Former London Fashion Week designer looks to modest fashion market

An image of Elle B. Zhou’s relaunch in 2020. Courtesy Image

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

Five years ago, her brand Elle B Zhou appeared at Paris Fashion Week and her handbag collection at London Fashion Week. She was working with some of the UK’s biggest retailers after living in China.

The Texas-born designer, who got her first sewing machine at the age of 7, was one of fashion’s rising stars.

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

Mambetov, a foreigner, was cooperative but unsure of the country’s legal system, she never applied for a warrant. She was charged with fraud. In fact, Mambetov was the victim of an identity scam. A con artist she first met at a fitness center stole her identity in a complex scam and billed her business $ 1.3 million. Arrested for the crime, he was indicted by London Crown Court on six counts of fraud. Yet he skipped the bail and fled the country – all before Mambetov was arrested by police.

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

Although she knew she was not responsible for the crime, Mambetov was kept in prison for more than two years because she was considered to be at risk of absconding. Much of that time was spent at HMP Bronzefield, a maximum security women’s prison near London, where Mambetov, who is black, said he suffered extreme racism.

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Fashion designer Elle B. Mambetov.  Photo courtesy of Elle B. Mambetov

Fashion designer Elle B. Mambetov. Photo courtesy of Elle B. Mambetov

“America has its own racism and its own issues, but what I experienced in the UK was a very different and widespread form of racism,” she told Religion News Service. “There is often an ominous silence about this and often people show their attitude not with their words but with their actions. In the prison system, I was treated through a racial lens.

Sometimes in her cell, she said, she contemplated suicide. Other times, she dreamed of a triumphant return to the fashion world. She documented much of her ordeal in a book, “A6347DW: American captive. “

A raised Christian, Mambetov was surprised at the lack of support she received from her faith community. “When I went to jail all the Christians other than my mother abandoned me,” she said, adding that she had written letters to all the Christians she knew and that they “n ‘did nothing “.

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

Eventually, she said, her mother’s letters to Congress brought her case to the attention of the U.S. government, which helped her release. Mambetov is seeking legal action over her ordeal and says she still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Upon her release she was told she would not have a criminal record and would be given a one-way ticket out of the UK. She chose Los Angeles.

In California, Mambetov took up residence at an Airbnb near Los Angeles International Airport for a time. The owner of the property knew all about leaving a country under duress. Selim Mambetov, a Crimean Tatar, had left Ukraine shortly after the capture of Crimea by Russian military forces in 2014. His father was a Crimean media personality and before the Russian occupation he had pursued his own career. creative. Today, he works to solve the great homeless problem in Los Angeles. The two quickly fell in love.

Elle B Zhou virtual fashion modeling.  Video screenshot

Elle B Zhou virtual fashion modeling. Video screenshot

“As a Christian, I was taught that you cannot marry a non-Christian. After jail, 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 soon after, she said, as part of a personal spiritual journey that began while she was still in prison. She returned to the fashion world but focusing on the modest fashion movement popular with many Muslim consumers.

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She relaunched her Elle B Zhou brand during Ramadan 2020. Her recent collection of women’s clothing, titled ‘Let the stars be our guide,’ included a map of the star constellation above Mecca and featured the Egyptian actress Huda El Mufti.

For a brief period, Mambetov also ran an Elle B Zhou luxury boutique at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles. In the midst of outlets such as Burberry, Tiffany’s and Fendi, his brand offered a different aesthetic. With Quranic verses on display, Allah diamond necklaces for sale, and no music playing through his speakers, Mambetov hoped to put customers in a more thoughtful mood.

Elle B Zhou virtual fashion modeling.  Video screenshot

Elle B Zhou virtual fashion modeling. Video screenshot

“I wanted to create a more deeply rooted space, which is inclusive of all and which is also halal,” she said. Yet the store’s foot traffic included customers of all stripes, from American Muslims to Hollywood celebrities.

A number of factors, including hidden charges, different views of space, and the increase in street crime in Los Angeles, led Mambetov to close the location. She now hopes to open a department store focused on modest fashion somewhere in the Beverly Hills area. She is also planning to open a boutique in Qatar, where she has an office and has partnered with the online luxury boutique Farfetch.

“I have traveled abroad all my life without a problem. But, the first time I went to travel with a hijab, I had a different experience. I was sidelined. I told the people who interrogated 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 discovered that a Rimowa suitcase she was traveling with had been broken by the Transportation Security Administration.

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

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

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