Originally printed in the February 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.
“Let’s try this again,” whispered Mariah Carey into her microphone, before singing the first notes of her 1990 hit “Vision of Love.” Live from New York’s subzero Times Square, the American superstar gave a redeeming New Year’s Eve performance. Exactly one year ago, for that same show, a dysfunctional earpiece had proven catastrophic. For her December 31 take two, she appeared poised and relaxed in a figure-hugging, crystal-embellished, fish-tail dress that puddled lightly on the floor. To the 15.7 million viewers watching, she looked as cool as ice. As the final minutes of 2017 slipped away, Carey was the last, ethereal vision from one of the grimmest years in America’s recent history.
“Honestly, I think the reason stars – local, regional, and global – like to wear my brand is because it makes them outshine others. My dresses steal the show,” says the Kuwaiti designer behind his label, By Yousef Al-jasmi. “Mariah Carey is one of my favorite international stars. I’m so pleased she mentioned my name in many TV interviews, praising my designs.” A shout-out from an A-list celebrity can turn a designer into a star, overnight. Aljasmi would know. The first international celebrity to publicly wear one of his pieces was none other than Beyoncé. In late 2015, he was commissioned by her team to make a Swarovski-detailed black bodysuit. More than a year later, he finally saw the fruits of his labor materialize when she chose the suit for her music video “Sorry,” which garnered an astounding 250 million views. “For my pieces to be selected and favored by people from the other side of the world – despite the presence of many storied international fashion houses – is not something to be undervalued,” he says.
Curiously, when glancing through the By Yousef Al-jasmi gallery of celebrities – Lady Gaga, Nawal, J.Lo, Zendaya, Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey – what’s memorable is not the sinuous hourglass figures, nor the show of skin, but rather, the unbridled emotion on the women’s faces. Swift, in a scarlet fringed bodysuit, holds her microphone over her head in victory. Lips pursed, her chin points to the sky in defiance. There is Cindy Crawford, in a sunlit gold kaftan. Her eyes look with longing towards an unseen horizon. On a red carpet, a pregnant Chrissy Teigen, wearing a white column gown with a delicate cape that seems to have caught the flakes of a first snow, looks directly at the camera with unyielding confidence. Meanwhile, Ciara, fist clasped, belts out her country’s national anthem in an ivory couture dress on a football field ahead of a championship game. In her beaded, floor-length dress and cape, she is statuesque. And yet her face conveys such emotion – pain, pride, victory.
“The signature By Yousef Al-jasmi dress is woven and executed to give the woman the full confidence to rule,” says Aljasmi. And yet, despite his masterful flair, he comes across as somewhat shy. When Aljasmi closed one of his rare runway shows, as he did at Fashion Forward in Dubai in October 2015, his chestnut eyes searched the crowd. He appeared uneasy under the spotlight, as though not sure what to make of the adulation. Aljasmi eschews interviews; in fact, this is his first. He prefers to let his superstar clients take center stage.
The 28-year-old designer explains that his career took off somewhat by accident. “In 2007, my sister Sara was preparing her brand’s first collection. I would visit her atelier occasionally. One day, I spotted a spare piece of shimmering gold cloth. I picked it up, wrapped it around one of the mannequins, and pinned it. The next day, I received a call from the store. It had been sold.” Now, the lithe second skins that his women pour themselves into are proudly made in Kuwait, in the designer’s atelier. “I myself draw the sketches of the dresses,” he states, after revealing that he received no formal fashion education. “I also determine the positions of detailing and embellishments.” His family – particularly his sisters, Sara and Lama, always encouraged him. “In the beginning, my mother supported me financially. She used to allocate a sum of money to help build my career, step by step.” His tradesman father would advise him on the business. Now, 10 years after opening his fashion house, Aljasmi oversees some 150 employees, who execute tailoring, needlework, embroidery, and weaving, and also bookkeeping and management.
His various lines – including bridal, couture, and ready-to-wear – are sold in more than 10 countries. Currently, many fashion houses appear to be shifting their designs away from the female form. Clothing is increasingly inspired by streetwear; it is androgynous and styled modestly. Yet, By Yousef Al-jasmi flourishes. The designer deems that his success is due to one reflection of a unified, female spirit. “It’s a wonderful feeling to see women from various parts of the world united in favoring my designs. Choosing me reveals a commonality among women – in their tastes, personalities, and spirits,” he says. As Carey would sing it, these are dresses for those who chase “a vision of love.”