(published in Dawn Images on January 22, 2012)
The opening of Brands Just Pret at Dolmen City Mall on Karachi’s sea front is proof of the rising and insatiable demand for fashion in Pakistan. We see new stores catering exclusively to ready to wear popping up all over the place. Fashion boutiques have become as common as beauty salons or CD stores and they are multiplying as we speak. One originally had limited options in Labels, Ensemble and The Designers but with every new boutique the choices are multiplying and the competition is getting tough. Brands Just Pret is one boutique that has managed to catch the eye amidst this flurry of fashion retail.
BJP’s first seal of approval is its location. No one can dispute the escalating value of Dolmen City Mall as the most desirable shopping destination in Karachi. And it would be difficult for any self-respecting fashionista not be drawn into the enclave of the mall that could be described as it’s ‘fashion avenue’. Khaadi (the most impressive outlet yet), Bareeze, Junaid Jamshed, Sheep, Timberland, Stoneage, Monsoon and many other shops have already open for business while gigantic billboards for Nurjehan Bilgrami’s Koel and PFDC amongst others (Debenhams and Mango) leave one anticipating the upcoming. Nestled within this enclave is Brands Just Pret.
What attracts one to the space initially is its interior (designed by Najmi Bilgrami Collaborative), which projects a clean and contemporary ambience. Uncluttered and linear in its layout, BJP has clarity offering a modern, minimalist space to fashion. It would have made sense for all the labels in stock to follow that ethos but things become a bit kaleidoscopic as you walk further in.
The boutique offers over two dozen labels, most new and a few established like Slate by Faiza Samee, Sublime by Sara Shahid, Zainab Sajid and Wardha Saleem along with Mahin Erum, a commercially successful name. Then there are younger labels like Zarmina and Somal Halepoto, whom one is familiar with but has yet to be impressed by. The vast majority of new labels at BJP may be promising (or not) but they have to work harder to leave a lasting impression: marketing, networking or simply creating edgier, eye-catching designs would be a start.
Two new names at BJP stand out for having a strong fashion sensibility and being focused and innovative. The young Aisha Alam (who has worked with Gul Ahmed) has made her debut with a smart, colour-blocked collection in lightweight linen. Her collection starts with casual tunics and stretches out to gently decorated formal wear. It is all tasteful, coherent and affordable.
The second upcoming label to catch the eye is Ayesha Khurram, who has been experimenting with Andy-Warholish pop faces for quite some time. These faces are the focal point of her collection though they would make more sense on cottons as opposed to chiffon, which immediately gives the garments a confused formal look. Nevertheless, it is a label that has definite potential.
Barring the few names that one is familiar with, the rest of the store is a haze of garments that may appeal to the average woman who’s looking for ‘something decent/safe to wear’ but not for the fashion savvy woman in search of something new.
Here lies BJP’s biggest conundrum: should a fashion boutique be exclusive in its approach or should it overwhelm buyers by numbers, commercially viable clothing and aim to draw crowds? Brands Just Pret will need to decide which path to take: commercial or creatively exclusive? One hopes it’s the latter because what the market requires now is specialty stores of the kind one would find abroad. Multi-label boutiques in Europe and America usually have themes of what they stock: street wear, maternity wear, vintage wear, club wear, wedding wear etc and they stock designer labels that suit that theme only.
Brands Just Pret, which inaugurated in December, is still young enough to filter the excessive stock of labels and re-evaluate its criteria. The boutique’s potential should not go waste.
Though its UAE based CEO Hadi Anwar was not present at the press launch last week, BJP’s Managing Director Somaya Adnan (who’s also stocking a fairly decent line) disclosed that this would be Pakistan’s first boutique to officially begin e-commerce through an online portal and that Brands Just Pret would be opening branches in Dubai as well as other cities within Pakistan very soon.
(This is the original story which may appear a bit different from the published, edited piece.)