Whoever thought that Ammar Belal’s Design Emporium was purely testosterone territory needs to think again.
With androgyny being a huge trend this year, style-conscious women like Samina Khan of the super cool Paper Magazine, journalist/documentary filmmaker Fazeelat Aslam, as well as Belal’s wife, the former supermodel Aaminah Haq, have been known to make pit stops at the retro chic crimson store for kurtas, t-shirts - even blazers and corporate men’s shirts.
“I love wearing men’s kurtas in the summer. They’re so comfortable and fit well too,” said Aslam, as she swiftly sifted through Jazib Qamar’s line of kurtas. And as her gaze fell on the sandals on display, she squealed in delight, but then moaned, “Why can’t they make shoes like these for women!”
Design Emporium launched last year as the only multi-label men’s store stocking everything under the sun for men’s fashion: shoes, suits, blazers, shirts and kurtas. “We are a lifestyle boutique,” insists Ammar Belal, who runs the show at Design Emporium, “not just a multi label designer store.”
Within the year, the store introduced personal care products and designated spaces for each product. So there’s a tee shirt room housing brands like Uth Oye and Guluk, a blazer room, a sprawling kurta and a formal/casual shirts section. That’s in addition to a shoe tunnel that also carries lowers such as bermudas and shorts on one side.
The whole purpose of the store was to provide a platform for young designers making male clothing — an aspect of fashion that doesn’t get much spotlight nor is as lucrative as female fashion.
“Jazib Qamar is the best example for what Design Emporium is all about. This young, completely unknown designer was discovered by Tariq Amin in Karachi, and Amin wouldn’t share his name with me since he wanted to exclusively wear his fabulous kurtas. Nobody knew who he was, and I myself met him last weekend despite stocking his designs since last year!” said Belal.
Qamar’s nominally priced kurtas — that range from military styles to simple cuts to more indulgent printed embroidery patterns — have made him a top seller at the store. “Jazib is proof that you don’t have to be all PR savvy, and that your product speaks for itself,” says Belal of the young designer who has impressed him with superb inventory and professional business sense.
Since men are not as designer or label conscious as women, the Design Emporium is purposely categorised by product rather than a ‘name’. “Women shop by the rack and by designer. Men shop by category. Hence, men’s clothing is segmented along the product line,” explains Belal, who stocks three of the largest brands in corporate shirting: Cotton and Cotton, Chester Bernard and his own label, Ammar Belal. In the casual shirts section he’s taken a chance on fresh talents like Abdul Samad, who showcased at Fashion Pakistan Week but then sunk into oblivion, along with an unknown name like Ahmed Zubair.
Belal’s biggest concern is that people still associate the shiny red building with his label alone, whereas the premises offers a lot more. Indeed, the label Ammar Belal is pushed to the backwaters of the store, while newer talents like Beekay by Burhan Khan take front space.
“I want men to understand that for one, designer stores are not necessarily expensive. Because women’s clothing is atrociously priced, men think that men’s designer stores will also be the same. Secondly, once men do muster up the courage to walk in through our doors, they begin to fear that we will turn them into a fruitcake. You don’t need to be a metrosexual to shop at the Design Emporium. We are the number one destination for plain and restrained corporate clothing in the country,” pleads Belal.
With even a custom made shoe brand, like Foot Print by Aamir and Turk and Filmore, the Design Emporium is truly the perfect one stop shop for men who want hassle free shopping that is easy on the pocket. As Belal says of his new brood of designers: “Everyone is willing to take a chance on a Rs2,000 kurta and that’s what makes the store unique in terms of design, product and price.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2011.