I had the extreme pleasure of interviewing designer Yasmin Mansour, on behalf of Fatou Ndiaye, at the spectacular Murano restaurant at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski Pearl, Qatar.
Yasmin Mansour is a young designer based in Doha, Qatar. I would describe Yasmin Mansour as a very well mannered and sophisticated young lady. She is also full of life experience, despite her young age, which she is happy to share with us in this interview.
B: Yasmine, tell us about yourself please.
Y: I’m a fashion designer based in Doha. I started my own brand in 2014. I believe that I will have an amazing interview with you Badara!
B: How did you get into design?
Y: From the age of 13, I loved drawing in general. One day, I was inspired to draw figures with dresses. Back then it was just like a dream. I was looking out the window and dreaming.
At age 15, I stopped drawing and got into photography and make up.
B: So artistic huh?
Y: Yes. When I travelled to Egypt, I shared with my dad that I wasn’t happy. He said “you have to move, to continue and see other worlds, other universes”. I was young. I was 17. I couldn’t understand. All of my friends were here in Doha, and in Egypt I didn’t have any friends; I thought I would end up staying home alone a lot. And then I remembered the drawing. I went and bought some books related to fashion and I started to draw again. Don’t ask me what I was drawing, it was a bunch of crazy stuff. For six months, I drew every single day. That’s all I would do. I wanted to do something, and I had something to do.
I looked into a fashion school in Egypt. I initially studied Mass Communications because there were no fashion design schools and it was the closest thing to what I liked. After so much drawing, I realized that was really what i wanted to do that and searched for a fashion school. I found one, but it was really old and poorly cared for. I remember the first time I went there, I saw these very old dresses. I was like “Where am I?”.
It was not an easy experience but I thought “Let’s try this. Its the only option I have”. Just like that, I went and applied. They told me they had fashion design and pattern making classes, and I decided to take both. When I started, I had no idea about fashion, fabrics or how to create patterns.
B: But you have to start somewhere, right?
Y: Yes. I remember at this first class, the teacher gave me a calculator, and he gave me mathematical things to do for the pattern making and I asked “This is fashion???”
B: This wasn’t what you expected fashion design to be?
Y: Right! It was really hard, but I thought “If I want to do it, I have to fight and I have to learn.” So I studied in Egypt for three years. Actually they opened a new school. When I went to the new one, I wanted everyone to look at me.
B: So you always had to dress differently and cool?
Y: Yes, and I had to always create “crazy” sketches.
B: You were making your own clothes at that time?
Y: No, not at all. I’ll tell you the story of my first gown later. After the new school opened, many female fashion design students started applying, so there was competition. This made me feel like I was at the right place. The school was an Italian Fashion Academy in Egypt by the way. It was owned by an Italian woman who lived in Egypt for around 20 years and worked in the fashion industry. Well, this school was the start, a lot of things happened in this school.
B: I assume that having to change from a familiar environment to a new one made things challenging, especially as a teenager. Did your parents support you when you started drawing? Did they see that you were sketching or were you hiding it from them?
Y: No. When I moved to Egypt, I was living with my sister. My parents were not around.
B: You went to some kind of boarding school?
Y: No, I lived in a home with my sister. When I had to make decisions, I didn’t have to ask anyone.
B: Oh, independent “I’m gonna do my own thing”.
Y: Yes. My parents didn’t know that it was serious about fashion because sometimes you get into it for fun. They would support me to go to school and do whatever I like, but they didn’t fully realize that fashion would become my career.
B: That’s good. Tell me about your first gown please.
Y: One day, at school, there was a competition. We had to create a collection from a mood-board and design only one gown in this collection. My collection was called “Dark Side of the Moon”. It was all black outfits
B: Are you sure this dark side wasn’t about you? [laugh]. Tell us about your dark side collection.
Y: The concept was to show that everyone has two sides, and I wanted to show the dark side of the world. I didn’t want to show the usual beauty. I wanted to show the strong women, the powerful women. So the whole collection was dark, with feathers and metal pieces
B: Do you have photos of that first design?
Y: I have photos of the first gown, and it was also on the cover of magazines, I’ll show you. When I started creating the dress, it was dark and feathered. It was really hard to create it you because I only knew how to sketches, not design. Incredibly, the dress turned out really nice.
Foreign fashion designers came to Egypt as guest judges and they really liked mine design. One day, there was a photoshoot at school, and a magazine called me to tell me that they needed my dress for their cover. I asked “Are you sure?” (laugh) and they answered “Yes, and we want to interview you”. It was such a shock for me! I was just a 19 year old student and my first gown was going to appear on a magazine cover! My first gown featured in a magazine, my first shoot, my first everything! I was really happy.
