The logistics of elegance: Yousef Akbar’s path to eveningwear

Setting your sights on one of Yousef Akbar’s creations is a sumptuous moment for the senses.

Canova-esque drapes, billowing hemlines, and oscillating tulle entertain the eyes while chimes of sequins and beading – as recently experienced in his eponymous label’s Resort 24 Collection at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week (AAFW) – deliver a hypnotic ASMR-esque sequence.

It’s this magnetic mark that has landed Yousef and his eponymous label the spotlight of being one of the most up-and-coming eveningwear labels to have emerged in the last decade – a decade that has been marked by remarkably demure silhouettes, styles, and embellishments, or lack thereof, should we say.

One perfectly poised drape at a time, Yousef is steadily bringing back high-octane, yet refreshingly disciplined glamour to the world of eveningwear. His bespoke pieces and collections both, as we recently reported, make a worthy adversary to the European heritage houses of the couture golden age.

Yousef Akbar

Yousef Akbar

The glimmer of Yousef’s label firmly etched into eyes far and wide. In 2020 he won the esteemed Fashion Trust Arabia Eveningwear Prize, and has also dressed notable red carpet heavyweights like Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone and Karolina Kurkova for the occasion.

His label is officially stocked in four countries, including the likes of Harrods and luxury destinations in his home country, Saudi Arabia. Not to mention, Yousef has a steadily growing list of bespoke projects with private clients – a key cornerstone of his label’s offering.

While clearly a natural at his craft, it wasn’t until 2017, freshly graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design, that Yousef launched his eponymous label. This chapter was boldly marked not by its leap-of-faith nature, but a strong stepping away from his previous, seemingly otherworldly, career: logistics and supply chain management.

We caught up with the poised and intriguing designer ahead of his recent AAFW show to hear more about the collection, his methodology and his note-worthy pivot from the most utilitarian of industries, logistics, into the world, of couture.

Yousef Akbar

How would you describe your AAFW23 collection in three words?

Started our conversation with the young designer, while we noted a tiny twinkle of rhinestones dotting the scattered hair and makeup set up backstage.

“Sparkly. Dramatic, and feminine,” shares Yousef.

Masterfully belted by stoic yet dramatic tailoring, rich textures and embellishments are a staple in his label. Something that we couldn’t help but catch in the corner of our eyes backstage, pre-show. Intrigued by these additions, we wanted to know more about the craftsmanship behind it.

Yousef Akbar

Of the myriad traditional craftspeople that you work with in the Middle East, do you have a favourite element to work with?

“The clothes that we did work with artisans on, got them done in India with a few people [from different workshops]. One of the people we had done it with was this incredible workshop in Delhi. They’ve been literally passed from father to son for 300 years— all in that same place.

“What I really do love to work with is beading. Not just any kind of beading, we use fairly traditional techniques, but use them in a super, super contemporary way — which I think is different. I just really enjoy using the same tool to create different results.

“It’s interesting, what we see as traditional now, at the time was super innovative. I really don’t like the idea of people using something old in an old way. Because these people — that we call old now, after maybe tens of years or hundreds — were at the time not doing that; they were being super innovative and super cutting edge.

“Hopefully what I do today, one day, someone’s gonna look back and say, ‘oh, they did that back then.’ And hopefully, they see it as something still beautiful, they call it classic. But then I hope they do something, say better, but different and new for the time taken. Really the end goal is always to do something that’s new for today and look back after a long time and think oh, this is still beautiful.”

Yousef Akbar

Is there a crossover at all between your label and your previous life in logistics?

“It’s funny, when I started working in logistics I was like, ‘I would die if I continue to do this 9–5. No way.’ And when I changed to working in fashion, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m just going to be doing fashion’.”

With a gentle shake of his head and chuckle, Yousef muses on an unexpected return to his previous career.

“I’m doing logistics more than fashion. But it’s logistics for something I love. So it’s fine!” He continues with a grin, “It’s definitely not for boxes and shipments of equipment. For me, it’s now for the collection part. I love it.”

Yousef Akbar

Can you tell me about your process of designing, considering you’re a one-man brand?

“The whole brand’s purpose is really, for me to communicate what I wanted to communicate. So, since I was a little kid, I always wanted to express myself, but I felt like I’ve never had the chance. I always liked art. I liked drawing. But growing up [with this interest around my] family, they always wanted me to be like a doctor, lawyer, or engineer — being a designer or an artist was out of the question. I had all this life and stuff trapped in.

“So when I did fashion design, and I realised, ‘oh, wow, this is exactly what I want to do’. It was like a relief. Because finally I can do what I want, express how I feel, show what I’m inspired by. So the whole point of doing this is just to communicate a story, express what I want to say.”

And what a rich conversation Yousef’s collections share with the world. His Resort 2024 collection presented at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week titled ‘Rebirth. Transformation. Shift’ mirrors his own renaissance with that of the journeys of women who despite adversities, have found freedom.

The femme fatale, the artist, the power player, the mother, all find representation through his fantastical, crafted, stoic and opulent designs. As shared by the label, the collection “encapsulates these women and their power in creating balance in uncertainty, and providing solace with their empathy, intelligence and unconditional love.”

Yousef Akbar

Tell us about the international expansion that is on the horizon for your label

“That’s always the goal, expanding overseas is always the aim. What I really want to focus on is not just working with stores but working with the end customer. This is the most important person to us. This is the person we’re communicating with, it’s the person that we get feedback from, it’s the person who tells us how they feel… the person that really inspires these collections.”

Being revered internationally, Yousef shares the beauty of the digital age in creating community. “So being in touch with this client is most important to us — whether it’s through Instagram, online orders or overseas appointments and fittings when we go overseas.”

As with the actual garment creation, communication always carries a touch from the designer “I like to try and reach as many people and connect with them as possible. It’s the connection that is the most important thing to me,” shares Yousef.

Yousef Akbar

Finally, how would you describe your personal style?

“Plain. As clean as possible,” shares Yousef. “Because all the energy is going to my work. I can’t, I just don’t have spare energy for this,” he says, brimming with a smile.

“If I’ve got 10 lots of energy, 9.9 is going to my work, and maybe zero point one going here” he laughs and gently directs a hand swirl towards himself. His t-shirt and black-packed outfit is sharp, chic and in true designer style, head-to-toe impeccable black.

We couldn’t help but see this apt energy allocation as a perfectly poetic nod back to Yousef’s logistics background. Something which, when belted with his impeccable craftsmanship and creativity, we can’t wait to see hold him in excellent stead as he takes over the eveningwear stage.

Yousef Akbar

Images by Getty Images