#UNCOVERED – Turning Heads: In Conversation with Yousef Akbar
He has dressed celebrities the world over including Kimbra, Jessica Mauboy, Kelly Osbourne, and most recently Chrissy Teigen. A former sportsperson turned fashion designer with a penchant for challenging the convention of fashion design, Yousef Akbar is undoubtedly one of the most promising young designers to watch in 2017.
Yousef Akbar: The Resort 2017 Collection
COVERED: Tell us about your brand, what does it stands for a and what was your inspiration behind your Resort 2017 collection?
YOUSEF AKBAR: This collection is inspired by the concept of sustainable and socially responsible couture; it supports women in the developing world, such as the Middle East and India. It offers them opportunities to work and support local artisans and dying crafts.
The Resort 2017 collection celebrates the courage and strength of women through times of adversity. Growing up in the Middle East, I have witnessed women being oppressed in a male dominated society. It has had a huge impact on me.
“I dedicate this collection to all women – the widows, the orphans, the teenagers fighting to get an education, the sexually and physically abused, the brave women fighting and standing up for their rights, revolting against their cultures, challenging the norm in their fight for equality and freedom, by shedding a light on their pain, suffering and struggles they face in their lives.” -Yousef Akbar
YOUSEF AKBAR: I have researched on revolutions, wars and the destructive effect on cities as well as individuals. I came across multiple stories of women fleeing their homes and becoming refugees. Many whom cross miles on foot and facing death in hope of finding a better life.
Inspired by these brave women, the main focus of this collection is to challenge convention, by taking classic feminine silhouettes, deconstructing and then reinventing them using innovative and unconventional cutting techniques.
On Pursuing a Career in Fashion
COVERED: What inspired you to take the leap of faith to pursue a career in fashion?
YOUSEF AKBAR: I would not call it a leap of faith. I do not believe that I took any leaps or anything like that. I simply did what was natural to me and what felt right to do. It was all kind of by chance. For as long as I remember, I was always interested in art, painting and sculpting. I always dream of being an artist. I like to dress differently. I just loved clothes. I was always interested in what people were wearing and desired to be “cool” like them. For years, I remembered being so frustrated by not being able to find anything that I really like in the shops.
YOUSEF AKBAR: I would design my own clothes and deal with local tailors. Unfortunately, they hated the extra work involved in my clothes. They wanted to do conventional everyday blazers, shirts, etc. They would either cancel on me half way or refuse my request. I got fed up. During my last semester of my Master’s degree, I decided to search for courses to make clothes so that I can literally learn how to make a jacket for myself.
On Falling in Love with Fashion & Womenswear
YOUSEF AKBAR: I was good at drawing and illustration; I put a portfolio together and applied to TAFE Ultimo Fashion Design Studio in New South Wales, Australia. I could not believe that I was accepted into the school. It is funny because I remembered doing the first assignment where we had to design a few women looks. I was forced to do it as I was not interested in women to wear at the start. The teacher told me that menswear was coming down the track. I asked about tailoring and I was heartbroken to find out that it is a second year subject. I could not believe that I had to pass the first year and make it that long doing womenswear assignments.
YOUSEF AKBAR: Gradually, I was falling in love with the whole process. I started to really get into womenswear. By the end of the first year, I could not imagine myself doing anything else. It was the perfect medium for myself to express myself and share my point of view. I also enjoyed the technical aspect of it. From draping to experimenting to finding technical solutions to creative challenges.
On his journey from a National Tenpin Bowler to becoming a Fashion Designer
COVERED: Would you like to tell us more about yourself and your journey from a national bowler to a fashion designer? Did you feel there were any road blocks that you faced along your journey?
YOUSEF AKBAR: No road blocks. I believe if you put your mind and heart into something: nothing can stop you. It is all in the frame of mind that you have. In every challenge, there is a new lesson and an unexpected opportunity.
Of course, there were restraints such as financial restraints, time and manpower to help my vision come to life. Nevertheless, it is nothing out of the ordinary. I still believe with limitations, creativity flourishes, in a very strange way I see having everything at your finger tips can be paralyzing having all the choices and freedom is like having absolutely nothing.
YOUSEF AKBAR: I still bowl. It is still a very big part of my life and I believe that everyone will see me bowling internationally soon. Bowling and fashion are the two things that truly make me feel so happy; I feel blessed to not have only one thing but two things that I am passionate about.
On Chrissy Teigen & the American Music Awards
COVERED: When Chrissy Teigen wore your dress to the American Music Awards in Los Angeles, what was the first thought that came to your mind when you woke up to the news?
YOUSEF AKBAR: I thought to myself, “I couldn’t believe how unlucky I was for someone to design a near identical dress, and Chrissy Teigen wore it.”
I could not believe that she wore the dress. However, I recalled that the stylist, Monica Rose, took the dress from my PR showroom in LA, and it all clicked. I was overjoyed.
Chrissy Teigen at the American Music Awards
COVERED: This one’s for aspiring designers out there hoping to be discovered – How did Chrissy Teigan ‘talent spot’ your dress?
YOUSEF AKBAR: I wouldn’t say Chrissy Teigen talent spotted me. Many designers would work with PR companies who specialize in PR, media, etc. Stylist such as Monica Rose, dresses many major celebrities in Hollywood. She was styling Chrissy Teigen for a few events including the American Music Awards. Monica Rose will head to different PR showrooms and check out what is new and exciting, and would pull pieces for their clients. In my case, NIGHTCAP PR who is my PR in LA did such a fantastic job of targeting the right people for my collection. I am grateful to be working with a great team.
Words of wisdom to aspiring fashion designers
COVERED: What advice do you have for aspiring fashion designers?
YOUSEF AKBAR: Believe in yourself. Believe that you can do it. There will be many who will try and stop you. Use that to motivate yourself to work harder. Do it for yourself. Do it because you love it not for any other reason. Be true to yourself. Never try and please anyone. Lastly, be nice to everyone.
COVERED: Moving forward, where do you envision yourself in 5 years? Will you be planning for a fashion show for your next collection? Which countries are you planning to expand your fashion line into?
YOUSEF AKBAR: With fashion the way it is now and with the internet, I dont have any specific place I would like to expand in. However, I hope to strengthen my brands position, create a strong identity, and expand in general globally. I hope to make a difference in terms of contributing back to the people locally and in developing communities, who in many cases have great talent and skills, and rare crafts that are rare and dying, that needs to be supported.
For more on Yousef Akbar and his collection, check out www.yousefakbar.com