Like many transplants, Texas-bred designer Elle B. Mambetov was lured to the City of Angels with the promise of reinvention and nearly-year-round sunny skies. In fall 2018, she arrived in Los Angeles from London as a former inmate of HMP Bronzefield, a maximum-security women's prison, where she was falsely held for two soul-crushing years.
It's a nightmare that the former London Fashion Week designer shared in her biography, "A6347DW: American Captive," and in a recent interview with author and motivational speaker Mel Robbins. In her eBook, Mambetov wrote about the systemic racism, sexism, and corruption that she experienced while working to free herself from prison and clear her name for a crime that she didn't commit.
Ever the optimist, the Elle B. Zhou designer has since rebuilt her life and her brand in L.A. Tomorrow marks the official relaunch of her globally-inspired luxury fashion label and in July, she'll open her first U.S. pop-up store at the Beverly Center, assuming that safety guidelines are lifted.
Much has changed since Elle B. Zhu's previous two collections. Mambetov (née Erin Lindsay Walker) gave her ready-to-wear brand a modest makeover after she converted to Islam. "This collection [represents] my identity coming back," she tells UncoverLA. "I'm reminded of why I wanted to be a fashion designer in the first place. I use a lot of colors and it's an outward expression of my personality."
"I want to bridge the gap between these two worlds; I want all people to experience fashion, even [they're] dressing modestly," she explains. Now comprised of pleated ankle-grazing skirts, bubble-sleeved silk dresses, scalloped-hem crop tops (meant to be worn over colorful printed tees), full-length gloves, chic silk joggers, chunky trainers, and more the fall/winter '20 range ($250 to $1095) still maintains the luxe label's same playful personality and European sensibilities — no lace bodysuits or skin-baring mini skirts required.
Originally scheduled to be unveiled on an IRL runway, Elle B. Zhou 2.0 will debut online this Friday at 11 a.m. PT — fittingly the day before Ramadan's end — via a short film featuring sculptured characters wearing digital 3D versions of her latest collection. The charitable presentation will also raise money for Vogue and CFDA's A Common Thread initiative and Doctors Without Borders to support coronavirus relief.
Mambetov's 1,800-square-foot store at the Beverly Center is located on the seventh floor in the Bloomingdale's wing and will transport shoppers to the U.K. "The concept of the store is like Selfridge's. You can get housewares, eat there, get your shoes there," says the designer. In addition to carrying her brand, the boutique will serve popcorn and offer colorful plates from Polish porcelain label Look At Me, among other wares from international designers. (Elle B. Zhou will be in good company among European fashion houses such as Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton, to name a few.)
This isn't the first time that Mambetov has started anew for her career. In her eBook, she details personal tragedies and her life before and during prison. As an aspiring designer and recent college grad, she moved to China "to learn more about manufacturing" before relocating with her then-boyfriend to Europe. There, she debuted her luxury handbag line, Sophia Beckford, at London Fashion Week in 2012 and launched Elle B. Zhou's debut collection in "the inner city of Paris during Paris Fashion Week" in 2016.
She was arrested several months later for alleged fraud after a so-called friend used her name and business to rack up $1.3 million in debt. The "friend" was charged in 2016 with six counts of fraud by the Inner London Crowd Court, confessed to the crimes, and left the U.K. shortly after. According to court documents, he "did not answer his bail… [and] is still therefore wanted by the police for these matters."
"My dream was to be a fashion designer. When I was living that dream, that was my life, that's who was," she says. "After I was falsely imprisoned, I was surrounded by people I've never been around before: [murders], terrorists, drug addicts, hardcore criminals. The next thing you know, that's your neighbor."
Mambetov, who graduated from the University of Kansas School of Business, explained that her education made her "stick out like a sore thumb. How I survived is short of a miracle. I was an outsider; I spoke quite eloquently and there were people who didn't like that."
Mambetov says fashion helped her survive. "I did think about suicide. It was a day-by-day thing; sometimes, I would just rock myself in my cell," she recalls. "I had a collection of Vogue magazines dating from 1985 all the way into the 2000s. I remember looking at things that I found inspiring; mood board things. I did dream about being a designer again."
"When I got out of there, I really struggled. All of a sudden I wasn't a fashion designer anymore," she continues. After losing all of her possessions and having her reputation destroyed, "I just didn't know if that was something that I could ever do [or] have the strength to face the world again."
The Downtown-based designer is certainly rebuilding her L.A. life to its fullest. In addition to relaunching her women's line, Mambetov's other projects include a branding and creative agency, an online business course, and a tea-fueled interview series.
For those who are feeling the weight of the pandemic, Mambetov offers up her own experiences as proof of the power of resilience. Despite the traumatizing years in prison, "I really believe that nothing is wasted [given] where I am now and being able to relaunch the brand and open my store," she says.
"Whatever people are going through, [know that] it is still possible to make it and come out of something horrific," Mambetov adds. "I didn't think about it. I couldn't see what was on the other side or imagine being a designer again."