities and backgrounds – which means an inevitable acceptance to all kinds of skin types – I always found that there was this repulsion towards people with vitiligo. As a kid, I would encounter men with vitiligo, and for some reason I’d always be one of the few – if not the only – kid fascinated with their skin. I remember even staring intensely at times, and my parents would have to jump in and tell me to stop so that the man wouldn’t feel uncomfortable! As I grew older, I also began to wonder why I never saw women with vitiligo. From there, the interest grew even more and continued with me until today. Logina [a model featured] was actually the first female I saw with vitiligo. That’s kind of a shame, and it says a lot. Albinos were the same but on a lower scale, and were approached with more pity than repulsion. Again, I never understood why. Meanwhile freckles were considered normal growing up in Saudi Arabia, I always viewed them as raindrops on the skin, and I wanted to have raindrops of my own! But when I moved to Egypt I heard a lot of repulsive comments about people with freckles, or “Freckles look bad,” “She has freckles.” It annoyed me. These were the situations/reasons that exposed my fascination and interest for these skin types, but why this fascination exists to begin with, is something I honestly cannot explain. Through my eyes they’re just something else. So beautifully eccentric.
Did you have any conversations with the models about their skin conditions? Do they feel comfortable in their skin as they see diversity representation growing?
Yes. When Menna was initially approached to be part of this campaign her exact words were, “I see Albino females being celebrated and used as models on the internet in other countries, but not here in Egypt!” As I got to know her better, I began to realize that she shies away from the word “Albino,” almost as though it’s shameful. Although her family makes her feel beautifully unique, society’s view of albinism as a disease to shy away from, had a stronger hold on her. However, the growing representation of diversity she has been admiring from afar has helped her accept and see the beauty in who she is. Also, through the Timbre campaign, she began to feel like she’s becoming a physical part of this movement, which in return empowered her and gave her a higher sense of confidence.
Logina on the other hand, grew comfortable in her own skin due to her desire to inspire and be there for other women like herself. She has around 100k followers on her platform, and constantly gets messages, comments, and questions from other women with vitiligo. She actually got the chance to medically remove her vitiligo, and right before she went through with it, she changed her mind and turned it down. She felt she needed to accept who she was and use it for good, due to her negative experiences with an uneducated society, and an unforgiving environment for women with vitiligo. The growth of diversity representation is actually due to people like her, who use their influence in the best of ways.
Yasmine has always felt empowered by and proud of her freckles. Although throughout her life as an Arab, she’s been asked about her freckles and advised to remove them with laser. She’s always been comfortable in who she is, “Never owning a bottle of foundation.” On the contrary, she posed a question which to me was very powerful: “Would I be comfortable without them?” The recent representation of diversity has only strengthened the confidence in her approach.
Production: O Art-studio
Photographers: Henar Sherif & Adel Essam
MUA: Essmat Elkholy
Production: O Art-studio
Videography: Mahmoud Mostafa & Mohamed El Harmel
MUA: Essmat Elkholy