Hand-picked by Vogue Italia Editor in Chief, Franca Sozzani, as one-to-watch for the 2013 Vogue Dubai Fashion Experience, Saudi Arabian couturier Mohammed Ashi creates collections that are ethereal, sculptural, and have a tremendous focus on volume. He speaks to Style.com/Arabia about working for Riccardo Tisci, finding his footing at Elie Saab, and on the ultimate client: brides.
ON HIS BEGINNINGS WITH RICCARDO TISCI
My first “big” internship was for Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy. But at the time, I didn’t have a passion for Couture—I was more interested in researching concepts than tailoring! I was probably a lazy intern.
ON WORKING FOR ELIE SAAB
I began working for Elie Saab as an intern, but in 2004 I was given the title of designer. I started a RTW collection. Saab is very smart, very intelligent. Yes, his concept is more commercial whereas mine is more artistic, but without his guidance, maybe I wouldn’t have sold in the first place. Through my experience with him, I was able to mold my own identity.
Elie Saab saw how passionate and dedicated I was. I would arrive at the office at 8am and leave at 3am the next morning. I was also transitioning and gaining a newfound passion for tailoring. I learned with my own hand that I had a talent for cuts and pattern making. I made silhouettes with different, modern cuts, which is my focus.
ON BRANCHING OUT ON HIS OWN
After two and a half years at Elie Saab, I wanted to work with other designers, so I applied to Houses like Valentino and Lanvin. I got accepted into a couple, but then I thought, why not give being on my own a try? I created my first collection with the help of one tailor and a press office in Los Angeles. The PRs showed my collection to different celebrities ahead of that year’s Grammys and the likes of Giuliana Rancic and Eva Longoria chose to wear my dresses. Rancic was interviewing on the red carpet so her dress especially received a lot of attention and it was actually the first time she ever wore an Arab designer. Everything just took off from there.
ON THE ULTIMATE CLIENT: BRIDES
I started out with eveningwear, and from there I began designing for brides. A bridal dress is a special dress—it’s big and it’s elaborate. My clients usually come to me because they are drawn to my innovative cuts, but then they try to interpret my designs into their already pre-conceived dresses. I always tell them, “You will want to look at your wedding pictures ten years from now and not regret your choice.” Then they usually give me the freedom to do as I please. I like to lean towards classic cuts for bridalwear. I prefer a timeless mood. Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn—these are women who did it right. But then there is Sarah Jessica Parker who chose a black wedding dress…one can learn from other people’s mistakes.
ON THE PROCESS OF DESIGNING A WEDDING DRESS
When I first meet a bride, I ask her what she wears and what brands she likes. From her choices, I know if she likes full-length beads, details…if she cites Lanvin, I know that she prefers a more pure design or a French style. From there, I consider her body type and what is right for her. Then, we have a second fitting and she sees the sketches in 3D and she chooses. In three fittings we have a full package.
ON THE “BRIDAL BOX”
We provide brides with a full package. We call it “The Box” and it contains everything a bride needs, even a bra. We make a mold of the breasts and from this we create a bra. The corset is the most important element of a bride’s dress. If you don’t have the right corset, then you don’t have the right dress! We get a lot of skinny brides coming in, with no figure. Usually, she is not very tall, so she isn’t a model but yet she still wants something that looks good on a model’s proportions. We try to give her curves, bigger hips. You know, at the end of the day, we are like plastic surgeons.
ON A BRIDAL DRESS’ AFTERLIFE
After the Big Day, some brides ask if we can make alterations to their gowns. But I will never change a piece, even for an extra fee. I will never again touch an original work that I initially put so much effort into. I tell the brides, “Keep your dress as it is and never touch it again. Your dress was not made to be worn a second time!”
ON PERSONAL CHOICE: VEILS OR HEADPIECES
Personally, I don’t like headpieces; I consider them to be from the 80s—and I hate the 80s. I like the 70s and always opt for a long, feminine veil. The hair can be up or down—it depends on the bride—though I hate extensions. My favorite era is the 40s and 50s and I collect a lot of books and magazines that I hunt for during my travels abroad and from the puces (flea markets) in Paris.
ON LEBANON AND HIS NON-LEBANESE CLIENTELE
I work with a lot of women from the Gulf, as well as Russians and women from Singapore, but even though I am based in Lebanon, I have never had one Lebanese client! I think that they still have the image of the beaded gown, and if they can afford it, they will go to Elie Saab. But I love Lebanon and this has been my home since 2002. This country is somewhere between Europe and the Middle East—and you don’t get the full flavor from one region or the other. It’s extremely metropolitan.
As told to Caterina Minthe