What do you get when a woman who always dreamed of being an architect is raised by a mother who can sew? Egypt’s leading couture wedding dress designer, of course. By simply walking into Maison Yeya to sit down with Yasmine Yeya, it’s immediately apparent that the woman has an eye for design that’s reflected in all she does, not just dress making. The studio itself is a mix between feminine furniture accents, sleek lines and rich, natural colors. Though she longed to construct buildings when she was younger, her journey into dress making and now strictly wedding wear was completely by chance and undeniably family influenced. In fact, chance and family have been the two main factors responsible for creating and since inspiring her creativity and brand to this day, aside from pure talent.
Take a trip down the aisle with us as we explore what drives the couture powerhouse that has become Maison Yeya, the details of Yasmine’s journey and her opinions on fashion and weddings in Egypt and abroad.
The first dress Yasmine constructed was her dress for her own sister’s wedding ten years ago. She explained, “The dress was a hit and then one for a friend and another friend, I quit my job and it all materialized. It was one small step after the other that all led here.” After that she was approached to do Eli Saab’s reality show, Mission Fashion, in 2007. Though she confessed that she didn’t feel that capable at the time, she was open to “taking chances and opportunities that come”, and ended up as first runner up in the competition and all the more wiser, experienced and confident to keep going.
Starting her own family also had an immense impact on Yasmine’s career path and is what she believes to be one of her defining moments to set her apart and allow her to own her current position. She confided that having daughters “changed it for me; to do bridal instead of soiree because it was less time consuming and I wanted a peaceful family life. With longer projects it was much easier for me to handle my family life, and then I discovered so much beauty in doing wedding dresses. There’s a more noble cause out of it rather than normal dresses and there was a lot of insight to women I gained when I started dealing with brides, negative and positive, and I found myself in that place. I think having my kids and deciding to work less made me work more, but in a better direction.”
There’s no denying that a dress constructed by Yasmine will be a legitimate investment for your wedding day, but this doesn’t mean the designer doesn’t have her own criticism of today’s wedding trends. “I don’t like the social pressure that’s making weddings all a copycat of one another where you have to this and that to have the wedding be ‘nice’, and the personal touch is getting lost. This is what I don’t like about the wedding industry; it’s full of social pressure”, she candidly commented. Though this represents a very up-front critique of her own industry, this sentiment actually makes a lot of sense with someone who has a true creative ambition. It doesn’t matter what you spend, if it doesn’t uniquely represent who you are on one of the biggest days of your life then it’s a lost cause.
We also got a glimpse on what it’s like designing for clients outside of Egypt, now that Maison Yeya is officially international. “There are thousands of designers everywhere and the ones that travel to Egypt are going against their norms because no one wants to travel to Egypt. The clients I get from the Gulf, for them to come here is very dear to my heart. They’ve been asked ‘Why are you doing a wedding dress in Egypt and going so cheap?’”, though clearly making a bargain dress is not the case. She goes on to explain, “We have a stigma against us and I’m happy to change it and I’m happy they saw something in my designs so that they wanted to come here.” So not only have Yasmine’s beautiful creations changed the scene at home, but they’ve also been bold enough to change standards abroad.
Despite the rave reviews, Yasmine is humble when it comes to her own influence on the wedding gown and design industry in Egypt. “First, we didn’t have much of an industry. Second, whatever was available was too overworked. And then I started seeing my dresses and other designers doing them and I felt I was inspiring and it was too big for me to believe and I was so grateful that I had a chance and a hand in doing this to the industry”. Again, Yasmine knows the chances she’s lucky enough to have had, and of course we’re all grateful she took them.
When all was said and done, we of course had to know what Yasmine saw for the future of Maison Yeya. “Honestly, I have no plans whatsoever. Every time I try to make plans-I’ve always worked with a plan-but recently I’m being led rather than leading. I’ve reached this kind of awakening that we should live our lives opening up our eyes and ears to be courageous enough to take any road that opens for us rather than stepping somewhere where your mind and ego want to take you, rather than where you’re really supposed to go.” She laughs out loud when sharing how much this is messing up her team, but she insists, “I know things will come to me and when I look back at how I got here, what has defined me until now are the things that came to me and not the things I was trying to grab; nothing from the Elie Saab competition, or downsizing for my family, or moving from Dubai to Egypt. All these big milestones were chance.”
The final icing on the cake? – Yasmine’s absolute favorite dress she’s designed. Without hesitation she told me, “My sister’s wedding dress in September 2013. Not because it was the most beautiful dress but because there was so much truth and love in it, it was as if I was making a dress for my daughter.”