By Afshan Shafi
At first glance, Saudi-French Sakina Shbib’s creations convey a feeling of sheer grace. As the eye roams over the faultless details, one is awestruck by the joy and decadence of her vision. There’s a sense of an unruffled sensuality as well as pure fantasy to each of her garments. Â Her latest collection shot in collaboration with the fine jewellery house, Piaget, is a study of scarlet and marries boldness with shimmering glamour in each hem. Sakina speaks to Afshan Shafi in an exclusive interview about her passion for design and provides fascinating insights about life as a couturier
How did your passion for design begin? What do you think was a defining moment in your fashion journey?
My mom used to be a tailor in the French countryside, in a small town deep into the South-West, called Villeneuve-sur-Lot. After school, I would help her with the easy parts: cutting ruffles, gathering the material, cutting threads, etc. Any training starts with your capacity to observe. By the time I had reached 12 years of age, I was able to make a dress on my own. My mom would give me the responsibility of the finishing, which I would do after school. It gave me a sense of responsibility at an early age. After I graduated from the University of Bordeaux with a Masters in foreign languages, I got a grant from the government to study in Paris. This was one of the most fortunate instances of my life! I was a very shy teenage girl, but determined. I applied for the famous school Lâ€™Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and graduated in 2012 as a pattern drafter.
The defining moment of my young career was to present my first collection last year during Paris Fashion Week. It is such a big step to cross. And seeing yourself in fashion magazines is such a reward. It is a validation. It is the proof that the industry recognises your hard work. What is funny is that I used to read Elle, Harperâ€™s Bazaar, Marie-Claire magazines as a kid and I had no clue that I would eventually be featured in all of them later on.
What does the term luxury mean to you especially in regard to your training in renowned couture ateliers?
Straight after I graduated from Lâ€™Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, I got my first internship with Alexandre Vauthier in 2012. I worked for one year with him, doing the embroideries, beading work and ornaments of his haute couture dresses. Later, I was appointed seamstress at the Givenchy atelier for another year. By the time I entered the Chanel ready-to-wear team in 2014, I had matured and was able to think critically. My experience at Chanel made me aware of the demands of an elite clientÃ¨le and the requirements regarding the quality of a garment. We spent considerable amount of time in the studio drawing sketches, experimenting with colours, cutting new shapes, etc. Every pattern changes from one collection to another. What people donâ€™t know is that the research part for making a single garment can take one month. This set of experiences has taught me to technically challenge myself and approach design through a strong set of skills. Courtesy these positive experiences, I consider myself to be a craftswoman: the roots of my job require me to work with my hands, from stitching to doing hand embroideries and the delicate details of finishing. When 80 per cent of designers nowadays do mostly sketching and technical drawings, and delegate the work of production to their team, I am my own seamstress. I have 5 employees working under my supervision, but I am clearly the head of my own atelier and I have mastered the techniques of a couturier, of which I am proud. I have learnt through the years that luxury is all about precision, with a strong focus on details. Clients are looking for some sort of exclusivity.
Who do you feel is the embodiment of the Sakina brand?
Fashion is both a work of introspection and a work of observation. You have to look into yourself in order to create your â€œsignature lookâ€ with which women will identify.. But you must also understand the culture of your time. I spend a considerable amount of time traveling the world and observing what women like and how they want to be perceived before I get the inspiration to design. I have a high number of customers from the Gulf countries asking me to design their wedding dresses, and in this case, the cultural concept matters: they want to feel beautiful and, at the same time, honour their religion, which, for instance, prompts me to create a dress with no skin exposure.
My haute couture collections are mainly designs with pure lines, volumes and delicate details handcrafted on high-quality fabrics such as Dentelle de Calais, silk organza, silk satin, silk crepe and silk taffetas, all made in France. The most recurring motifs are guipure appliquÃ©s on organza bases, and flower embroideries paired with beading work. As for my ready to wear collections, they have a pure and modern touch, which is more coherent for everyday life. I would define my style as chic and appropriate. I have in mind a timeless vision of beauty with a strong focus on details. I care more about making women beautiful rather than following trends. Elegance is basically the embodiment of Sakina Paris.
Which artists, writers and other creatives inspire your romantic aesthetic?
There is a language of fashion that depends on the fabrics and the colours you use.
When I design a dress, I look at the balance between the front and the back, and the proportions of the whole body, the structure of the garment, the color matching. I love the sculptural details of draping. This is my vocabulary.
It is very important to be open to the world and be contemporary. Artists have to be aware. You have to know the culture of the day. I read books, read newspapers and watch TV. I use Instagram and I am a part of contemporary society and hope that people can relate to me in a way. But fashion is more an act of the senses rather than a surge of intellectualism. There are no right or wrong answers, it is all about intuition, the feeling of the moment. When you design a collection, you have to look into yourself and ask yourself: â€œWho am I? What is my story?â€ Journalists always ask, â€œWhat is your inspiration?â€ There is no direct response to this. Sometimes I feel a certain way, and as an artist, you should feel rather than think. My collection was a feeling of the moment. For instance, for my second collection, I was inspired by my favorite French writer Marcel Proust and his vision on young women becoming adults and exploring blossoming love and infatuation. It was a very romantic perspective, and definitely the state of mind I was in when I started designing this collection. And then my latest collection is more about melancholy feelings and the force of Autumn. I love Autumn because it is forcefully symbolical. It means change and renewal, through the poetry of changing colors. The colour code is red, ranging from burgundy to dusty red and vermilion. Red means passion, intensity. The leading piece of my collection is a corseted dress made of 7,000 flowers cut in 6 different types of leathers and embroidered by hand with beadings. I imported the leather from Italy and it took 5 workers to cut every single piece of flower and stitch them together by hand to create different shapes and volumes. Haute couture means pushing the limits of creativity. This dress is a recreation of an autumnal forest that looks like an architectural work. I am very proud to finally present it after two months of research.
The lady wearing my clothes has good taste, and is proud of her femininity. She is elegant in all aspects of life, in her wardrobe choices but also in regard to her graceful and polite manners. She masters all the codes elegance is a result of being educated rather than a matter of possessing wealth
I donâ€™t dictate what women should wear, I just follow my instinct. I am inspired by strong women who embrace their femininity, but also maybe with kids, a job, and a life. Women have different ages and body shapes. It is about individuality. Fashion also depends on how you style the pieces. Sometimes you see two different ladies wearing the same outfit, but because one of them knows how to accessorise it, she is instantly more fashionable. Fashion is a balance of everything.
What has been your most memorable fashion show?
My first memorable fashion show as a guest was attending Armani Haute Couture show in January 2015. It is very meaningful to me as it is the date when also I launched my own label. His collection was outstanding, and I had the chance to meet actress Sonam Kapoor and her sister Rhea backstage. They are absolutely adorable! And then, Mister Armani himself came to me and complimented me about my dress that obviously, I had made myself!
But as a fashion designer, my most memorable moment was when I did my first presentation last year in Paris, it really meant something. The first time a designer makes a presentation during a Fashion Week is a huge moment. It is a big challenge to create a collection and put yourself out there for people to judge your work. Especially because the standards in Paris are really high. There is no higher metric in terms of quality than Paris. In this business, people are really quick to judge you and wonâ€™t give you a second chance. Fashion journalists will come and take a look during your showcase, and if they think you are talented, they will support you. But if they think that there is no big potential, you can be over very quickly. In this way, for a young designer like me, showing people that you have something to offer is a really huge moment. And there is a huge amount of pressure throughout the three months of preparation. A presentation requires a lot of disparate elements to come together. It is no longer about pure designing, it is about staging an event. The crowd in Paris expects to be entertained. It is the place where you enjoy the most spectacular shows. Each single element has to be representative of the brand. It depends on the image the designer wants to convey. It also requires scenography and decoration. Beauty – in all aspects of life – can perfectly express my values. I remember staying up until 2 a.m. to discuss the flower arrangement with my team, or do some champagne selection for the guests. Every single element is significant and give you credit in the eyes of future customers or the press. Being a part of the couture hub is also a huge advantage because when you grow bigger, you start attracting other luxury brands for partnerships. I had this wonderful collaboration with the high-jewellery house Piaget for a series of pictures starring supermodel Kristina Krayt. Having big names noticing you is such a reward.
