Check out our interview with fashion designer and star of the new PBS series “American Portrait” Elle B. Mambetov.
Previously featured in Vogue, ELLE, and Harper’s Bazaar, Elle (who is Muslim) is poised to change the perception of modest fashion into something truly unique and sophisticated with the virtual presentation of her luxury womenswear brand, Elle B. Zhou on May 22nd.
This virtual fashion line debut will replace her planned runway show and benefits Vogue’s A Common Thread and Doctors Without Borders to raise funds for those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now Elle is looking forward to the future with the highly anticipated launch of her womenswear line Elle B. Zhou. “This collection is my brain, heart and soul stretching to collide two worlds of fashionable existence. Representative of my own journey into dressing modestly; each cropped top, short sleeved shirt, and pair of trousers have been repositioned to fit within this new world as I seek to redefine modest fashion.” (- Elle B. Mambetov).
Elle B Zhou - Digital Presentation 2020
Hi Elle, please tell us a little about you?
I was born in Texas where everyone I knew had at least one pair of cowboy boots. My love of fashion developed from an early age, having lived next to a seamstress and being heavily influenced by my grandmother‘a innate sense of style and beauty! I’ve been fortunate to travel to many countries which have heavily influenced my design aesthetic and helped me to incorporate those inspirations into my brand and designs.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Determination, Fearlessness, Innovation
What’s your background?
My background is in business and fashion.
When did you start in the business?
I made my first business plan at the age of 7 years old. Amidst the skills I picked up from being a Gurl Scout and the hustle of selling cookies, I started my first business at 21, developing faith based program material for the Girl Scouts of America. From there, I moved into fashion where in 2011 I moved to China to learn about international business and manufacturing; forming my own fashion brand in 2011. I was poised for the catwalk of London Fashion Week in February 2012. What book should every entrepreneur read? Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson is an absolute must. I always recommend it to my clients when consulting for their businesses, and often have my employees read it as well.
It’s a short easy read about the importance about being able to adapt to change as a way of survival in business.
Now tell us about your experience as a fashion designer?
My experience as a fashion designer has been quite tumultuous. I’ve had a lot of success and a lot of set backs. I’ve been well received as a designer for my work on an international level, but have also been defrauded by my friend and held captive in a foreign prison as they sought to destroy everything I’d built. There have always been surprises that arose each season that you have to overcome. For instance, one season my Italian manufacture closed for summer holiday without getting all the garments for the show finished so we had to move production last minute to the UK.
I once had a manufacturer for Louis Vuitton bags tell me days before my catwalk show he couldn’t figure out the beaded detailing and did I have any ideas. But, regardless of these elements of surprise I’ve somehow always managed to overcome and persevere.
Tell us about your PBS series “American Portrait” story?
PBS American Portrait is a project by where Americans have been invited to tell their stories in a time where so much change is happening in our country. It’s a way for us all to be connected during these fragmented times. My story is about how I am adjusting to life in America as a Muslim convert, and how in many ways I am experiencing life and America for the first time as I face new challenges and life lessons. I encourage everyone to join the PBS American Portrait movement by going to www.pbs.org/ and upload a 1 minute video to share your personal story!
Where we can watch it?
On pbs.org and on your local PBS Chanel.
What are the challenges you face as a fashion designer?
I think as a designer you are always faced with the challenge to create the pieces you actually want to create. Fashion is a business so we are often faced with the obstacle of creating something we love that is also mainstream enough to wear and is sellable. Many designers feel this pressure curbs their creativity, as they see watered down versions of their original sketches or ideas come down the runway.
What inspired your latest collection?
When I converted to Islam my latest collection was the last thing on my mind. The notion of dressing modestly was completely new to me, one that I had barely grasped myself. I was immediately told that if I wanted to do fashion again I could not do it the way I had done before. This comment irked me a bit, because I wanted the freedom to find my own inspiration for fashion once again in a way that aligned with my new personal lifestyle. My inspiration for this collection was to create a collection where two worlds collide, between mainstream and modest fashion. My goal, is to redefine modest fashion, creating garments that I personally would like to wear. I wrestled with the fact of creating pieces for everyone else, but me. I want to be able to wear my own designs, so I created each piece with myself in mind, and my own journey through dressing modestly.
What is fun and rewarding about what you do? And what’s not?
Oh that’s a tough question! There is a sweatshirt style I am dying to wear with my custom print splashed across it, and probably a utilitarian style romper that will be one of my go-to pieces this summer!
My color palette changes from season to season based on inspiration, but personally I love any shade of pink so those hues often find themselves into my collections in some way, shape or form.
