When you consider the many perks that come with having a stylish sister, ranging from brutally honest fashion advice to an extra closet to borrow clothes from, Mariam and Yasmine Yeya won the sibling lottery. Yasmine, 36, is one of Egypt’s most prominent couture bridal designers. Mentored by Elie Saab, her elegant and intricate Maison Yeya dresses – think beads, feathers and sculptural drapery – are loved by sheikhas and fashion royalty alike. Meanwhile, Mariam, 35, is a social media star (110k Insta followers and counting) and former Bazaar Best Dressed alumnus, whose ’70s-inspired boho-luxe ready-to-wear line Mrs Keepa (the name is her Lebanese husband’s nickname for her) is winning fans and critical acclaim around the world. As talented, respected, yet nonetheless diametrically opposed, designers in their own right, the Yeya sisters have now decided to work together for the first time to create a capsule collection which Yasmine describes as “schizophrenically beautiful”.
Fashion history is filled with creative sisters. Both in terms of designers – Kate and Laura Mulleavy at Rodarte, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen at The Row – and muses – Bella and Gigi Hadid, Cara and Poppy Delevingne, Joan and Erika Smalls, Kendall and Kylie Jenner. And in many ways it’s not surprising that the Yeya sisters ended up in the fashion business; both their stylish mother and French grandmother taught them how to make their own clothes growing up. Although only a year apart in age, as children sharing a bedroom in Cairo they had their differences – or what Yasmine refers to as “sister drama”. But when it comes to creativity, it is this opposition which has led to such success.
“I am the sociable girl with so many friends, plans, activities and so lots going on in my life, and Yasmine has always been the calm, introvert,” says Mariam. “We didn’t have much in common growing up.” Yasmine adds that their close friendship didn’t begin until their twenties. “I always felt a protective responsibility towards her,” she says. Although they had different interests, they shared an appreciation of fashion and discovered that their contrasting personal taste made them ideal shopping partners. “What’s great is that we never fight over pieces,” laughs Mariam. “We appreciate each other’s styles so much but we don’t relate to one another’s shopping picks. I love everything exaggerated with lots of colours, prints and fabrics that mismatch, whereas Yasmine is so classic with earthy colours in her palette.”
The contradictions and contrasts present in Dubai have also shaped their work. Mariam has lived in the city since her twenties, working in media for 12 years before making the transition to designer, while Yasmine moved from Cairo to join her a year ago. “I owe my career as a designer to Dubai,” says Mariam. “It offered me great exposure to fashion from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities and helped me improve my own personal style – mixing Middle Eastern colourful fabrics and prints with Western silhouettes and clean cuts. When the social media movement started, I was really surprised by my fast-growing audience and that was a real encouragement to me.” Yasmine agrees that living in such a vibrant, multi-cultural city has shaped her work. “Since I started working with the local clientele, and the contradicting mixture of conservative and liberal attributes, I have been inspired to create more decadent yet avant garde designs.”
They’ve put their minds to joint fashion projects before – not least when Yasmine designed her little sister’s wedding dress. “It was one of the highlights of my career,” she recalls. “It was emotional and I worked my heart out.” And the sisters say that they’d long fantasised about merging their distinctive personal styles together to create one line. “We felt that now was the right time to join forces and introduce a line with a mixed DNA,” says Mariam. Yasmine adds, “We discovered that there was a really big gap in the market for edgy couture, appealing to a very individualistic woman with glamorous events to attend. She is not shy.”
In the design room they began by designing on one mannequin “but two opinionated strong-headed roosters started to clash” says Mariam. So they decided to bring in another mannequin, design with the same fabric on their own model, before switching mannequins so that the other sister could add her own touch to the other’s design. “Our approach is quite different,” explains Mariam. “I go crazy with my designs as I design for what I would wish to wear with not so much consideration to the commercial aspect of the design, whereas Yasmine has a laser focus on her client and what they want, which plays a big role in her design directions.” Their style icons reveal their divergent attitudes – Mariam admires Rihanna while Yasmine prefers Audrey Hepburn.
Despite their differences in style and process, they do have one thing in common.
“So far we only established the fact that it runs in our family to be strong-minded opinionated women,” says Yasmine. “The design room becomes a mad and artistic war zone where each is fighting for her own style. The productivity is remarkably slow because of all the opinion clashes, yet when we agree the outcome is fascinating!” Fittingly, Mariam disagrees. “Actually, I would describe it as an easy collaboration as there is no sensitivity or red lines in communicating our input,” she laughs. When you put two opposing forces together sparks may fly, but no one can deny the results aren’t electric.
From the March issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia