Meet the man who is behind every crease, fold, and occasional wrinkle on every uniform in Egypt’s armed and police forces. His name is Mohamed El-Badrawi and he is quite literally, some will argue, responsible for the fabric that holds Egypt together.
Alongside military garb, El-Badrawi also makes costumes for prominent Egyptian films and television series. As if this were not enough of an impressive resume for the 66 year old, here comes the kicker – he was also the personal tailor for Presidents Anwar El-Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak and assisted his father in dressing Gamal Abdel Nasser.
A small television sits in the corner of El-Badrawi’s office and a football match is on. As the game heats up and the commentators get excited, clients turn their heads to get a glimpse of the match. El-Badrawi hardly moves. His attention is completely absorbed by his work. One cannot help but notice how El-Badrawi operates. His movements are meticulous and precise. He knows where everything is at all times.
The walls of El-Badrawi’s office are adorned with framed photographs and old newspaper clippings. He has a picture with El-Sadat, a portrait of Mubarak, another picture shows him standing with a gentleman who is dressed like El-Sadat. When asked who that is, he says it’s Ahmed Zaki, one of the most famed actors in Arabian cinema, who went on to play El-Sadat in Mohamed Khan’s classic Ayyam El-Sadat (‘Days of Sadat, 2001).
El-Badrawi goes on to say that they “were filming together for two years, meeting and working, so we had a strong relationship”. El-Badrawi was responsible for the wardrobe of the film, and Zaki seized an incredible opportunity to learn more about El-Sadat from the tailor. Zaki, a master impersonator, wanted to learn every single detail about the former president. “He cared so much about every detail in El-Sadat’s life,” says El-Badrawi.
When one looks these framed photographs, a question immediately arises: how does one even get the chance to be the tailor of movie stars and presidents? El-Badrawi, who was born in the Daqahleya Governorate and later moved to Cairo, says that his father used to be a tailor, so naturally he followed in his father’s footsteps.
He says: “I am a military man, and my father was a fashion designer, and through observing him I learned how to tailor clothes.”
El-Badrawi was able to combine his fashion background with his military one; however, it was not just pure coincidence that paved the way for his career, it was hard work, and more importantly, his passion for the craft. El-Badrawi says: “I love historical clothes, and for this craft, it’s just a beautiful game full of creativity, like cinema and music.”
He does not view the task of making clothes as a menial task, but instead approaches it as an artist.
El-Badrawi gives very direct answers. It’s not that he does not have much to say, so much as he does not want to waste any time. Productivity appears to be his number one priority. When asked about making military uniforms, he adds that along with making all the uniforms for Egypt, he has even gone on to work on the Sudanese, Nigerian and some of the Gulf region’s uniforms.
The busiest time of the year for him is between April and July, just “before the graduation of the navy, police and air force students”. Also, during January to July, he starts tailoring the costumes for the upcoming Ramadan television series.
The man is tireless, and seemingly appears to be everywhere; behind the military (both domestic and abroad), the film industry, and the young professional walking into a job interview.
He admits that out of all the avenues he works in, he prefers the arts. El-Badrawi says that “creativity is in art, but the military does not add anything new”. He also makes it clear that he got his start in military wear, saying that he first tailored military personnel’s uniforms.
Behind his desk, displayed in a glass case is an impressive looking military jacket sitting on top of a mannequin bust with a set of boots beside it. When asked about it, El-Badrawi says that they belong to El-Sadat. He made them for the former president for the 6 October celebrations in 1980.
The leather boots, which belonged to such a powerful man, surprisingly boast a very small-size, but are radiant with military excellence. Looking at the impressive suit with its satchel, epaulettes and decorations, it’s ominous to think of El-Sadat wearing it, knowing that exactly one year later he would be assassinated.
When asked which of the three former presidents were most obsessive about their attire, El-Badrawi says “none of them”. He did go on to say that out of all three (who were all military men) it was El-Sadat who enjoyed wearing the uniform the most. He even wore it to his wedding.
When asked which colours Nasser liked, El-Badrawi says “dark ones”. He goes on to say that El-Sadat was fond of “all colours, except for brown. He also did not like any red lines on any suit” that he wore. Mubarak was quite flexible, and after many years of tailoring under his belt, trusted El-Badrawi with anything he produced. Mubarak, however, cared most about the actual material of his suits.
Mubarak’s weight varied the most while he was president. El-Badrawi notes: “He [Mubarak] lost and gained weight. Abdel Nasser had a stable weight, but it only declined when he had diabetes. El-Sadat was always sportive. But Hosni Mubarak was fatter.”
Though he does not currently work with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who opts to have his suits outsourced, he did tailor uniforms for the president when he was in the military.
El-Badrawi also worked with Mohamed Hussein Al-Tantawi. When asked if Al-Tantawi was content with his position as Field Marshal during the 25 January Revolution, before Mohamed Morsi became president, El-Badrawi says: “No, I don’t think he was happy. It was a burden.”
El-Badrawi, who personally likes the classic look of black and white, says that what he most enjoys about tailoring is “working on historical pieces”. He says that he likes the pieces worn by Isma’il Pasha and Muhammad Ali (both former leaders of Egypt in the 19th century).
This should not come as surprise, but according to El-Badrawi a person’s attire is incredibly important. He even goes so far as to say he wouldn’t hire someone, irrespective how impressive their resume is, if they are not well put-together.
“What a person chooses to wear, and how they wear it, says so much about that person” adds El-Badrawi. After all, as El-Badrawi best put it, “before you even begin to speak, they see your clothes”. When it comes to the way young people dress these days, El-Badrawi’s thoughts on the topic are simple. “It is fashion,” he says, “and every era has its own fashion.”
All photos taken by Sharif Paget