An interview with the Lebanese designer about her eponymous brand.

The Beirut-born Abu Dhabi-raised designer, Yassmin Saleh, has always loved fashion and the idea of wearable art. After studying at Milan’s renowned Istituto Marangoni, she went on to earn her B.A in fashion design at the Lebanese American University in collaboration with ELIE SAAB and UAL: London College of Fashion. Winning the Jury Prize in 2015, Yassmin interned at Elie Saab’s Beirut headquarters before earning the 2017 Prize of Excellency in Craftsmanship for her collection “The Dance of the Psyche.”

In 2018, she launched her eponymous label with her sister Farah Saleh by her side. Since then, Saleh’s designs have been worn by multiple celebrities in the region. Dainty and delightful are the best words that describe her designs, as they float organically along women’s bodies, be it a dress or a two-piece suit. As part of her brand, she also launched a bespoke bridal gown line, Yassmin Saleh Bridal.

In our latest creative talk, we spoke with Yassmin Saleh about her inspirations, building a sustainable brand, and more.

١. I once read that you “had a guilty pleasure” of making outfits from your “dad’s tailored suits” with your mom’s “preppy pieces.” Would you say that was your first introduction to fashion?

Yes, definitely. I used to love styling clothes from my parents’ closet. It made me realize that fashion is a form of expression. It is not about the piece of clothing but how it makes you feel when you wear it.

٢. Where do you seek inspiration from? What’s your creative process like?

I get inspired by art, psychology, human behaviour, socio-political events, nature, life and love.
Through each collection, we aim to tell a story one collection at a time. Just like the human mind is affected by experiences, we view the start of each collection as though it were a blank canvas ready to be filled with strokes and textures.

Once we know what we want to talk about, we translate the intangible through fabric manipulation techniques, colours, textures and shapes. This is the most stimulating part of being a designer as you see your ideas turn from concepts to real life.

٣. As a designer and creative, what was your artist’s journey like? How did you coin your aesthetic or stylistic “niche”?

I feel like my journey was very organic. I try to be mindful to stay true to myself, my values and my identity as a brand and a person. I believe that this is key to the success of any business. After every collection, I reflect on what can be better and what people would like to see more of. Every piece has to be well thought-out, all while looking effortless.

٤. What materials and techniques do you enjoy working with the most, and why?

I love exploring fabric manipulation techniques. The eco-printing is a technique that we have been trying to perfect for a while. There are endless possibilities in which we can print using natural elements. We try to explore new ways within each collection.

Another technique that drives me is creating a shape from a fabric. We have been creating flowers, organic draping, and embroidered shapes – all of which help us translate our vision into the garments.

٥. You often accompany a story to each collection. I’d love to know more about that and your aim of making a statement through garments.

Each collection I create is a sartorial love letter to the Yassmin Saleh customer. Growing up, I struggled to express my emotions, and witnessing loved ones battle mental health issues profoundly impacted me. Our mission is to empower the YS client, helping them feel their best and feel included in important conversations. Through luxury fashion, we aim to break the stigma around mental health and create positive change in society. Every collection is a story, and the brand is my blank canvas. It is my way of sharing stories, thoughts and experiences with you.

٦. Can you tell me more about your most recent collection, “Flowers in the Fountain,” and its story?

Flowers in the Fountain is a campaign that has been on my mind for a very long time. We were able to bring our vision to life thanks to Ramzi Hibri, who helped us spark the conversation with lightness and fun.
We are ecstatic to launch the short series, introducing a diverse cast of women from one family, leaving their men for a Sunday’s girl lunch. Each video is inspired by bold archetypes from Lebanese society; each portrait is a celebration of complexity and vulnerability. After having met all women, a video of the lunch blends fashion, family and conversations about loving oneself, insecurities, love and, of course, food!

٧. Tell me more about your ethical and zero-water practices at YASSMIN SALEH and how you maintain them.

Within each collection, we make sure to carry sustainable pieces that follow the circular economy model to prolong the life of the garment. We work with multiple techniques. Our most common methods are creating couture techniques using deadstock and our eco-printing. We also work with PETA-certified vegan fabrics and always aim to find fabrics that are environmentally friendly.

٨. Can you share any future projects or collections you’re particularly excited about?

We are so excited about all future projects happening with the brand. We are planning on expanding our doors and are working on something very exciting that we will soon be able to share with you!

Rapid Fire Questions:

١. Favourite article of clothing in your closet?

My linen YS blazer.

٢. What’s your favourite fashion season?

Summer.

٣. What’s the best fashion advice you’ve ever received?

Shoes don’t need to match your bag.

٤. Pattern mixing or monochrome looks?

Monochrome looks.

٥. What’s the one fashion trend you wish would make a comeback?

The maxi-dress.

Rand Al-Hadethi is an art, culture, and fashion writer who approaches all her creative endeavours with a penchant for storytelling. She explores the intersection of fashion, culture, and society and sheds light on talent and cultural movements across the Middle East and the world. Rand also publishes a bi-monthly themed substack newsletter called WebWeaver™. To reach Rand, email her at rand@khamsa5.com or follow her on social media @rundoozz.
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