As the first Franco-Saudi designer to graduate from the revered Chambre Nationale de la Haute Couture in Paris, Sakina Shbib has spent the past decade bringing together elements of both cultures for her collections.
She prides herself on blending Western and Middle Eastern identities and likes to “celebrate their joining”. Additionally, she divides her time between the French capital, where her Sakina Paris store is located, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as she aims to capture the spirit of both for her growing number of fashion fans.
“My style combines French femininity with bright, cheerful colors and a love for handmade embroidery, so popular in Arab culture,” she says. The National.
Shbib’s aptitude for fashion was sparked early on by her mother, who became her “lifelong inspiration”.
“She was a seamstress and I grew up watching her creativity and hard work,” she says.
As a young student, Shbib began taking drawing lessons and developed a strong appreciation for creativity. “I loved that moment of contemplation where I was just watching my mom draw a pattern with a pen or use sewing needles to finish her clients’ dresses,” she says.
Moreover, it was the “peace and beauty” found in a fashion studio that amazed her.
On her 15th birthday, Shbib’s mother gave her a Singer sewing machine, and by the time she was 18, she had learned to sew a dress all by herself.
“People would always tell me that my wardrobe was beautiful and ask me where my dresses came from. I thought people’s reactions were the best gratification and that’s when I started to seriously thinking about a career in fashion,” she says.
Today, Shbib designs, manufactures and sells his pieces in his Parisian workshop. Her dresses are for women “who want to be elegant and appreciate quality” and she describes her style as “classic, but with a touch of color”.
The Sakina Paris woman is “active, successful and always stylish without being intimidating or old-fashioned,” she says. Shbib aims to create contemporary pieces to wear in 2022, but hopes they will stand the test of time and remain stylish through the decades.
She says her “entrepreneurial inspiration” comes from her Saudi husband, who taught her to “dream big, but take small risks” along the way.
Shbib also admires the fashion designers of her generation, such as Amina Muaddi or Jeanne Damas. “I love how they built their brands with a strong artistic vision that became not just fashion items, but a whole lifestyle for girls who can relate to them.”
And she also learned from the biggest names in international fashion, including Chanel, Givenchy and Alexandre Vauthier after graduating from the Chambre Nationale de la Haute in 2012.
“Immediately, I started to build my technique at the Chanel workshop, first as an embroiderer within haute couture and fine craft collections,” she adds.
After a few years, she also worked in quality management, saying, “I learned the rigor of haute couture and the specifics of the demands of an elite clientele.”
She joined Alexandre Vauthier in 2015 and spent a year as a couture assistant, then joined Givenchy as a designer for the ready-to-wear collections.
Shbib launched her label in 2017, at the age of 28, when she “felt strong enough to take on the challenge” and opened a small workshop in the 8th arrondissement of Paris with a small team of three assistants and a public relations officer.
“What I learned working for big fashion companies is that success requires a large team of different technical experts and that each department depends on each talent that forms a large chain through strong leadership” , says Shbib, now 33.
The most important element of any high-end garment, however, is the finish, she says. “It’s the first thing I learned working in French fashion houses, hence the choice to have, for example, French seams in my dresses, rather than a simple overlock, or to have a handmade blind hem in my coats.”
These details strongly reflect French craftsmanship, but its Saudi influences shine through in “a strong expression of beauty with a more sophisticated approach.” “French style is elegance with a certain amount of minimalism,” she says.
She exclusively designs dresses and defines her signature piece as a form-fitting garment that “contains beautiful, well-finished construction lines.”
“I don’t promote pants, for example, just because the symbol of femininity is close to my heart,” she adds. “I love when a dress can highlight certain elements of beauty like the accentuated waist, or a slit on one leg that shows off the fluidity of the gait. It doesn’t matter if the dress remains classic or tastefully seductive, as long as it is above all feminine.
“I want women to feel strong and empowered. A dress is like armor. It protects you, but it’s also a style piece that gives you confidence.”
In her latest collection, she uses specific materials and style references that echo French folklore, such as Calais-Caudry Lace, which is a lace made only in northern France, while Vichy patterns celebrate the brewery culture and the polka. points “bring you back to the summer south of France”.
“However, my color palettes are inspired by my Middle Eastern heritage,” she adds. “I particularly like to use reds, oranges and pinks. My signature on a couture dress is the handmade embroidery and crystals, it is a style element dear to Arab women.”
Looking back on her career, Shbib says her journey took a slightly different route than she originally envisioned. “I was a little naive about what it meant to be an entrepreneur,” she says.
“I thought I would spend days and days in my workshop designing, prototyping clothes and finding materials in the fabric market. But instead, I became a small business owner whose interests are mainly centered on management, recruitment, staff training, work organization, logistics, accounting, budgeting and meetings to the point that the expression of your creativity is challenged by other obligations.”
She says she “wouldn’t trade the role for anyone else in the world” because seeing her artistic vision come to life is hugely rewarding.
“What is also a fundamental element of a career in fashion is the relationship with the customer,” she says. “You have to know what women like, what they want and don’t want to wear.”
When she started out, Shbib remembers thinking that all women had the same body type and lifestyle.
“My first collection was mostly super glamorous dresses with the same construction,” she says. “I based my creativity on my ideal woman rather than real women.”
When she worked for haute couture houses, the prototype size was 36 and the models on the catwalks had exactly the same body type. “As I became more mature in my outlook, I discovered that most women had insecurities,” she says. “Most of them don’t like their hips and legs, or tend to prefer stretchy fabrics for comfort.”
She realized that “good designers” need to think about these practicalities before presenting a collection, while offering a variety of dresses that relate to different lifestyles and body types. She also wanted to master this art without changing her artistic identity.
“With the importance of social media as a means of communication, it is also very useful to get customer feedback and collect information on what women like the most,” she says.
While her business remains in Paris and her dresses are available to buy online, she hopes to one day expand to the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia. “I think the country will be booming with new talent in the next five years,” she says.
In particular, Shbib cites the government’s new plans for the fashion sector as an opportunity. “It will mean that the younger generation of Saudi Arabia will be able to learn creativity, artistic inspirations and a set of techniques from the fashion industry without having to move to Paris.
“I believe girls of my generation want to be financially independent, successful in business but still beautiful, confident and outspoken,” she adds. “We live in a generation where self-expression through social media matters more than ever.”
Updated: August 26, 2022, 03:21