Being a creative is so rewarding because it allows one to constantly adapt and adjust to this ever changing world through art. Being a fashion designer is the opportunity to respond to a need, whether that is environmentally with the textiles used to create a collection, or when a brand like Nike begins to create hijabs for Muslim athletes and women who like to workout, or when designers like me decide to take on a century old cultural norm and make it current and relevant; redefining modest fashion.
What is the key to your success?
Fortunately we have been very busy during this time. We have the store opening at the Beverly Center in Beverly Hills, and have the Elle B Zhou digital presentation coming up on May 22nd just as Ramadan finishes. I’m also doing my first housewares collaboration with Polish brand Look At Me Plates so we’ve been busy little bees during this time in lockdown.
Well I’ve written a book called A6347DW: American Captive; a true story about the obstacles I faced when living abroad. It’s available as a free download exclusively on Apple Books!
I haven’t thought that far in advance, but I am excited for the future presentations and to see myself grow as a designer as I incorporate new inspirations into my design aesthetic.
Forgetfulness. I somehow seem to forget all of the hardship, obstacles, and setbacks I’ve endured over the years; or the amount of time it’s taken me to achieve the results I’ve hoped for. If I were to remember how hard it is to become successful I would have quit a long time ago. My perseverance I think is in part due to the fact that I am able to subconsciously forget failure and move forward.
How often do you create new collections?
It would seem that I create collections whenever I feel like it. May 22nd definitely isn’t New York or Paris fashion week, but it’s the end days of Ramadan and I felt it was as good of time as any to make my debut into modest fashion!
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion for me is the outward expression of emotion. You can say so much by the clothes you wear. My personality it quite bubbly and I tend to design very bubbly, colorful garments that are an outward representation of my own personality and emotion. Even when wearing blacks, there tends to be a bit of frill in there somewhere, as fashion allows one to truly express who they are!
What is next for Elle B. Mambetov in 2020?
Evolving. What I wore a year and a half ago I would wear now. When I met my husband Selim he thought a lot of my clothes were for “old ladies”. I actually let him talk me into giving away my Balenciaga Motorcycle bag! Now, I find myself dressing more modestly yet
After the debut of my latest collection I would like to begin doing collaborations with companies like Modanisa, and other Hijab and Abaya companies to create different types of modest clothing for women around the world to enjoy. I’m also very much so looking forward to my first Elle B. Zhou location opening in the Beverly Center in Beverly Hills, Los
Something people don’t know about you?
I don’t like reading out loud. I can speed read silently and can process groups or words at a time, but when reading out loud a psych myself out!
Who was your role model as a child?
My Grandmother, she was everything! She was a businesswoman which was a big deal for a woman of color during those times. Her love of fashion trickle down to me and I couldn’t wait to play dress up in her heels, jewelry, and fur each summer!
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
I would definitely say my grandmother. She was such a special person in my life, and it made me really sad that she passed before being able to see me get married. I’d love for her to be able to see me now and meet my husband, Selim.
And your favorite cheat food?
I don’t believe in diets they’re the worst! Everyday is a cheat day!
What music do you like?
I love country music! Being from Texas I love twangy beat!
What do you like to watch on Tv?
My TV selection is all over the map! I like everything from Next In Fashion, to the Handmaid’s Tale, to Mindy Kaling’s new series Never Have I Ever. I’m a streamer and binge watcher for sure!
3 things you can’t leave home without?
My husband! That was honestly my first thought! He brings the keys, the wallet, he drives, and I can text freely when crossing the road while he guides me. It’s just an effortless life! But if I have to leave home without him, hmmm, I’d say phone, Ipad, and some safety pins
just in case my hijab look of the day starts acting up!
Quote: Don’t have one, inspiration is everywhere!
Actor/Actress: Meryl Streep
Drink: Depends on the day! I enjoy a good smoothie as a summer treat!
Celebrity Crush: Don’t have one
City: It’s a tie between Hong Kong and Paris. But I haven’t been to Japan yet so Tokyo could take the lead spot! I’ve also not traveled to very many Muslim countries yet but would like to.
Movie: The Devil Wears Prada. I ironically even have my own Emily!
Sport Team: I was only into sports when I was dating, but now that I’m married I no longer have to pretend to be interested!
Song: Well I’ve recently challenged myself: If I can memorize the lyrics to a song why can’t I begin to memorize some versus of the Quran? So although I’m balancing my listening, I do like Maren Morris, Luke Combs, and Caught Up In The Country by Rodney Atkins