Former London Fashion Week designer pivots to modest fashion market

An image from the relaunch of Elle B. Zhou in 2020. Courtesy image

(RNS) – From the top of the fashion world to an illicit period in prison and back, Elle B. Mambetov’s extraordinary personal journey has helped her emerge as a unique voice in the world of luxury fashion.

Half a decade ago, her Elle B Zhou label appeared at Paris Fashion Week and her bag collection at London Fashion Week. He was working with some of the largest retailers in the UK after living in China.

The Texan designer, who had her first sewing machine at the age of 7, was one of the rising stars of fashion.

Then police officers knocked on the door of his London apartment with questions.

Mambetov, a foreigner, was cooperative but, unsure of the country’s legal system, never asked for a warrant. She was accused of fraud. Indeed, Mambetov was the victim of an identity scam. A scammer he first met at a fitness center had his identity stolen in a complex scam and charged about $ 1.3 million to his business. Arrested for the crime, he was charged by the Inner London Crown Court with six counts of fraud. However, he skipped bail and fled the country, all before Mambetov was arrested by the police.

The same scammer had also claimed to be a representative of other celebrities in Internet transactions, including Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.

Despite knowing she was not responsible for the crime, Mambetov was held in prison for more than two years because she was deemed to be at risk of fleeing. Much of that time was spent at HMP Bronzefield, a high-security women’s prison near London, where Mambetov, who is black, said she suffered extreme racism.


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The stylist Elle B. Mambetov.  Photo courtesy of Elle B. Mambetov

The stylist Elle B. Mambetov. Photo courtesy of Elle B. Mambetov

“America has its racism and its problems, but what I experienced in the UK was a very different level and a widely spread form of racism,” he told Religion News Service. “There is often an eerie silence about it and often people show their attitude not with words but with actions. In the prison system, I was treated through a racial lens ”.

Sometimes in his cell, he said, he contemplated suicide. Other times he dreamed of a triumphant return to the world of fashion. He documented much of his ordeal in a book, “A6347DW: American Captive”.

Growing up as a Christian, Mambetov was surprised by the lack of support she received from her faith community. “When I went to prison, every Christian except my mother abandoned me,” she said, adding that she wrote letters to all the Christians she knew and they “did nothing.”

“The Christians who had been in my life were completely gone,” he said.

Eventually, she said, her mother’s letters to Congress drew the U.S. government’s attention to her case, which helped her release. Mambetov is seeking legal action due to his ordeal and says he still suffers from PTSD.

Upon her release, she was told she would have no criminal record and would be given a one way ticket out of the UK. He chose Los Angeles.

In California, Mambetov settled for a while in an Airbnb near Los Angeles International Airport. The owner of the property knew everything about leaving a country under duress. Selim Mambetov, a Crimean Tatar, had left Ukraine not long after Crimea was conquered by Russian military forces in 2014. His father had been a Crimean-language media personality and pursued prior to the Russian occupation. a creative career. Today he works to solve the great problem of homelessness in Los Angeles. The two soon fell in love.

Virtual modeling of Elle B Zhou's fashions.  Video screengrab

Virtual modeling of Elle B Zhou’s fashions. Video screen capture

“As a Christian, I was taught that you could not marry a non-Christian. After prison, after the way so-called Christians, except my mother, treated me, I didn’t care what people thought of a Christian marrying a Muslim, ”she told RNS.

Mambetov converted to Islam not long after, he said, as part of a personal spiritual journey that began while he was still in prison. She is back in the fashion world but with a focus on the modest fashion movement popular with many Muslim consumers.


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She revived her brand Elle B Zhou during Ramadan 2020. Her recent womenswear collection, titled “Let the Stars Be Our Guide”, included a map of the constellation of stars over Mecca and featured Egyptian actress Huda El Mufti .

For a short time, Mambetov also ran an Elle B Zhou luxury boutique at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles. Among outlets like Burberry, Tiffany and Fendi, her brand offered a different aesthetic. With Quranic verses on display, Allah’s diamond necklaces for sale, and no music streaming through its speakers, Mambetov hoped to put customers in a more thoughtful mood.

Virtual modeling of Elle B Zhou's fashions.  Video screengrab

Virtual modeling of Elle B Zhou’s fashions. Video screen capture

“I wanted to create a space that was more grounded, that included everything and that was also halal,” he said. However, the store’s foot traffic included customers of all kinds, from Muslim Americans to Hollywood celebrities.

A number of factors, including hidden taxes, different visions for space, and growing street crime in Los Angeles, led Mambetov to close the position. Now she hopes to open a department store focusing on modest fashion somewhere in the Beverly Hills area. He also plans to open a boutique in Qatar, where he maintains an office and has partnered with the online luxury shopping boutique Farfetch.

“I have traveled internationally my entire life with no problems. But the first time I went to travel with a hijab, I had a different experience. I was pushed aside. I told the people who were questioning me that this had never happened to me before, but they insisted it was “routine interrogation” and nothing abnormal, “Mambetov said. When she arrived at her destination she found that a suitcase Rimowa he had traveled with had been broken by the Transportation Security Administration.

She hopes her work can be a bridge between two very different fashion concepts. For a designer who describes herself as the “Lady Gaga of modest fashion,” her line includes bright colors and a carefree use of Arabic script.

“Most people, when they experience setbacks in their industry or in their life, move on,” said Selim Mambetov, her husband. “They don’t go back and start out of nowhere like she did. And not only that, she was able to jump even higher than before ”.

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