• A multiple exposure image of models walking the runway wearing designs by Yousef Akbar during The Innovators show at Australian Fashion Week in Sydney. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)Source: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
Saudi Arabian-born designer Yousef Akbar is one of Australia’s latest fashion stars, boasting emotive collections of masked women and hot pink sequins designs.
By
Rosalind Reines

26 May 2017 - 3:22 PM  UPDATED 29 May 2017 - 9:55 AM

Arabian-born designer, Yousef Akbar is the Picasso of fashion design. He creates a narrative with his collections to evoke emotional undercurrents of every day life.

Heartbreak was the theme of his acclaimed Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week’ debut collection, which was splashed with bright orange and hot pink sequins to evoke denial and acceptance teamed with more sombre designs.

The show-stopper was head-to-toe gowns, which shook with feathers. Was this an interesting take on the traditional Arabian covering - the abaya: a loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress or cloak, worn by some Muslim women?

“No, it wasn’t supposed to be an abaya at all,” he tells SBS.  “Look, if I wanted to make a statement about veiled women I would have been much more obvious. It was about wearing a mask because you want to hide the emotions you are experiencing from the world.”

Akbar had thought long and hard about all the different emotions surrounding heartbreak.

"Look, if I wanted to make a statement about veiled women I would have been much more obvious. It was about wearing a mask because you want to hide the emotions you are experiencing from the world.”

“I researched the feelings that people go through when they hit an emotional wall,” he tells SBS. “It’s about being in denial when you go through a break up and creating a fantasy world to live in or by protecting yourself from the reality of the situation. This brought me to the concept of shelter. I looked at broken down shacks and how they’re patched together. I took this literally and made some wooden fastenings for the clothes,” he explains.

He also installed a shanty town-style shack on his ‘fashion week’ runway, which the models passed through to great effect. It’s not surprising that his debut show was one of the most discussed of the week.

Yousef Akbar, fashion designer.

However with such an emphasis on corrosive emotions, does this mean that Akbar, 31 has also been through a tough time in his private life?

 In fact, it’s quite the contrary. He met Georgie Ipsen, his current partner, while they both completed their Bachelors of Fashion at the Fashion Design Studio in Sydney.  However the designer insists that he was simply attracted to the theme of heartbreak because this is something that everyone experiences.

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Akbar’s route into fashion was a fascinating one. Born in Saudi Arabia, educated in London where he went to boarding school from his middle teens, he accepted a scholarship to The University of South Australia where he graduated with a degree in Logistics.

“After I received my degree, my parents were proud of me, so then I decided to study something which I loved - fashion design,” he says.

But once he’d graduated from TAFE, he decided to stay in Sydney with Ipsen instead of returning home.  Was he also concerned about working as a fashion designer in such a conservative society as Saudi Arabia?

“Not at all, perhaps it would have been a different story a decade or so ago,” he tells SBS, “but now everyone is very accepting and it’s a much more free society now. I would compare the attitudes of the people over there to here.”  

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Interestingly, Yousef Akbar has already found himself in hot demand among celebrities including Kellie Osbourne,  Chrissy Teagan, The Veronicas, Jessica Mauboy and Kimbra. He’s enjoyed the process of designing for them because they’re all quite “humble and appreciative”. But don’t get him started about a certain well known Australian singer who borrowed some of his creations and didn’t return them for weeks despite promising they’d been returned in such a few days. Adding insult to injury, despite being photographed in them, she refused to credit him. 

“I would never work with her again,” he vows, even if she were to pay me triple.”

However since he’s now been lauded as designer to watch, he doesn’t have to dwell on such unfortunate incidents. It’s the celebrity’s loss because Yousef Akbar is helping to elevate fashion into a true art form.

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