“My style icon would have to be Madame Grès,” Balsam Al-Ayoub tells Bazaar. Madame Alix Grès is a former French couturier known for crafting beautiful jersey and silks into poetic Grecian goddess like creations. “She was a true modernist; independent and forward-thinking. She was a sculptor of fabric, cutting to enhance the female body without restricting movement. I believe she respected women’s bodies and her creations were modern, timeless and unique.” Like her role model, Balsam is also exceptionally skilled – she is a wife, a mother, an Olympic athlete and female Kuwaiti fencing champion, a fashion designer and businesswoman.
Her fashion aspirations started from an early age. “I taught myself how to sew when I started creating fashion for my Barbie dolls,” she smiles. From miniatures to the ultimate masterpiece, Balsam was then able to create her own hand-finished wedding gown several years later. “I designed it myself 17 years ago. My wedding dress was the most important outfit that I ever wore. The night before my wedding, I put the final touches on it and made last-minute alterations. I felt so happy and proud that I had made my own wedding dress.”
Balsam has fond memories of growing up in Kuwait with her seamstress mother. “She had a shop,” she recalls. “A lot of society women used to have their dresses created and altered by my mother, and it made me love being around beautiful fabrics. My mother used to create dresses for my sister and I, and she inspired me to always be special in my own style. I learnt how to feel the fabrics, and how to picture a design in my mind that I wanted to create.”
With a fashion history steeped in the practical and cultural side of the industry, it’s no surprise Balsam describes the 1990s as her anti-fashion era. “Most of the ’90s was a fashion disaster for me. The clothes, the hairstyles, the make-up,” she winces. She doesn’t do fast fashion, or fads, and she doesn’t have that buy-now, click-to-shop mentality – she designs and makes most of the clothes she wears, and everything is carefully considered. “I know what suits my body, my personality and my image. I chose colours and styles that reflect femininity and strength at the same time. I love fashion and following fashion designers but my style depends on my way of thinking, the situation and the environment. I wear what suits me,” she says.
Unsurprisingly Balsam has never shopped online, and she only supports brands that mirror her honest and strong principles. She says of Lebanese designer Elie Saab, “I respect the fact he learnt about dressmaking and fabrics at a young age, as did I, and we both believe that beauty is simplicity with a touch of glamour.”
Balsam Al-Ayoub wears: Dress, KWD300 (Dhs3,655), Zero Maria Cornejo at Bloomingdale’s - Kuwait. Shoes, Roger Vivier. Coat, her own