September 3, 2012

And no, that handsome man in the background is not me! It is our new friend and colleague John Nelson from Hollywood. Hollywood, Florida, that is….


Ali, the Dye Master

September 3, 2012

What a magician he is!

He keeps his powdered dies in brown paper bags, and in seemingly random fashion, dips a baton in them to pick up pinches of colour which he then stirs vigorously in big aluminium pots, with a theatrical flourish plunges the hanks into what looks like steaming grunge – and out come the most delightful colours, from soft pastels to brilliant, from psychedelic to classical…

Ali has been with us from the very beginning, a decent man, faithful and constant. He travels 2 hours each way to get work every day, and never ever misses a day, and never complains. He has stood by us during the hard times, and he adores a gossip over a tea and a ciggie.

Everything starts with the dyeing: we dye to order, and the colours have to match the fabric samples. Otherwise all the other work of the factory counts for nothing. I cannot for the life of me figure out how he does it. He has no written recipes, but he can look at a colour on sample, and reproduce it perfectly.

Well, he does occasionally have a brain fart, and then his obstinacy is matched only by Sevinch’s, and I have witnessed many a shouting match between the two. But all is forgotten within an hour or two. Ali is not only a genius, he is a congenial man:

Anna Karennina

September 1, 2012

Do try to see Anna Karennina in the cinemas after its release on 7 September, there are loads of our tassels in it. Apparently there is a bed covered in our fringes, if you can tear your eyes away from Count Vronsky and Anna romping thereupon….

The first workshop

August 31, 2012

The first Sevinch workshop

August 31, 2012

Finally the day came when Sevinch had to choose between Shithead and the continued existence of her business. This coincided with my own decision to stop being a corporate man, and to set up my own business, a textile testing laboratory in Cairo.

We rented two separate apartments, each within a few hundred yards of the other and a third apartment where we lived. This was on the island of Zamalek, which is somewhat akin to working and living in Belgravia. That is, if you can ignore the garbage in the streets and the broken pavements that risk broken ankles.

Sevinch’s workshop was on the ground floor, and had a tiny yard, in which we intended to do the spinning of cords. We rented from a very congenial lady called Madame Sadeyah: how congenial, we discovered later when she used to pop round for a chat every so often, and in a loud whisper ask whether we might have any vodka – or failing vodka, a beer would be just fine – in the fridge.

We built our first looms, set the whole place up, painted and decorated it – and waited. Sevinch was terrified: the thought of taking on the responsibility for her own production, for providing wages every week for 20 or so workers – it paralysed her. For six entire months her workshop remained empty, as she continued her daily commute to the Village of Rogues and Bandits. I was pulling my hair out with frustration, we were paying rent every month seemingly for nothing. It was the most dangerous moment of our lives: not only were we trying to get one new business up and running, but two; and this in a country that is notoriously difficult for foreign business owners.

I was also going through a difficult period. A textile laboratory is an expensive thing to set up and operate, and although I had a small portfolio of blue chip clients my former employers were doing much to try and frustrate the successful start up of the business.

But Shithead proved in the end to be our saviour. I can’t remember what he did, but as we have learned to patiently expect, people like him always overplay their hand just as they always underestimate the force of Sevinch’s rage once she realises she is being crossed. The next thing I knew was, the empty apartment was full of workers, the looms were resonating with the rhythm of the shuttles, and Sevinch was bustling around, her fear vanquished….

It is hard to know how to take up again, a blog that has been abandoned for 3 years…

It is Victoria Barlow that inspired me with her comment, but where to start, where to start? We have lived through so much since I last posted in October 2009, but we are still here, we are still in business, we still make gorgeous passementerie, and we are on the point of spreading our wings and flying higher.

Perhaps it is time for you to meet the lady Sevinch:





So let me restart at random:

It is April Fool’s day, 2011.

When the Egyptian revolution erupted in January, Sevinch and I were in our Paris flat and watched with disbelief the scenes of chaos and slaughter in Tahrir, on television. And what was her first reaction? “Thank God we are out of it and safe”? Oh no.

“My poor workers, are they safe? Oh God, it’s pay day on Thursday, they will need money – come on, let’s go to the airport!”

So after many false starts, KLM managed to get us back to Cairo on a huge and empty airplane, and we made it home through tension-filled streets. The next day we got to the factory, and out they all came tumbling like puppies with laughs and smiles. “Madame! Mister M! You came! Alhamde lullah, Alhamde lullah!”

But now it is April Fools day, 2011. A few short weeks later.

And we were the fools. We came to the factory as usual, very early, to beat the traffic; and as usual, we went to our back office to have breakfast in front of the BBC news; and as usual, we left the factory door wide open.

Suddenly two men burst in. One was young, wired, eyes rolling, and brandishing an automatic pistol. The other was older, plump, white-haired stubble on his head and chin, nervously clutching a machete. They put us to our knees, tied our hands behind our backs, and told us to look at the floor. The gun was at my temple, and the machete was at Sevinch’s throat; and we both knew that the time had come…

You never know what you will do until it happens. And all I knew was that they were going to kill us. So I fought: I got my hands free and took the gun. I pointed it in his face, and a dark sensation of murder grasped my soul. It is a feeling I never want to experience again. I wanted him dead, as I pulled the trigger.

But as some of you know, as you get older, you tend to forget important small details in life, and death. Things like safety catches.

I fired four times, and four times the gun failed to work. And then I got the kicking of my life. But they were rattled, they tied us up anew, grabbed what they could, and ran.

And do you know what the insult was that the bastards added to injury?

They tied us up with our own tassels….

April Fools Day, 2011.




October 24, 2009