The bustling M.M Alam Road is Lahore’s premier address, with stores ostentatiously decorated as if they’re screaming, goading everyone and anyone to walk in. We’d have to say that Zara Shahjahan’s studio, called Manzil, makes all those structures look suburban. To walk into the gilded doors of the studio is like entering a parallel universe in which meticulous attention has been paid to detail. It’s a space (designed by the creative Yousuf Shahbaz) where every element screams out the couturier’s aesthetic and her brand’s ethos.
She has, over the years, managed to establish a very strong signature which rests on a love for tradition while making tradition relevant to the 21st century. A designer’s signature is her identity and one can appreciate that Zara’s brand USP is a manifestation of who she is and what she believes in. Zara wore a gharara to the Lux Style Awards this year, she has been an active advocate of the shalwar, and playing to her strengths, she was seen in a classic white shalwar kameez at her studio launch.
We spoke to Zara on how important it is for brands to stand out and stay true to their identity as opposed to walking down every road that leads to commercial success.
“It’s extremely important for designers to stay true to their ethos but it’s not always easy to stay on trend while retaining your brand identity,” she said. “You have to find the right balance. ZSJ has developed a very modern yet classic style. It’s very evident in all our collections, from lawn to bridals. Many have started to follow us and move towards ethnic (I’ve been seeing a lot of ghararas) but we don’t worry as most brands follow whoever is doing well at a certain point and then start copying someone else. We only look at those competitors who themselves have a very strong personality; those are only a few and they all stand out and everyone knows who they are. The rest is all junk.”
Zara Shahjahan definitely has managed to rise above the clutter that the fashion industry is polluted as well as populated with today but has her path to fame and fortune been easy?
“Yes it’s difficult of course but we feel we are not “stuck” to anything,” she said as we walked around the immaculate space of her studio, where carefully painted pillars rose like contemporary miniatures and intricately carved marble reminded one of the Mughals’ love for this classic, cool stone. “We take inspiration from art, culture and history and being from Lahore it’s part of me so it’s part of the brand but we still stay relevant today as times have changed and with social media bombarding you with new information you have to stay with the new trends and a smart designer will know how to do that and still be relatable to the brand identity.”
“It’s very important to design a space for your bridal studio where your clothes will be enhanced,” she concluded. “The clothes have look right, in place rather than out of place. The experience of luxury buying is as important as wearing…”