The entrepreneur and philanthropist on her love of power suits and the puffiest of coats, and the concept behind the super-charged beauty brand she founded with husband Idris
Alex Piper for @sabrinaelba // Instagram
What luxury means to you.
To me luxury is first and foremost about what makes you feel good: something quality made that you want to keep forever and pass down. It has a story and significance and it might be a ratty tatty book or a piece of fine jewellery.
Your first investment.
A pair of Louboutins – the Kate pump style with a round toe and plunging silhouette. I needed these shoes! Saving up for something special does not change when you grow older – the anticipation remains the same.
It felt like a wonderful 360 moment when Idris and I collaborated with Christian Louboutin, now a good friend, on the Walk a Mile in My Shoes collection, with 100% of proceeds going to not-for-profits benefitting education, the arts and youth empowerment. The collections have raised £1.3 million to date and I am so proud of that.
The forever items in your wardrobe?
A tailored jacket/coat from Givenchy that Claire Waight Keller kindly gave me; a Stella McCartney halter neck gown that I wore on my first red carpet appearance; my wedding gown by Vera Wang (a beautiful silk crepe dress with a Chantilly lace trim and long train) and my two pairs of wedding heels by Louboutin: one in satin and one in a traditional Somali print. Idris wore an Ozwald Boateng suit and we were married in Marrakesh in 2019. My family is from east Africa and Idris’s is from west Africa, so we thought it would be fun to meet somewhere in between.
What do you wear as a businesswoman and entrepreneur?
I’m definitely a suit girl, I feel absolutely powerful in a two-piece and Alexander McQueen has some of the best fits. I tend to go shirtless under the blazer and wear loafers with the pant.
By contrast, what do you wear to get the fireworks going?
On date night, a floor-length slip dress. I feel super sexy when silk hangs low on the body so the slinkier the straps the better.
And in the big outdoors?
Big coats! The puffier the better. I took a North Face x Gucci coat on a trip to Iceland with Carhartt pants and hiking boots.
Who do you turn to in a fashion pickle?
I save lots of inspiration, and I do like a mood board. Being a Gemini, I experiment and do not have one consistent style personality. But women who dress with confidence first are always those who inspire me the most.
"I’m definitely a suit girl, I feel absolutely powerful in a two-piece. I tend to go shirtless under the blazer and wear loafers with the pant."
Your most treasured gift from Idris?
A Ball n Chain necklace by Jessica McCormack with a green emerald. I love the feel and weight of it on my skin and the stone which Idris chose is mesmerising.
The last thing you added to your wardrobe?
A black and red trompe l’oeil handprint mesh dress by Loewe that I wore to Edward Enninful’s book launch for A Visible Man. I like dresses that are fitted at the waist. I understand what looks good on my own body but that took me a while. When I moved to London from Vancouver, I thought I would have to wear ladylike florals! But now I’ve found a way to incorporate my own personal taste. I like an undercurrent of coolness.
On your wishlist.
A black mini Kelly and the penny loafers from Bottega Veneta.
Your beauty ritual.
The anti-bacterial Qasil cleanser that we developed for our new venture S’Able Labs. Qasil is a leaf from a Somalian tree that is ground into a powder which is naturally purifying and cleansing. My mum has been using this for decades. We combined it with ingredients including kaolin, oat, amino acids, shea butter, rice milk and squalane in this lovely moisturising cleanser. Idris and I wanted to create an affordable but luxury genderless skincare line for all ethnicities. We realised that there was no one doing it in the wellness space that looked like, spoke like, or felt like us – there was no representation for people of colour who wanted to be into wellness and fit in. The brand? S’Able is Elbas spelt backwards!
It is such a buzzword now, I think the meaning is lost. I prefer selfless self-care. For me, that also means being connected to my community, my family, and friends. If I am not seeing or speaking to my circle, talking to my brother and mother, seeing a friend for lunch - it affects my mental health.
The experts you rely on.
The two women who have really helped me on my skincare journey and the development of S’Able Labs are Dr. Barbara Sturm (we had a proper conversation about dark skin) and Charlotte Tilbury - the energy of that woman and the motivation she spreads into a room when she walks in is incredible: such energy and soul. These are the multi-facetted great beauty bosses in my life. I also go to Koia in Notting Hill for massages and to Sophia for brows: such a treat.
A personal treasure.
When Idris and I first met, I was in Vancouver and I had this blanket. On moving to London, it came with me and I can’t imagine losing it. My mother gave me her vintage Gucci watch: it’s the first luxury she bought for herself and I adore it!
A book to pass on.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens - it’s her first book and so evocative and relevant. Often, I find myself reading the first 15 pages of a book and putting it down. I finished this in its entirety.
Where do you go to escape?
We have house in Oxfordshire near Burford – just an hour and a half away. The garden is full of purple flowers including lavender.
An artist that has caught your eye.
We have been living in our house for 4 years, but really, we’ve not had the chance to start a collection. I am so taken with Teddy Hansen’s work: he uses rug tufting and embroidery for these funky, surreal wall hangings. It’s so rewarding to collect work that speaks to you.