Amal Clooney owns a Lilli Jahilo classic, a black dress named after her, the ‘Amal’ dress and many others; Princess Sofia of Sweden and the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid also possess Lilli Jahilo dresses, just to name a few personalities dressed up by Lilli. Her brand has penetrated various markets, and is linked through collaborations with brands across the globe – from Finland and Sweden, to the US and Dubai.
Lilli Jahilo is the daughter of an Estonian diplomat father and mother working in the field of media; she grew up in different countries in a cosmopolitan family of four kids, being constantly surrounded by changes, influenced by new languages, and cultures. In fact, she discovered her tailoring talent living abroad at early age, and that her destiny would be linked to pulchritude and quality.
“I’ve never really seen myself as a ‘diplomatic kid’ – does anyone?” she declared. “As a child, you follow your parents and that can take you to different places. This journey teaches you a lot, makes you lose fear of new places and gives you confidence that you can tackle anything.
As eldest out of four kids, I’ve lived abroad during two of my father’s postings. The first time, it was quite a shock moving from the newly independent Estonia to London in 1995. Literally everything was like in the movies – even cereals and orange juice for breakfast!
Lilli Jahilo’s memories from London are still fresh and her school at that time made her discovered art at early age. “For some reason, the smell of chrysanthemums and eucalyptus will always remind me of our life in London. School was so different, and because of the language, was also a struggle at first. My school’s art class was really well equipped and it was during this time that my talent in art started to stand out more. When I returned to my homeland, I took up additional art classes and I guess this was the beginning in laying the foundation for my later studies in design. By the time we moved to Norway three years later and I was in high school, I had already fully decided to pursue studies in Fashion Design.
What I think back to the most in London was definitely the retail scene. We lived in the vicinity to Kensington High Street, and it was blooming with great stores in the 90s. I still remember how classy Jigsaw’s store looked liked, and how good the service everywhere was. It also introduced me to the concept of quality, the woollen suits my mum bought and sense of classic aesthetic. As a kid you absorb life around you and you only see the influences later in life. The studies in Norway taught me the idea of well thought out design, that form follows function. And their love of nature and the outdoors definitely stuck with me. Like Norwegians, I’m convinced that there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothes! Clothes should be always there to support and bring the best out of you.”
Her decision to go after a career in fashion was natural and for Lilli it was not another possible option; she spent teen years building a strong portfolio.
“I was sure by the time I was in high-school that I wanted to pursue studies in fashion design. Hence I dedicated all of this time to perfecting my portfolio, as I had heard so many stories of how impossible it is to enrol in fashion design, as it’s always been a popular choice at art academies. Yet so it happened that I was accepted to all four universities to which I applied, and decided to go Oslo National Academy of the Arts. I didn’t have a plan B, this was the only thing I wanted to do.”
“The world of fashion is a tough one to be in, so you need maximum motivation and inner drive to do it. Already when I was a kid, I loved drawing and making things, sewing with my grandmothers, working with all sorts of materials, and I’ve always been organising things, so fashion in a way brings together everything that I love doing. There’s a saying there are two type of artists in the world, those who destruct and those who build. I’m definitely the latter – I love creating harmony. All of our products are made with attention to detail and the perfection of fit which have become the hallmarks of my design together with modern and feminine style. We don’t only create the most beautiful dresses in the world, we empower women.
I set up my fashion brand two years after graduating from Fashion MA in Tallinn, prior to that I had interned with numerous brands and designers to learn about the craft and trade. I won the best young designer award with my graduate collection and that brought attention and opened doors for me. I also started getting requests from private clients and so setting up my studio to do those things was sort of inevitable. I still worked a full-time job at the Art Academy when I started with my studio. At one point it was all too much, and then decided to fully dedicate on my brand.
My cousin Tene joined me in working with the brand so that I could focus more on the creative work. It’s been ten years now. My family was always there to support me which I’m very thankful for, because being an entrepreneur and artist at once and running a team is a tough journey full of challenges. Out of all the four siblings I’m the only one living in Estonia, my twin sisters are finalising their master studies in Mathematics and Aerospace Engineering, one of them lives in the UK, the other in The Netherlands, and my brother who is an environmental specialist lives in Belgium.
My studio is like a creative hub that includes an atelier, studio for creative work and showroom with fitting rooms that also acts as a store. We are very proud of our in-house atelier with the best tailors so that we can truly guarantee the best quality in our pieces, we also alter dresses quite a lot according to the clients’ measurements and needs and this goes for orders placed either in-store or online. Online business has really grown a lot during this Covid-year as customers are mainly shopping online – and this is true for both small items such as face masks and made-to-order dresses. Therefore managing the online store and shipping is an important part of our management side. I love working on collections but also on creative collaborations – Volvo is our long-term partner, as well as Saaremaa Opera Festival, our latest two collections are done in partnership with the National Art Museum of Estonia and our anniversary event this year was held in partnership with Samsung. Design is a universal language that crosses all borders and cultures and, like politics, everybody has an opinion about it.
We truly have clients across the globe. We are currently working on developing the first menswear collection which I’m very excited about. And a very special Ramadan and Eid Collection is also in the works which will hopefully be launched in Dubai next year.
For further information
Take a look at: https://shop.lillijahilo.com