In depth with Jihene Ben Jazia: The style icon and the founder of Maison Atypik

In depth with Jihene Ben Jazia: The style icon and the founder of Maison Atypik

11 min read  —  Jan 21, 2021

by Nada Zamel

This month, we are celebrating inspiring women, and what better way to do so than interviewing the one and only Jihene Ben Jazia,  founder of the fashion brand Maison Atypik.

Just like her brand, she is a one-of-a-kind, atypical fashion designer. We've been fond of her work forever and astonished by her multitasking skills: She's a mom, an influencer with over 300k on Instagram, a fashion designer, an entrepreneur, and also, a DJ. That's why we were super excited to get in touch with her and get to know her better. Once we reached out, she again amazed us with her kindness, humility, and professionalism.

Her traditional yet funky designs are breathtaking. No wonder she‘s considered a style icon and an inspiration to so many people around the world.

She’s no ordinary woman. She quit her initial career in her mid-thirty to pursue her one true passion: Fashion.

Her fashion sense is a mix of many different styles. One minute she is rocking a sporty casual look the next one she's wearing an avant-garde edgy outfit. It depends on the mood but I mean isn’t that what fashion is about at some point?

During the lockdown, many people found tranquility in her digital content. With her bubbly personality, positive aura, and contagious smile, she entertained many people and won their hearts.

Although she’s an open book with her social media followers, we did get some exclusive scoop on her brand and her amazing life journey.

What sparked your interest in fashion?

I'm passionate about all kinds of art and for me, fashion is a form of art. The way someone dresses represents his own way of making art and expressing himself. I always find myself gravitating towards anything aesthetically pleasing. I'm drawn to the beauty and I see it all around me and fashion is a manifestation of art and beauty. I'm also obsessed with the art of creation, seeing something in my head and putting it out into the world. Personally, I don't like to stop at being a consumer of art but rather a producer. When I love something, I want to be more involved in the process of making it and not just passively consuming it.

I love fashion, so I became a designer, I love music so I started DJ-ing and I love food so you'll always find me cooking. Making the shift from a consumer to a producer is not the easiest thing but it is extremely rewarding.

Are you self-taught or did you go to a fashion school?

I'm self-taught. Fashion for me is an innate characteristic that comes naturally. However, after establishing my business and building a name for my brand, I decided to go back and take the academic route. So I took summer courses in ESMOD Paris and styling at IDRI Paris. Learning is an ongoing process for me and it never ceases. You can always learn more and add to your pre-existing knowledge.

What’s the best thing you like about being a fashion designer?

Fashion is ever-changing and is constantly evolving. There's always a new trend. Fashion is a fast-paced industry and it never slows down or stops and that's why staying on top of your game is very challenging, but I love a good challenge.

In fashion, you have to keep on working on yourself and bettering yourself to build a name and an identity of your own and I love this about it. It motivates you to become the best version of yourself. You can't help but stay innovative. I love fashion, it's an integral part of who I am and what I'm passionate about, I don't treat it as a job I just do what I love most. As they say, do what you love and you'll never work another day in your life.

At the age of 35, you quit your initial career, marketing, and communication, to pursue fashion. Were you afraid of failing? and why did you take that decision at that time not earlier?

It actually started earlier at around the age of 35. I am 44 years old now. Although I was successful in the marketing and communication field and I loved my job so much due to its creative and artistic nature, I wanted to become an entrepreneur and be my own boss. I wanted to work at my own pace. Fashion is where my true passion lies and it holds a special place in my heart. Being naturally curious, I wanted to explore more and present myself with a new challenge. It was a new milestone for me but I was never afraid of failing. I trust my abilities and choices. I know I'm a workaholic and I also know that anything you do with passion isn't bound to fail.

I think the timing was just right. Starting earlier would have been too early for me. I wouldn't have been nearly as equipped to know what it takes to be in the industry or be presented with the same opportunities. I had to work on myself and build a career to further hone my self-confidence. My success in marketing showed me that I could do anything I set my mind to, it served as an assertion.

With the move I made to a new country, I needed a fresh start. It all came together, a new country, a new life, and a new career path. It made sense for me to start over and do what I love more than anything so I embarked on my fashion designing journey.

Usually, designers make clothes that reflect their personal style. In your case, your style is fun and modern yet you design traditional ready to wear. Why did you decide to design KUFTANS? 

My brand is a true representation of who i am as a person. I'm a very authentic person and at the same time, I'm always open to new things whether new cultures or ideas. On one hand, I'm deeply rooted in our culture and values, on the other hand I'm fascinated by other cultures. My roots are embossed in me and I'm very proud of my heritage. I'm very passionate about culture and I take in and absorb from different strands.

My kaftans aren't your typical kaftans, I wanted to give them a new lease on life. They were never regular kaftans, they've always been unconventional and cosmopolitan. Like myself, I'm patriotic and forever proud of where I came from but I'm also open to outside influence and inspiration.

Hend Sabri Wearing Maison Atypik

What are the Crucial lessons you have learned during your career?

Throughout my career I've learned that you can't just pour all your time and effort into coming up with ideas and creating, you also have to dedicate some time to the administrative aspects of the job. It's all part of the process and you can't just stay in your bubble designing and creating while not paying much attention to the rest. It's one big system and each part is equally as important. I'm happy with where I am and what I've achieved so far but I wish I put more thought into the very technical and less creative side of the business.

