Power dresser: Camilla Fayed

When Kate Middleton wore an Issa dress, the label couldn’t cope with demand. Step in Camilla Fayed. She tells Joy Lo Dico about growing up in Harrods, and her surprisingly small wedding

Camilla Fayed
Camilla Fayed

Not far from Camilla Fayed’s Park Lane apartment is Harrods, cathedral of commerce, with a mini St Paul’s baroque dome in terracotta. Built long before her father Mohamed Fayed bought it in 1985, the year of Camilla’s birth, its baroque style suited his confidence and swagger.

One would have thought his daughter would have inherited some of this. Indeed, I half-expected her apartment to be embossed in gold with Sphinx heads atop pillars. Instead it was almost a disappointment. Up in a cosy lift, down a cosy corridor, and through a plain front door was a tidy, modestly wealthy, modestly sized apartment, though the vista of the park reminded you why Park Lane has the top spot on the Monopoly board.

Camilla, 28, is straightforward, demure and a little reluctant to be in the limelight. She tucks her feet under herself on the sofa, ready to talk about Issa, her two-year-old business, as her four-year-old daughter Luna, hair in a neat plait, runs around looking for the family kitten, Noriega Twinkle-Toes, pursued by her personal assistant. Her baby boy, Numair, has just gone down for a lunchtime nap in another room and other than some distinctive earrings and finger cuff, by her friend the jewellery designer Noor Fares, there are few signs of the family wealth (Forbes lists Mohamed Fayed to be worth £850 million).

That might be because Camilla doesn’t inherit so much the social attitude of her father as the business attitude. In 2011, she stepped in to buy the dress brand Issa, founded a decade before by Brazilian-in-London Daniella Helayel and known for its classic prints and classic outlines. “This is my first business venture,” says Camilla, proudly. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Issa from probably eight years ago. A love for the brand got me very interested in investing.”

Issa wasn’t any old dressmaker. Until 2010, it had been quietly doing well, with Madonna already a loyalist. Then something went very right and something went wrong. Kate Middleton stepped out wearing its blue wrap dress for the announcement of her engagement to Prince William, a cue for stockists to bulk-order in the dress. But then the company, a homespun operation, began to fall apart at the seams, or at least that’s how Camilla Fayed saw it. She became its chairwoman and chief investor, buying a 51 per cent stake.

“I suppose when I came in I treated the business like a start-up,” says Camilla, who had no particular experience but a feel for the fashion trade from what she calls “The University of Harrods” and a brief stint working for Vogue. “There was no business model. It was at the time basically going into bankruptcy.”

Money isn’t scarce in the Fayed family. Her father — she is his daughter by his second marriage, to Heini Wathan — still owns the Ritz hotel in Paris but Harrods was sold in 2010 to the Qatari royal family for £1.5 billion. He also bought in when it was “crumbling”, says Camilla.

Taking on Issa, the Fayed family found its name alongside that of royalty again. Mohamed Fayed had held the Royal Warrant forHarrods. The more tragic encounter with royalty was for her half-brother Dodi Fayed, who was killed with Princess Diana on the night of the fateful car crash in Paris. Camilla doesn’t want to talk about Dodi, nor does she court the royal connection. Kate Middleton buying an Issa dress was “nothing to do with the company” — she just picked it out at Fenwick’s.

Camilla steers back to business and talks with enthusiasm about Issa’s new international outlook. Helayal left as its creative director this year, in what was billed as a mutual decision. The new creative director is Blue Farrier, who had been working at Chloë. Camilla signed her because of the chemistry between them, and is planning on “evolution, not revolution”.

But changes are afoot. Previously just a concession in department stores, Issa has opened its first stand-alone shop in Tokyo, and is looking at a second in Japan. A deal has been signed to open nine shops across the Middle East — her Egyptian father is “over the moon” about the Middle East deal — and they are looking at ventures in Brazil and Russia.

Even though the brand was established here, London is at the end of her list of stores to open, and Europe isn’t a priority. “Europeans have it all,” she says. “They have so much choice — it is like being spoilt — so I think the emerging markets are of more interest.”  The BRICs, she keeps saying — meaning the fast growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

One can’t quite work out whether this language is imported from her business team — she took the Harrods finance director to Issa when she joined to sort out the company structure — or whether this is her own vision. But it fits in with her being more inspired by the idea of being a success on her own terms than showing off with Bond Street stores. She could be sitting pretty, a European princess with Egyptian money behind her and two children at her feet, but she is restless.

“I would just be so bored,” she says, of being a stay-at-home mother. “Of course guilt comes in but someone said, when my daughter arrived, ‘guilt if you do, guilt if you don’t’. That’s the biggest emotion that will eat you up. So if you don’t respect the guilt and pay attention to it, you won’t do anything. You will just be a mom and stay at home. That’s fine but …”.

Even the role of wife doesn’t fit too well. She and her partner, Syrian property magnate Mohamad Esreb, married last year, privately. “I always say partner — it’s easier to say. “No one knows about it [the marriage]. I’m not a big wedding type.” By contrast with others born into Middle Eastern wealth and privilege, for example Syrian businessman Wafic Said’s daughter Rasha, whose wedding was held at Versailles with Robbie Williams booked as entertainer, Camilla is curiously discreet. “We didn’t tell anyone about it,” she says. “There were five of us, just family, people who care about us. Why have more? Who cares? It’s the union that matters — you and the other person.” She repeats the old mantra, “the bigger the wedding, the bigger the divorce”.

The attitude carries over to Issa. When asked who she’d love to see as its brand ambassador, Camilla scowls. “I find it hard to identify with this celebrity culture,” she says. “For me it is the old icons: Brigitte Bardot or Sophia Loren, even Elizabeth Taylor, all personify a beauty and elegance.

“There’s none of the downside and the dirty side of celebrity or celebrities these days. Yes, there can be a beautiful model one day but the next you’ve got a picture of her in the gutter with her legs open.”

She won’t quite admit to his involvement but one suspects her father is watching over this new generation of entrepreneur closely. Has she borrowed any particular wisdom from him? Over time “he’s given me some great one-liners”, she says. “Don’t confuse profit with turnover — that’s the one I keep reminding myself of.” And so will her financial advisers.