W hen the Arab Fashion Council approached Sotheby’s with the idea of a collaboration around Dubai Fashion Week, it was a lightbulb moment. Certainly, there were some obstacles to overcome – DFW is a glamorous trade show, presenting collections months ahead of their availability, while Sotheby’s sells pieces valued for their age and provenance. But both are in the business of beauty, craftsmanship and artistry, offering up exciting possibilities.
Furthermore, Sotheby’s Dubai has never yet collaborated with a fashion designer, according to Katia Nounou Boueiz, Senior Director at Sotheby’s Dubai. She believes such a partnership could only work with a brand that has synchronicity with the ethos of Sotheby’s – and one that already has a certain reputation in the region. But when the Arab Fashion Council put forwards Dubai-based brand Mrs Keepa, the cult creation of French-Egyptian designer Mariam Yehia and her Lebanese husband and business partner Bassel Komaty, it was a clearly a perfect fit.
“The brand already has an amazing following,” says Boueiz. “We thought the combination of our historic, established auction house with a very edgy, cool fashion brand, born in the Middle East, would be a fantastic concept.”
The result will be a two-hour event on 5th February at Sotheby’s gallery in Dubai, for invited guests – friends of both Sotheby’s and Mrs Keepa – presenting the brand’s first couture collection alongside a selection of fine jewellery and handbags chosen by the experts at Sotheby’s. Here, we meet Mrs Keepa co-founder and designer Mariam Yehia, as she applies the final touches to her new collection.
Mariam, first question: who is Mrs Keepa?
Well, very literally I’m Mrs Keepa – the brand is named after my husband Bassel, whose nickname is Keepa – because that’s the position he plays in his beloved football, goalkeeper!
But if you’re asking about the brand, it’s a pret-a-porter line that is avant-garde, sustainable, and it’s inspired by travel, vintage glamour and art. I resigned from my job while on honeymoon in Venice and thought, ‘What shall I do now?’, and my husband said, fashion of course! I have never loved the idea of the fashion industry, but I do love design and art, and I love putting beautiful outfits together, and always have. It’s not about this trend or that, it’s about wearing something that speaks your language. My mother used to design and make all my clothes as a little kid, and from the age of 11, I was already creating my own style – eclectic, big silhouettes, colour. I went to fashion college at ESMOD (École supérieure des arts et techniques de la mode, Paris), to really learn the trade, and from the moment I launched in 2016, I was lucky enough to have a cult following.
"I do love design and art, and I love putting beautiful outfits together. It’s not about this trend or that, it’s about wearing something that speaks your language."
How would you describe the Mrs Keepa style?
It’s very much based on the choice of fabrics that I fall in love with. I design not by drawing but by moulage [manipulating and pinning fabric straight onto the mannequin] and you can see this in the clothes, which are either very voluminous or very fitted to the body. I never look at trends – if anything, I’m inspired by vintage clothes in my wardrobe.
Tell us about the collection you will show at Sotheby’s.
It’s my first couture collection – by which I mean it is that level of custom-made clothing for formal occasions, such as weddings. All my collections are made in my workshop here in Dubai, and I’ve been privately doing bespoke designs for certain clients for years, but now, I wanted to formalise it with a collection that is avant-garde and eclectic, while still glamorous.
This collection is called INHALE, and it is inspired by everything under the water. It reflects where we are now – things have been tough in our part of the world recently, and I didn't see a lot of colour in the world. And then I started to feel myself again and introduce colour towards the end. It uses a lot of taffeta and tulle, and very tailored and voluminous shapes with organic elements inspired by underwater creatures.
Who is your ideal client?
The Mrs Keepa customer is very avant-garde, very artistic, very niche – she really understands style and fashion, and understands the value of what she’s buying.
Sustainability is a big part of your brand – how do you achieve this?
There’s a lot of discussion about sustainability, but honestly, I don’t think most people really understand it. To me, it’s small-scale, zero-waste local production – I’ll buy the fabric and perhaps make 100 pieces, no more, and when I have fabric left over, I’ll use it in other pieces for different seasons. I even have a home collection, with cushions made with off cuts from my couture pieces!
Is this one of the reasons you’ve chosen to work with Sotheby’s?
I believe in timeless fashion. I believe in loving the piece you buy, so it stays in your closet for seasons and seasons. And this is what Sotheby’s is all about. You're selling pieces that have been owned and have not lost their allure. On the contrary, they have more allure, more love, than ever. And this is one of the things I love about this collaboration. When we chose the jewellery and bags together that would go with my collection, we chose from these beautiful vintage Chanel and Hermès and Van Cleef pieces. It doesn’t matter that they’re from another era or designer.
Mrs Keepa will be unveiling their debut couture line at Sotheby's Dubai on 5 February 2024
For more on Mrs Keepa's activities, click here