Expert Insights: Sabrina Mandelli

Founder & Creative Director, Ssheena

I had a multi-sided education. While I was studying accountancy in high school, I used to spend my Summer holidays scrapping cars at my dad’s car wrecking business; back then I could have never dreamt that one day I would have worked in fashion. I always hated talking about myself and I reckon that is why I created my brand SSHEENA, so that my clothing line could speak on my behalf. SSHEENA is the physical manifestation of my ideal woman, its natural consequence. She is Billy Wilder, Fedora and Norma Desmond. She is not particularly friendly but when she walks by, people can’t take their eyes off her, from the distance. She is a diva and maybe a bit of a psycho; she is a punk – for sure – but with a Chanel bag. SSHEENA smokes but she also lights off the cigarettes half way through, disgusted. She is both the Edith Bouvier of Grey Garden. She has polished nails. A cat. Some pearls. She also wears denim. And most likely she might call to mind Joan Crawford.

From Istituto Marangoni to the foundation of Ssheena, can you tell us more about your career path?
After my diploma at Istituto Marangoni in Milan I got a job at Dolce and Gabbana, working for demi-couture and custom made for celebrities. I then moved into Gruppo Antonioli as Senior Designer for Ring, and today I am Womenswear Head Designer and Style Coordinator for Off White. SSHEENA was born in between all these professional experiences. I like to describe my brand as “my problem child”, like Albert Hoffman used to describe his most famous creation: LSD.

After graduating in Fashion Design at Istituto Marangoni, what challenges have you encountered?
There are so many challenges at the beginning of everybody’s career but I personally always liked to face them in the best way I could. Actually, one of the most upsetting challenges every woman has been facing since forever, it’s the low consideration of female workers over male ones, most especially in Italy. Fighting this habit makes me even more committed in pursuing my professional goals; still, I find almost absurd and primitive that we have to face such situation at work.

How has your course of study at Istituto Marangoni influenced your attitude and your approach to work?
Istituto Marangoni taught me the real meaning of the word ‘coolness’ and the importance of pure creativity, that is the concept of producing something meaningful without worrying about market trends. It is a marvellous school that pushes students to experiment, and this helped me greatly in giving a direction to my personal creative process.

What is the role of web and social media in your profession?
Social media work for me mostly as an archive. I am not a big fan. I use them as a silent channel of communication, a window to display both my collection and what is behind its development. Not to follow Instagram trends it is a structural choice of my brand.

As Founder and Creative Director of Ssheena, how does creativity meet with market demands?
It is crucial to understand market needs and always keep those in mind, however it is also important not to surrender to them. It is possible in fact to willingly produce something that goes in a total opposite direction considered the market one. Truth is, you can’t be successful just by blindly following the latest trends, whereas they can help you drawing a line around your creativity impulses.

Today you are a full-fledged fashion entrepreneur. What advice would you give to those who dream of starting a career like yours? Do you believe that participating in international contests represents an opportunity for visibility for young talents?
My personal advice I feel like giving is to be sure about your own ideas and to keep in mind that success doesn’t come in a blink of eyes. I think entering a contest can also represent a good opportunity to get more visibility and hopefully some financial support for your projects.

What are the plans for the future of Ssheena and the next frontiers of international development considering the brand vision?
My next goal is to give more structure to my company. I am obsessed with production and I would like to expand my Production department in order to gain more control on the whole creative process of my collections.

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