Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meet Alia Ahmed-Yahia: LOFT’s Creative Visionary

This fall Ann Taylor LOFT became officially known simply as LOFT. It is all part of a plan to reinvigorate the label, orchestrated by the brand’s new fashion director Alia Ahmed-Yahia. With stints as an editor at Vanity Fair and Elle, as well as experience styling both celebrities and fashion shows, Alia was the perfect candidate for the post. Since her appointment, she's been busy revamping the brand, bringing in a cache of stylists to work with the collections and expanding LOFT's social-media reach. The West Village resident took a moment to talk about her work, her D.I.Y. approach to fashion and living in the Big Apple.

How would you describe your role at LOFT?It’s a multifaceted job. I could be taking pictures of London street-styles for a concept board, conceptualizing window displays or even styling the collections. I’m also heavily involved in coordinating the brand's blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. Each season we look at so many sources of inspiration, from the runways to items and images from our travels around the world. A huge part of my job is to filter this information and ensure that what we put out there is right for our customer and will make her look fantastic.

How different is the new LOFT from what it was before?We're like the younger sister who's off doing her own thing now. From the beginning we didn’t want to create clothes that looked like they were trying too hard. It's not about creating an over-layered or over-stylized look, so much as a way of dressing that women can relate too, connect with and derive inspiration from. We are also introducing a new jewelry collaboration with Lisa Salzer of Lulu Frost.

Do your Midwestern roots play a role in your approach to design?Definitely! Although I live in New York now, I'm a Midwestern girl at heart. Growing up in Wisconsin as the oldest of seven kids I quickly learned how to creatively stretch a small budget. I would cut up fashion magazines to create collages of my "look of the moment" and then scour flea markets for covetable curiosities. I’m very D.I.Y. when it comes to my personal style and tend to be creative and experimental with clothes and accessories. In the past I’ve spray painted a watch and even cut the sleeves off of a vintage fur coat to use as leg warmers. Mixing different elements in a wardrobe comes naturally to me. I have a typically tiny New York closet, and some of my best style inspiration comes from having to hang things on the same hanger to save space.

Is there a particular item you’re attached to?I don't believe in saving things I love for special occasions. I grew up in a house where there was always one room with "vacuum lines." No one was allowed in there except when company came over. I vowed to never treat my clothes the same way. I think something that is well-worn is well-loved and holds many great memories.

Where do you like to shop in New York?I'm a big fan of vintage and love checking out the stalls at the Chelsea flea market. Resurrection at 217 Mott St. is a treasure trove of 60’s space age Courrèges jackets as well as Studio 54 era Halston evening gowns. It’s very big with the fashion crowd (Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui and John Galliano have all visited the store). Recently I’ve discovered a cool little shop in the East Village called New World Order. The guy who started it used to live in Paris, and he has a group of French style scouts discovering new pieces for his store.

Any style choices you would prefer to forget?When I was young I went through a phase where I only wore pink and purple. Now imagine that combination on color-blocked oversize silk blouses and my signature stacked neon scrunchies. Looking back, I believe it was a pretty groundbreaking look amongst the "cool" group at school. I’d like to think 1986 thanks me for my contributions.

What were some of the perks of being an editor at Elle?Over the years I got to work with a number celebrities. The best by far was Cameron Diaz, who is adorable and has a great sense style. I also styled fashion shoots with top photographers at some of the most obscure locations. I once flew to Australia for a one-day shoot!

Why did you decide to join the LOFT Team?Rather than go the Rachel Zoe celeb styling route, I have always felt that I wanted to get back to looking at what real people can afford to wear. I'm constantly challenged in my job at LOFT to look at fashion through a similar lens: to find that balance between runway and real-way. I am a firm believer that the fashion you see in magazines and on celebrities shouldn't have to be only for those who can afford it.

Were there any early experiences that shaped who you are today?I never went to my junior or senior prom in high school. My father was very strict when it came to dating boys or even joining the dance team. I was Homecoming Queen my junior year and had to turn it down. I dreamed of what my dress would look like and sometimes would walk through the special occasion dress section of Boston Store and try on my favorites. At the time it seemed like the end of the world. I felt left out of a big part of all my friend’s lives, and it was difficult to explain to them why I couldn’t join them. I grew up in Wisconsin where the Muslim community was small and there weren’t diverse ethnicities. But after I went away to college I realized that prom was just another night and I had so many great ones ahead of me. I moved to New York shortly after college where I got my first job in fashion. Today I get to attend runway fashion shows, style celebrities, and see all the glamorous gowns before they even come out in stores.

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