How do the cultures of the Middle East and Europe intersect in your vision?
For haute couture, I attempt to merge the delicacy of the French tradition with the sense of luxury of the Oriental culture. The French signature look is elegance with a certain amount of minimalism. On the other hand, the Arab signature look is a strong expression of beauty with a genuine power of seduction. My style is definitely a mix of the two cultures. I like the classic codes of beauty – typically Parisian, which is a natural expression. But what I admire about Middle-Eastern women is their uniqueness. They are aware of being beautiful and it seems like they put a lot of effort in celebrating beauty everyday, through fancy makeup and exquisite smell of Oud for example. They have a very sharp sense of luxury and detail that I appreciate.
My customer is elegant and modern, but she can come from any cultural background. Fashion and culture should merge together. And we have to celebrate individuality. For example, I love my Arab customers. But religion has a certain impact on the way women dress in the Middle East, which is another form of beauty. On the other hand, the modern way of life in Europe makes woman feel more liberated in the way they want to look. In France, there is a very natural sensuality. The makeup looks fresh, the allure is simple but elegant at the same time. On the contrary, Arabs like to adorn themselves with beading, gold and glitter. They are more extravagant. It is fascinating to see that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As a fashion designer, I am sensitive to all kinds of beauty.
Who would be your ideal client?
The lady wearing my clothes has good taste, and is proud of her femininity. She is elegant in all aspects of life, in her wardrobe choices but also in regard to her graceful and polite manners. She masters all the codes. Most of my clientÃ¨le comes from the Middle East, with a small portion of local French customers and Chinese as well. I feel that elegance is a result of being educated rather than a matter of possessing wealth. The typical Sakina Paris lady is feminine but modern at the same time. However, she remains classic in her wardrobe choices. I would describe my style as appropriate and chic. It is made for a woman who wants to empower herself without being too bold or too eccentric. Clients who come to me to place an order understand my signature look: a fitted structure. I like a dress to beautify the female attributes, and to make the waist look smaller. We use gros-grain in order to prevent the dress from riding up and stay fitted to the body. The waist line is the strategic part of the female body, it balances all the proportions. Making a structured dress might look neat and simple, but it actually requires specific dress-making skills. What it means to have a VIP clientele is that you have to overcome technical challenges to deliver a perfect product and the clients are aware of that.
What are your future plans for your brand?
I have a very small team of 5 workers who have so far embarked with me on this journey and who will continue going further. We still have a long way to go. Seeing my company grow bigger would be such a dream come true. Success lies in the team. We have to be really connected to reach a perfect image. Expanding my brand internationally is a target for the upcoming five years: signing contracts with ready-to-wear distributors and concept stores is one of the top priorities of Sakina Paris. And developing our VIP clientele for haute couture too. And our next project for May is to launch a collection of luxury bags with hand embroideries on leather, the Sakina touch! We are working hard on it and the patterns are ready for production.
What is your favourite city in the world and why?â€‚
Dubai! I love the unstoppable energy of Dubai and the cultural melting pot that it is. Everything is moving so fast in this city. Every time I come back, Damac or Emaar are building something new.
Your favorite designers?
Elie Saab, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent
Women who you admire?â€‚
Queen Rania of Jordan, Sonam Kapoor, Malala, Angelina Jolie
Classic stilettos. I hate flat shoes, sneakers and anything too urban. High heels are always feminine and make womenâ€™s legs look longer.
Most adored jewellery?â€‚
The 2017 Piaget collection. Rubies are my favorite gemstone. The colour is so powerfully expressive. And, in the words of Marilyn Monroe, â€œdiamonds are a girlsâ€™ best friends!â€ Piaget offers the perfect combination. They offer the very expression of fine luxury. Our recent collaboration was one of the highlights of my career.
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