This was my big break in the in Egyptian press. After this cover, magazines started calling me, young actresses wanted me to dress them. It was like a dream.
B: How did you come up new designs? Actually, I don’t just draw. I dream it first and then I draw (laugh).
Y: One day, I was sleeping and dreamt about a dress coming out of ice. Because of the ice, I imagined mirrors and glasses. By the time I woke up, I had everything in my mind. I immediately drew it, and the next day I went to see the pattern maker. The dress was short and had a triangular shape. The triangle represented the idea of the eye. I went to school and made the pattern. I did everything alone, then I chose the fabric and started making the dress. As the dress. and to life, I thought about the material because as you can see, my designs are always about the material and the fabric.
B: I know, I saw the details in your work.
Y: Yes. I knew a designer and contacted her. I told her how I wanted to create a single piece from these small triangles with metal, lots of triangles, like a puzzle. Then we created the puzzle on the pattern, and we numbered them 1,2,3,4,5 etc. She assembled it at the factory, and I continued the work by myself. It was really really hard, I remember crying, staying four hours to put only four pieces together. I needed a professional to do it. It was 4 am and I was crying thinking I was not going to make it. I contacted another designer the next day to help me. When we finished the dress, it was a masterpiece in my opinion. I thought to myself “I’m not even 20 and I made this dress”. I contacted a friend in Egypt, a photographer. I showed him the dress and asked if had any ideas for shooting this dress. He immediately came up with the idea of doing a photo shoot in a metal factory”. I asked where we were going to find a metal factory. He said he had a friend who could help us. It was really nice of him.
B: I can’t wait to see these photos. I think our readers would like to see how you started.
B: You’re in Qatar, a country which is known to be quite conservative, and yet here you are, a successful fashion designer. How do you navigate in this environment? Did you face obstacles?
Y: Wherever you go, the start is difficult. I think Qatari women want to wear really special clothes. They aren’t interested in mass produced clothing. For this reason, I think I’m in the right country.
B: In the US we often see Arabic women buying expensive fashion clothes, and most people think “But where are you going to wear those? You’re covered all the time”. What do you have to say about that?
Y: Arabic women have a lot of fun. There are gatherings, big private parties with only women. And there you can wear whatever you want. And even the covering items are fashionable, we call them “Abaya”.
B: Can you tell me the differences between those clothes?
Y: I wear abaya. There are daily abaya, and abaya for special occasions. It’s really comfortable.
B: How is it being Muslim and a fashion designer? Do you find it challenging?
Y: For me, designing has no rules. If you start setting rules, you will not be able to create anything. You create what you think about. And you cannot rule out your thinking. When you create clothes, you are not responsible about where or when people will wear them. Some people might not like that I create an open-back dress, but I know that some women would love to wear them during their private parties because they want to feel fashionable. They love it and they are happier with their lives than the outside world thinks.
B: Do you do bespoke work?
Y: I make pre-orders. People pre-order what they want and I create it at their exact size.
B: How would you describe yourself?
Y: I’m passionate, I love life, people, I dream a lot, I don’t hide things, I love to talk, not to everyone, to special people. I’m very emotional. I can’t bear to have anyone negative or sad around me. It really affects me. This is a problem because you don’t have to appreciate everyone if they don’t appreciate you.
B: Do you confront people when things aren’t right?
Y: Well I don’t hide anything. I don’t like fights, and I easily forgive people; however, if I don’t wanna be your friend, I won’t pretend to like you nor will I want to be around you. You cannot work effectively when something affects you. This happened with very close friends and family. We always have to deal with different energies at home, at work, etc..
I’m really a social person. I meet a lot of people through my work; actresses, teachers, photographers, models, editors, clients, even random people in the street.
B: Do you have a muse?
Y: Yes. I love Coco Chanel and her story. She was really powerful, I feel we share personality traits. She started by thinking outside of the box. This is one of the things I learned from her. When I created my own brand, I wanted to do something that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. I didn’t want to copy anyone. I want my clients to wear Yasmin Mansour, not a copy of something else.
B: What is your beauty routine? What is your secret?
Y: I wash my face very well during the day, drink a lot of water, and do at least a bit of gym. I use a night lotion and face cream before going to sleep as well.
B: One more question: Did your mother influence you?
Y: Yes. My mother and I used to love drawing when she was young. She always says that we have so many things in common. She enjoys giving me advice, but I always want to try myself and see what happens when I experiment.
B: Yasmin, thank you for this lovely interview and for the chance to experience the beautiful Pearl. I Hope to see you soon and good luck on your future endeavors!
Dear readers, We hope you enjoyed this interview a much as we did, and that you’ve gotten to know Yasmin a bit more. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Yasmin is a young talented individual who believes in going above and beyond to challenge societal barriers. We need people like her in the world.