Yasmin Yusuf’s first introduction into fashion came at the age of 8, when she made a pair of sandals out of leopard-print corduroy and cardboard from a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box. Eventually, this led to a lifetime fascination in clothes and, in particular, of all things vintage.
The now creative director at the leading UK high-street store Miss Selfridge thinks her childhood obsession – “whether it was dressing up for occasions, or taking inspiration from the background music on the TV that [my grandparents] watched” – has led to her success.
What Miss Selfridge needed when Yusuf joined was a fresh start – and this she provided. “When you start working in a new position, you need to do a lot of research – in the way that a method actor does,” she says. “I like to try to get into the head space of both the customer and the marketplace.” Since joining Miss Selfridge, Yusuf’s already-existing vintage shopping habit filtered into her work. Her collection of vintage clothing became a major inspiration for the brand’s creations.
“My archive of vintage clothes, which now has [expanded to] more than 1,000 pieces, is stored at work,” she says. “It’s categorised by centuries, then cross-divided by whether it’s lace, black, silk, velvet, etc.”
In Yusuf’s six years at the brand, she says her most influential experience came from visits to the wardrobe department at Warner Bros studios.
“I went there for a two-hour appointment and was there for four days,” she says. “Every product I could have possibly asked to see was there – including costumes from Cecil Beaton’s My Fair Lady – all handmade couture outfits they have to get from an undisclosed venue. Two security guards are with you while you’re looking around.”
Yusuf says the fast-paced production of the high-street industry hasn’t altered her approach to design. Her team of 12 work freely, based on a chosen theme for a particular season’s collection.
“It’s my job to work with my designers as individuals, so whether it’s designing or marketing, the whole creative team needs to have a seamless flow from concept to store.”
Unlike many luxury fashion houses, where the designer dictates the next season’s theme directly, high street brands such as Miss Selfridge take their cues from the market through painstaking research. “Key trends filter in from the streets, catwalks and blogs,” says Yusuf.
Under her direction, Miss Selfridge has, in her own words, made “a complete turnaround”. Formerly a loss-maker, the brand just finished its fifth consecutive profitable year.
Next up for her is Miss Selfridge’s Inspired By collection, which arrives on shelves in the spring, as well as a possible collaboration with the Barbie and Minnie Mouse brands.
However, as she wholly admits, the future doesn’t worry her. “Live for now,” she says, “and find innovation everywhere you go.”
Miss Selfridge’s two new Abu Dhabi locations, in Dalma Mall and Al Wahda Mall, are now open