Meet the Emirati designer who gives a fashionable update to modest dressing

Yasmin Al-Mulla makes tradition and progress work together. (Supplied)
Updated 08 August 2019

Meet the Emirati designer who gives a fashionable update to modest dressing

DUBAI: Ready-to-wear label YNM Dubai is one of a niche group of regional fashion houses that have given modest dressing a fashionable update.

Founded by creative director Yasmin Al-Mulla and her elder sister Nesreen, a trained engineer, YNM Dubai is a young label — it turns five in September — but is already considered to be a trailblazer in the Arab fashion industry.

“I look after everything to do with design. She does all the behind-the-scenes work,” 30-year-old Yasmin, who is very much the face of the brand, explains. Having studied International Relations at the American University in Dubai Yasmin went on to the London College of Fashion. Although she comes from a family of doctors and scientists, she knew fashion was her calling.

“I wanted to show that Khaleeji fashion did not have to be ‘busy’, and felt there was a need to elegantly modernize the kaftan,” she says. It was the death of her father that ultimately inspired Yasmin to launch her own label.

“It made me realize I needed to pursue my passion and become serious about work,” she says.

Innovation is key to her approach to fashion. Her first collection was 100+ pieces strong, reflecting the confidence she had in her vision. “We decided not to be in department stores but to launch online only, as we knew that e-commerce was the next big thing.” It was a risky strategy for a newcomer, but it paid off. YNM Dubai’s debut collection was sold out in less than a week. Today its online portal delivers to over 60 countries across the world and also works with Ounass, Robinsons and Tyrano. Though most of her clients are based in the GCC, there is growing interest from America too.

“Modest dressing is having a moment,” Yasmin says. The new, more pared-down, design approach that young Arab fashion labels like YNM Dubai have injected into their designs has helped the West wake up to the ease and comfort of modest dressing. “It’s about having a minimal luxe take on fashion. Embroidery is there — that’s part of our culture — but with a modern sense of restraint. So perhaps just on the sleeve.”

Color plays a major role in this new take. No longer are abayas just black — they are offered in a kaleidoscope of colors from beige to red. These are abayas that can be teamed with jeans, and kaftans that can be belted into chic evening dresses.

“Dressing up is a form of representing your own personality,” Yasmin says. She wants every women who wears an YNM design to feel they are free to make it their own through their accessories. (Yasmin is a self-confessed shoeaholic and jewelry magpie).

Yasmin is always on the lookout for special fabrics too. While most designers from the region look to Italy and France for their textiles, Yasmin favors Spain and Japan, where you find some of the most innovative silks and crepes. Many of her beads and stones are also from Japan. “They have these absolutely beautiful crystal-clear pearls,” she says.

For her most recent Ramadan collection she collaborated with Tiffany and Co. She decided once again to only sell this collection online, and it was sold out in days. Next up is a collaboration with specialty French perfumer Ex-Nihilo Paris, and this October — as part of her label’s fifth anniversary celebrations — she will launch her first perfume. Called “Dubai,” it will be a limited edition 100-piece collection that will retail exclusively at Bloomingdale’s. Everything about it, including the bottle, will celebrate the heritage of Old Dubai and the progressive nature of New Dubai.

Collaboration is how many young fashion designers are taking their story forward, and making their work about more than clothes. And Yasmin has embraced this wholeheartedly. Included in her collection are caftans from which profits will be used help fight cancer. That all started with a light blue Indian linen kaftan three years ago named “The Noora” in honor of her mother, a survivor of colon cancer. “The Noora” is now a permanent part of her collection. She has designed other kaftans to raise money for victims of breast cancer as well.

Yasmin herself has become extremely health-conscious, she says. She has adopted a diet free from gluten, dairy and refined sugar, and has worked on a cookbook of healthy Emirati food.

She often shares her recipes on her Instagram account, and hopes to find the right publisher for her book soon. For this Emirati the way to take tradition forward — whether in food or fashion — is to combine it with the modern. And this has helped her become one of the leading figures in Dubai’s popular culture scene.

Startup of the Week: Saudi baker and chef winning hearts of food lovers

Photo supplied
Updated 20 August 2019

Startup of the Week: Saudi baker and chef winning hearts of food lovers

  • Working over 15 hours a day and being self-taught was just the start; Essam is the interior and graphic designer, the marketer, the CEO and the chef at White Mountain

A Saudi bakery and restaurant business specializing in pastries is finding its way into Saudi hearts with a delectable selection of fine Italian, French, and Swiss foods.
Ahmad Essam, 28, a self-taught baker and chef, left a productive family business to create what is now one of the most prestigious bakeries in Alkhobar.
Essam set up his bakery and restaurant while working as a production engineer, selling tarts and cakes to his friends.
He was overwhelmed by the encouragement he received, and little by little Essam, his dream of running his own company emerged.
Working over 15 hours a day and being self-taught was just the start; Essam is the interior and graphic designer, the marketer, the CEO and the chef at White Mountain.
Baking French pastries such as croissants, macarons, mille-feuille, eclairs and tarts require a true artisan. Essam described the glory he feels when he bakes, saying: “Dealing with precise tips to get the real essence of French pastries and reaching a level to bake without recipes is a matter of experience and good knowledge. Being a real baker requires a lot of learning as it’s not only about mixing water and flour; its trick lies behind the process of fermentation that sometimes lasts for days.’’
Every once in a while, the young man distributes membership books to loyal customers. “On Valentine’s Day, we distributed 3,000 roses,” he added.
Essam is very passionate, and dreams of opening a cooking academy in Saudi Arabia so he can inspire other amateur bakers; he told Arab News about his future 12,000-square-meters cooking village project that he is aiming to create in Riyadh, “including a library that collects all cookbooks, a seasonal spice shop, a great lake garden, a pizzeria, glossary shop and more, all of which falls under one theme: Cooking.”
For him, business is an obsession and profession. “Chefs have their egos. They are dealing with a tricky job and they know what they are doing exactly. They do not accept comments or advice from other chefs,” he explained.
You can follow him for more information on White Mountain on Instagram: @wm.bakery.