Ayat Salimane is a luxury fashion designer specialising in modest evening wear. Born and based in London with a mixture of Arab and South-Asian heritage, she grew up surrounded by glamourous caftans and attending glittery weddings. She taught herself to sew after her mother gifted her a sewing machine. Soon after, she launched Salimane Couture and has been handmaking extravagant modest gowns infused with hints of her Moroccan culture ever since. Now aged 26, Ayat has run various workshops on pattern cutting, circular fashion, and how to make haute couture more sustainable. She has made bespoke made-to-measure gowns for clients around the world, designing, sewing, and shipping the gowns all by herself from her home studio.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you learnt the skill of sewing?
Ever since I was a little girl, I was so gripped by fashion. My mother can vouch for how stubborn I was when it came to my clothing and shoes. I knew what I wanted to wear, how I wanted it styled, and exactly which shoes would go with it (although naturally, at the age of four there were more misses than hits with my wardrobe choices).
I had very little exposure to sewing as a child. My father was in the fashion industry, but he left us when I was relatively young, so I never really explored my interest in fashion with him. I think that made me shy away from it for quite a while because of the association it had with him. I do remember, though, how he left behind a Juki sewing machine in our garage which I would secretly inspect: I’d spin its hand wheel and watch the empty needle bar rise and fall.
But like most things in your nature, you just can’t suppress them. I recall being as young as nine years old, sketching bridal gowns and hand-sewing little items of clothing for my Barbie dolls out of old scarves, then growing into adulthood and flicking through pages of Vogue while I was studying my Law degree at the LSE.
I never actually used a sewing machine until after I had graduated university and my mother bought one for me at the age of 23. That’s when I thought “no more stalling, I’m teaching myself to sew,”. Within months I had made myself my first ever gown for a friend’s wedding.
Why did you create Salimane Couture?
Dressmaking for me is not just a creative outlet, but a massive emotional outlet. My designs reflect what I love: details, beauty, modesty, and art. The whole process is incredibly therapeutic. Seeing women wearing something I made and feeling beautiful wearing it fills me with so much gratitude and joy. So with a huge push from my husband, I finally decided I was going to offer my design and dressmaking services to the world. I knew I wanted them to forever be an ode to my mother who worked so hard to give me that joy growing up, despite being left alone to raise the three of us, and Salimane is her maiden name. There are other family members who also share that surname and had a huge impact on my upbringing and life in general: my uncle and grandfather. They went out of their way and beyond their duties to help and be there for us. Salimane is more than a family name, it defined love and security for me as a child, and it made Salimane Couture just feel right.
How do you unite British couture and Moroccan traditional clothing in your designs?
When I’m designing and making a dress, there’s a huge mixture of influences and inspirations that help develop the final piece. I find myself greatly influenced by western haute couture when it comes to the use of delicate fabrics combined with extravagant quirks that give a gown personality.
I then also find myself drawn to the silhouette of a Moroccan caftan and the detailing that can be found in its handmade jacquard knot buttons that I taught myself to make, and the symmetry created by its sfifa (the trimming detail that runs down the middle of a dress). Each of my designs is always formulated using some sort of combination of these influences, resulting in a unique genre of modest fashion.
Is there an interest in the revival of traditional clothing?
Considering Salimane Couture is a revival of traditional clothing combined with modern twists, the younger generations of women and girls are, as a result, incredibly intrigued by this neo-Maghrebi fashion. It fits their desire of wearing a gown without losing touch with their heritage, and that’s what made me want to sew in the first place. I struggled to find traditional-wear that really fit my vision. A full-on takchita (a heavily embellished two-piece Moroccan dress with a structured belt) is fine to wear to a traditional wedding in Morocco, but would look overdressed if worn to a less cult