How was your experience at Tunis Fashion week 2019 and Villa Tanit?

Even though my participation in Tunis Fashion week was a last-minute decision, the show was very well-received. I was spotted by the international press which landed me a three-page interview in Vogue Arabia with little to no PR on my side. Despite Atypik's success in the Gulf region, the recognition from my own country hit differently. The whole experience was surreal and heart-warming. And being able to showcase my collection in the theatre of Carthage was a great honor and it meant a lot to me.

Villa Tanit has been an amazing experience for me. Being my Tunisian debut, it holds a special place in my heart. Atypik had been around for 10 years by then and it was the first time we ever exhibited in Tunisia.

It was also my first pop up store there so I didn't in a million years expect the phenomenal reaction. It was a huge success and We were sold out right away. It was really unexpected. Atypik was one of the most anticipated brands in the event. Everyone was telling me how much they loved my pieces and that they'd recognize Atypik anywhere because of how unique and timeless the pieces were. I received a lot of great feedbacks from my returning clients and they expressed their love and support which left me beyond ecstatic. Even though Atypik wasn't commercially available in Tunisia, I managed to establish my name there as a fashion designer.

Souha Baylik wearing Maison Atypik

How do you describe your personal style?

One word, Atypik. My style is very atypical and varies from extravagant, rock to monochrome minimalism. I wake up each morning and let my mood decide my style. Every day, I'm a different woman with a different style. Fashion is a way of expressing yourself and for me, that changes daily. I like to experiment with various styles and not be confined to a particular style or trend. However, the Extravagant style holds a special place in my heart. 

Does your personal style reflect your personality?

My personal style is not set in stone. I've lived many lives in one lifetime, I've worked in different fields and lived in different countries and everything is constantly changing for me and my personal style is no exception, it is a lifelong journey. The woman I am today is a reincarnation of the woman I was yesterday. I consider my style to be broad and eclectic as I was never drawn to one particular style at a time, I'm always reinventing my style in many unconventional ways. My style has developed a mind of its own at this point.

What are the Best 3 trends that ever existed?

If I have to choose only three, my number one would be Gigot sleeves. I love me a good puffy, exaggerated sleeve with padded shoulders, a show stopper for sure. It made a strong comeback this year all the way from the 1800s. Also corsets, I love the cinched silhouette and how versatile they are. And Finally denim jackets with unusual cuts and/or extra embroidery and prints. It’s a wardrobe staple that you can never go wrong with and that you could style in many different ways.

What sparked your interest in music? When did you start DJing?

When I moved to Egypt, I sought solace in music. I spent the first three years in Egypt sorting my life out and helping the kids adapt to their new life. I gave myself a break and started spending more time with myself and dedicated some time to self-discovery, and the music was always there for me to keep me company. It played a huge role in filling my time and making me feel less lonely. I don't tend to listen to commercial music nor am I a fan of pop culture but I'm more drawn to indie and obscure artists, as it is with everything else I love, I'm intrigued by the unconventional.

I started DJing last year and I enjoy it very much, it's one of the things I'm extremely proud of. And as I mentioned before being a consumer doesn't provide me with the same satisfaction and joy as producing. 

How do you manage your time as a mom, designer, and DJ?

I'm a mum first and foremost. Motherhood is a lifelong full-time job. I don't dedicate a specific time to it, it takes all my time. It's an ongoing thing for me. It is who I am, a mother. My kids are no longer young so we're past the most difficult phase. Currently, it is much less demanding and they help me come up with ideas and I find myself always asking them for their opinions. As for DJing, It's a hobby for me. A me-time kind of activity. I'm a night person so that's how I spend most of my nights, DJing. As for fashion design, It depends on what stage I'm at. For instance, in between collections I'm either sketching or brainstorming but during the production phase, I'm usually working day and night. Fashion design isn't a 9-5 job so prioritizing is key.

You’re now based in Cairo. How did you end up in Egypt?

I've moved to Cairo, Egypt with and because of my husband. My husband is an ex-pat and he's lived all over from Kuwait to Egypt. For me, family comes first and wherever my family is, you'll find me. I don't mind leaving everything behind as long as we're together because, in the end, that's all that matters. My family is my home so wherever they reside is home for me.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I don't see myself staying in one place. Just like a bird, I'm an eternal voyager. I'm always roaming and always moving. As for Maison Atypik, I see it becoming a globally renowned brand not just limited to Kaftans but branching into a ready-to-wear line. A big name-brand and a reputable label showcasing at established and high-profile events and major fashion weeks. I like to dream big and it's not because I'm ambitious, on the contrary, it's because I believe in myself and trust my abilities quite well. I know deep down that I'll make it.

What advice would you give to young designers?

Hold on to your true passion and keep going no matter what. You must never give up in this highly competitive industry. Don't go with the flow, be the flow and the trendsetter. Always remain different and distinguished with your designs but stay true to yourself nonetheless. Being innovative is essential to establishing and sustaining your business. Craft a real identity for yourself; a unique fingerprint. And this is something I'm forever proud of, establishing a name for myself and my brand.

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