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.

 “We Are All Things”: An ode to lost love 

"We Are All Things" by Elliot Colla. (Supplied)
Updated 29 January 2020

 “We Are All Things”: An ode to lost love 

CHICAGO: In a room in Cairo, a man sits alone surrounded by items that fill his house. His relationship has just ended and, as he laments, he doesn’t realize that he isn’t the only witness to his latest tragedy. The objects in his house that he interacts with every day but pays little attention to, all watch on as the remnants of moments fade away from the room but remain imprinted in them. In “We Are All Things,” a graphic prose poem written by Elliott Colla and illustrated by Ganzeer, ordinary objects are brought to life with their own opinions, memories, and quirks.

The first image is of a black lamp with a pink shade which illuminates the room as it “soaks up the shapes and colors of the rest of the room and wears them as a funhouse reflection.” Colla’s words and Ganzeer’s pink and black illustrations jolt awake objects to tell their side of the tale.

Each object has a special personality, the bed that harbors not only humans but also the weevils that have eaten away the cotton in the pillows. A stereo that plays Umm Kulthum’s voice from a cassette tape, her pink figure in the middle of the page passionately singing of a longing that has repeated itself in the room countless times. The oldest object is a mirror, which not only sees things but keeps images and memories, making the room seem as if it is “full of ghostly reflections and optical echoes.”

Colla’s words ignite everyday objects, giving them spirited personalities, such as the clock that must endure “obscure comments” about itself, such as: “Time standing still. Time flying. A stitch in time,” while it holds time together with its “wires, coils, and levers.” Ganzeer’s illustrations capture the moments and objects so intricately in a charmingly unique atmosphere created by a collaboration that is peculiarly delightful.

Ganzeer and Colla push readers to think beyond existence to where secrets can be held by the objects in their lives in this remarkable chapbook. Molly Crabapple sums up the book perfectly in the introduction: “This is Elliott Colla and Ganzeer’s nostalgic ode to a lost love in a city that for the last two millennium has been the focus of every variety of love, longing, and loss.”