How several well placed collaborations have the potential to diversify an elitist face of fashion.
(Published in Dawn Images, April 7 2013)
They say we’re a poor nation full of very rich people. You could say the same for fashion. For the longest time Pakistan’s fashion industry has been a poor and disorganised place full of very wealthy individuals. For years designers have been content with buttering their bread with bridals, which have paid for exotic vacations, luxury lifestyles and high-end personal wardrobes. Rarely have Pakistan’s ‘successful’ labels actually invested in the expansion of their own brands.
Khaadi, Sania Maskatiya, Amir Adnan, Maria B and Karma are amongst the few exceptions that have managed to balance commerce with critical acclaim. Sana Safinaz and Nida Azwer will be joining the ranks next month with multiple nationwide stores.
While the expansion of designer labels is one indicator of fashion’s industrial revolution, the other – just as concrete a movement – is the absorption of critically acclaimed designers into the already established but relatively unfashionable high street market. Pakistan’s high street lacked the oomph that comes from fashion and Pakistan’s fashion lacked the financial muscle and volume that comes from the corporate/industrial sector. That is about to change.
In November 2012 we witnessed Adnan Pardesy’s first nationwide collection for Leisure Club’s Working Woman line. From the average ten pieces that he makes per design for his eponymous label, production jumped to 150 pieces per design at WW. Simultaneously, the price per garment designed by Pardesy dropped from an average 10,000 rupees a piece to 3,000. And that was just the beginning.
The success of Pardesy’s debut WW line has him working on Summer 2013 these days.
“The Working Woman summer line will be launching at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week (PSFW) later this month,” he told Dawn Images. “It will then go straight into the stores.”
“The fabric to pret trend has shifted in the past three years when we’ve seen more women stepping into the working arena,” Brand Manager Working Woman, Omar Zaman explained. “We believe Adnan Pardesy was the best possible choice to design simple and subtle garments that paid attention to detailing. We have managed to replicate couture as pret.”
Mr Zaman added that the success of the first collection would be translating into solid retail presence in Karachi, where (it was assumed) the number of professional women was highest.
“We ideally want to work with women from lower middle-class groups to empower them financially,” he added.
In another exciting alliance, mega brand Bonanza signed up Lux Style Award winner Maheen Karim and acclaimed designer Sanam Chaudhri for summer 2013 and beyond. The collections are expected to debut at the PSFW after which they will be available initially in 25 of the 60-plus Bonanza stores across the country. From the limited stock that they were sending to multi-brand stores, both Maheen Karim and Sanam Chaudhri will tap into a much larger clientele with this collaboration. Production will go up to 600 pieces per designer per month.
“I’ll be designing the same way I design my casual cottons,” Maheen Karim described her first Bonanza collection. “The idea is to bring smart and edgy fashion to the masses. They’re already getting pretty, safe clothes in the form of lawn. Women are already getting the embroidered necklines, the panels and the dupattas. This is literally more practical clothing for the working girl or young mother who wants a tunic with a pair of trousers. She wants to keep it simple, modest and smart.”
Does she think these initiatives can nudge women into the ready to wear, as opposed to the ‘tailor’ culture?
“I think the mindset and trend is already changing,” she replied. “Women are having tailoring and electricity issues; the process is becoming more and more painful. But it’ll take at least a year for the idea to sink in and for women to absorb the idea. It won’t happen overnight.”
Like Maheen Karim, Sanam Chaudhri is also working in association with the same brand, her first collection due to launch at the PSFW.
“I’m the anti-thesis to Bonanza,” Sanam spoke to Dawn Images, “which is why, I like to think, I was chosen. I’ve started with a ten-design capsule with four casuals in solid colours, four prints that I have developed (mostly linear geometrics) and two slightly formal looks. The one thing I’ve kept in mind when designing is, ‘would I wear it?’ I know a big issue for us women is clothing that flatters the silhouette.”
It’s interesting that a high street brand that caters to the masses would select two considerably elitist designers for the task at hand but then that is what’s needed to turn the brand’s frumpy image around.
“We were impressed by what they (Maheen Karim and Sanam Chaudhri) were designing for Labels,” Hanif Bilwani, CEO Bonanza shared. “And they proved to be very professional and disciplined to work with.”
“Our market research (Bonanza opened in 1975) indicates that Pakistani women are ready for change and are even buying dresses,” Mr Bilwani spoke about design development. “The infiltration of foreign brands is changing the general aesthetic of how women want to dress. We feel that any garment with strong design, a designer label and a reasonable price tag is a cinch to sell.”
Having fashion designers collaborate with existing brands was one step, but another fascinating and unprecedented partnership emerged when designer Ather Hafeez packed up his own label in Lahore and moved to Karachi to work under the Sana Safinaz umbrella. Hafeez has been working with Sana and Safinaz since April 2012 and has considerable input in developing ready to wear lines for their upcoming high street stores.
“It started with me feeling that I was done with Lahore,” he explained in response to what motivated him to shift. “Safinaz and I have gone to college together so there was already a comfort level there. And the volumes they were talking about is what really attracted me.”
Having entirely different design philosophies, how easy was it to work together?
“I am a colourist at heart and Sana Safinaz are very careful with colour. But they asked me to bring in what I was good at. As a result we’ve come up with an eclectic look; it’s not the ethnic, desi fashion that you’re used to. We’ve put a lot of thought into developing styles that will work, adding pockets, for example in tunics because girls who are running around need pockets to keep their mobile phones in. Working together was never a problem because we have no ego issues. I was not holding on to my brand and my philosophy and they were open to new ideas.”
Hafeez shared how two lines for Summer 2013 had already been produced and were ready for stores, opening next month in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and then full circle with a second store in Karachi. They were currently working on the Fall line as well as accessories, which included shoes and bags. The lowest priced line for young working girls, he said, would be as affordable as 1500 rupees per tunic. With Sana Safinaz bridals easily tipping the two hundred thousand price tag and even the lawn being over 5000 rupees per suit, the high street stores will diffuse the brand into a haven for shoppers.
These four alliances are hardly enough to flood the high street with branded and hopefully savvy fashion but it is a beginning. Several years ago we saw HSY design a B-HSY line for Bareeze and a collection for Stoneage but these collaborations discontinued. What we see now is a consolidated effort to uplift volumes in fashion, reduce prices and stylize popular designs on the high street. One hopes that Adnan Pardesy, Maheen Karim, Sanam Chaudhri and Ather Hafeez for Sana Safinaz will prove to be instrumental in taking high end fashion to the high street.