Born in the city of Zabalj, Serbia in 1979, Jelena Jakovljevic Bin Drai, former Miss Yugoslavia and International model is a well-known name in the fashion industry. In 2012, she established her brand Jelena by Jelena J. Bin Drai, which is fast becoming the luxury label of choice for the UAE’s stylish elite.
After meeting Jelena a few times at events and fashion shows, she came across as a beautiful, kind and genuinely warm person. Her warmth was further reflected in a charity gala dinner where as a guest, I respected her energy and dedication to help people even more and have since been keen to profile her inspiring journey being a model, businesswoman and a leading fashion designer.
Jelena pays close attention to details in her designs. Having worked alongside some of the world’s greatest fashion designers and photographers, with first-hand experience of fittings, exquisite textiles and craftsmanship, Jelena’s design standards are high.
Jelena, raised by parents who were teachers who instilled strong educational values in her also has a strong work ethic. But despite a loving family upbringing, Jelena’s childhood wasn’t without its drama, with the air raid sirens of the Serbia-Bosnia-Croatia war a vivid memory,one, which she credits as character building.
Encouraged by her parents, Jelena channeled her energy into education, training in architecture, business, and later proudly earned her Master’s in Economics and Diplomacy. It was during her studies that she first got a taste for modeling, entering the industry professionally at 19 and soon earning the coveted title of Miss Yugoslavia in 1998.
Being the first competitor to ever win three of five titles within the same pageant; Miss Yugoslavia, Miss Internet (the people’s favourite) and Miss Photogenic, Jelena’s modeling career took her on a global tour, with a brief stint living in Italy before arriving on Dubai shores in October 2001, as one of the region’s first supermodels.
Through modeling, Jelena got her first taste for business, with the tough competitive nature of the industry instilling her with the invaluable skills of negotiation, organisation and the determination to succeed. After fifteen years in the industry, Jelena’s evolved business savvy awoke a desire for a new challenge, leading her to become an entrepreneur using the extensive insider knowledge of the fashion industry as her key.
Initially branching into beauty salons, a five-star nursery and a multispeciality health clinic, all developed for her own growing family’s need,Jelena soon began to establish a successful business empire.
However, inspired by her Art Teacher mother, Jelena’s passion for creativity had always been a driving force of her personality, so it seemed only natural that her ambitions would eventually take her down a design route.
With her new life in the East a direct contrast to her Western roots, Jelena soon found a niche in the fashion industry for beautiful bespoke gowns that transcended both cultures, ultimately leading to the launch of her own fashion label, Jelena by Jelena J. Bin Drai.
My favourite from one of Jelena’s collections was one where she pays homage to her love of architecture, taking influence from the city’s towering skyline.The iconic vision of Dubai’s skyscrapers in that collection offered a lineal influence to the collection, with a focus on embellished lines flowing through fabrics and elongated silhouettes.
More recently, Jelena unveiled her much-anticipated Autumn/Winter 2016/17 ready-to-wear collection to a capacity crowd at Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD), under the label JELENA BIN DRAI. Set within the newly formed fashion tents at Hai d3 in Dubai Design District (d3), the designer showed her 37-piece contemporary yet classic collection to a VIP crowd.
Inspired by her love of London, during the early onset of winter, the collection features the most coveted of monochromatic colours as a base, stark black and ice white, with flares of the city’s statement bold red scattered throughout.
Reminiscent of the vast open plains of Hyde Park on a crisp November afternoon, full-bodied dresses covered in laser-cut leaves, pay homage to the fallen foliage as autumn’s last leaf cascades down.
Long-line box and kimono jackets keep the chill at bay while circular skirts in double georgette catch flight in the heightened breeze in Jelena’s new collection. As evening falls, so does winter’s first snowflake, captured with woven crystal detailing on softly tailored jackets. Delicate lace with reflective embroidered detailing mirrors the melting snow glistening under the park lights.
Jelena is also influenced by London’s famous double decker busses, postboxes and traditional, but largely extinct phone boxes – the bold red offers a strong and imposing dash of colour.
A master of creating chic ensembles that flow effortlessly from day-to-evening, Jelenacleverly combines conservative skirts with sheer, yet elegant tops with dramatic effect.Round necklines and high backs are apparent throughout the ultra feminine collection, as are slim bow belts and bell-sleeve detailing.
With big aspirations for her label, Jelena hopes that ladies will find happiness in her visions and looks forward to sharing her new collections with the world.
By Shereen Shabnam