Designing For The Modest American Woman: Seema S. Sahin

"When you got it, you got it" We are referring to the designing talent of American designer Seema S. Sahin and her label Modern Mary established in 2008. Seema has had a wide recognition from the Washington Post to the prestigious Washington's DC 14th International Couture Collections Show. Sit with us and learn about the talent behind Modern Mary who has been paving the way for modesty and style for the American woman and dish in as she tells us about her beauty secret. 

When did Seema decide to be a fashion designer?

Seema: I’ve always had an understanding of fashion and a strong sense of how to style. When shopping through the malls, there was no difficulty in creating a modest wardrobe, rather a challenge. Actually, the challenge was exciting and refreshing; kept me hunting through each store in the mall. Women would always stop me and ask me, “where did you buy that?” or “how did you think of putting that outfit together?” Noticing the comments and compliments, I knew I was doing something right. And what is better than putting together an outfit? Designing an outfit! I want women to have a fun and comfortable shopping experience. The only way was to bring the designs to them. I know what elements are needed to make a modest yet modern design. Design is not just how it looks, but how it fits, how it feels, and how it flows. Not only is designing a passion of mine, but I am good at it.

What's your take on Islam and fashion?
Seema: The essential element of my designs is modesty, which is derived from my personal values as a Muslim women. My designs are inspired by the beauty of modesty. My unique aesthetic vision captures the essence of modesty without compromising style. I believe that fashion and modesty are not opposing forces. When harmonized they create beautiful silhouettes that are both feminine and modern. From cut to fabric every element of design has to be well thought out. My concept balances the desire to be fashionable while being true to the self; no matter who she is, where she is from, or her way of life.

Modern Mary's Boutique

How did the name "Modern Mary" come about?
Seema: I wanted a name that evokes beauty, modesty, and confidence while speaking to all women; capturing different cultures, various faith traditions, and diverse languages. A woman that embodies these values is Mary, peace and blessings be upon her.  She is an inspirational figure that people recognize as pious and modest.  I want to inspire women with my designs.

Ok, I just have to ask. Do people sometimes call you Mary?
Seema: All the time! There was one group that I was a member of and at every luncheon I attended, there were a few women who always called me Mary. After a year, it’s hard to correct them, so I just go with it.
DC International Couture Collection Show Fall 2011

What kind of woman do you want your designs to be worn by?
Seema: I design for a lifestyle. Yes, it has to fit the needs of a women looking for modest clothing, but I’m also designing for the American Muslim women, who works, studies, who’s running errands, taking her kids to the park, going to dinner with her husband. My designs are functional, stylish, and modest at the same time. They give women the chance to express themselves while being true to their identity. For most Muslim women it can be challenging finding styles that express their cultural heritage, American identity, and at the same time being true to their faith. What motivates me is trying to reconcile these three forces and translate them into my designs. Creating modest designs is one thing, but there is a certain flair to my designs that makes it stand out and appealing. The uniqueness of each design attracts different women and speaks to different women. I try to design something for everyone.   
Describe your style.
Seema: Since I am always on the go with little ones at home, I prefer to wear one of my short dresses, with a pair of dark denims. I love accessories but I keep it very simple, either a bold colored belt or chunky ring to complete the outfit. I always have a change of shoes in my car. After a trip to the park with my kids, I can switch out my ballet flats with my strappy 3” heel sandals when I’m ready to meet clients.

What is your favorite piece that you have designed?
Seema: It’s hard to pick one design, as I am attached to all of them! But I can talk about the most popular piece from the current collection, which is the Pintuck Ruffle Blouse. I love to play with different patterns and combine them to create something unexpected. From the front, it has a military inspired look with the pintucking, shoulder straps, and buttons. But then you see this beautiful three tiered ruffles in the back giving it a feminine and elegant charm. Originally it was created in the orange. Since it was such a hit I added it to my fall/winter collection in black, and it continues to be my bestseller.  

You are in preparation to release your Spring collection. What was your inspiration for it?
Seema: This collection evokes the coolness and brightness brought by winter. I wanted to create a new concept when thinking of Spring by playing with various blue tones and combining it with soft golden hues. Pleated chiffon, hanging bowties around the collar, ruffled accents, pearl buttons, and colorblocking invade this collection. This collection translates the glow that transcends all around us on a crisp spring morning by playing with softer lines, softer shades, and softer fabrics.

Spring 2011 Collection

How do you think the role of your faith has played in your success?
Seema: It is important to be true to yourself, and everything else follows. As a woman who wears hijab, I started with the intention of creating an ease for women when searching for modest clothing. And I continue designing with that as my intention.

What's your beauty secret?

Seema: So my beauty secret, or skin care tip:
For glowing and radiant looking skin, I oil my face and neck with Jojoba Oil, (pronounced həˈhoʊbə) after thoroughly cleaning my skin every night. Not just for dry skin, but for oily, combination, and acne prone skin, this is Allah's natural treatment in preventing acne or midday oil. Most skin/acne treatments dry out the skin, causing the skin to produce more oil, hence continue to breakout. The natural approach to healing, "like cures like" keeps your body in balance. I use this philosophy when approaching health, healing, and beauty and have no complaints. Not all oils work the same, so find one that compliments your skin's needs. Personally speaking, with combination/acne prone skin, Jojoba oil and Grape Seed oil has worked best for me. What's nice about Jojoba oil is that it does not leave an oily residue. I know some women who prefer Argon Oil- which was too heavy for my skin.  
Note: It's best to oil your skin at night, right before going to bed. 
Jojoba Oil is also great for the hair... instead of using hair products that are sticky and full of harmful products, Jojoba Oil makes the hair shine and tames the mane.
Product I use: Organic Jojoba Oil by Desert Essence 
 After a shower/bath, while the skin is still damp, I oil my skin using sesame oil- which is lightweight and again absorbs right into the skin without leaving an oily residue. The best time to moisturize/oil your body is when the skin is still damp, as your skin absorbs water during a shower, so the oil/moisturizer will help seal that water. 

Model Ana Maria Lawson with Designer Seema Sabri Sahin

You may visit Modern Mary's boutique in Virginia by appointment only.


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