There are suits and then there are Italian suits. The latter’s anatomy gets defined by telltale shoulder padding with minimally tapered sides and no vent — most men consider this style more sartorial than, say, the British cut. But in Pakistan, designers tend to manufacture suits that, according to Republic (street wear and formal wear) CEO Omar Farooq, just don’t make the proverbial cut.
Stitching an Italian suit is no easy task; it took Farooq two years interning with famous bespoke tailor Prakash Parmar to get it right and another year to impart his tailoring acumen onto Republic’s employees.
The anatomy of a suit
“To be perfect, especially if we’re talking Italian suits, you’ve got to have the right cut, shoulder pads and shape to compliment each unique body type,” says the 30-year-old designer-cum-entrepreneur. “And if the material is high quality — especially if it’s coming from Italy — you can get pretty close to perfection.” So when Farooq worked his skills on fabrics imported from European designers, Zegna — being the most noteworthy and prestigious from this pool — he became an instant hit.
“I got very famous for my suits,” he says. Although Republic charges anything from Rs14,000 to Rs24,000 for day-to-day wear (depending on the suit and customisation), his formal/evening lines come at a price (Rs30,000 and upwards). Yet this, so far, has not been a deterrent. “We sold 700 suits last year and 99.9 per cent were for weddings, for which men are always willing to spend,” explains Farooq.
On menswear in Pakistan
Unfortunately, the quest for perfect formal wear typically evades most Pakistani men. Farooq explains that the situation in the local market remains “extremely tricky”. He feels that the majority of men just want the bare essentials: some blase suit, tie and shirt, and they won’t be too discriminating about their purchase either. Farooq blames the lack of experimentation in his target audience. Pakistani men over 30, unlike their younger forerunners, aren’t exactly gung-ho about trying different things. “A lot of men here have the philosophy that ‘I should be able to get a basic suit cheap’ especially when it comes to daily wear and work outfits.” The designer, however, disagrees with this sentiment. His ethos places emphasis on hunting for quality, especially when it comes to daywear. “The suit still needs to be durable and long-lasting,” he states. Ergo, men need to treat a suit like an investment, which inadvertently involves money.
On bringing his label to Islamabad
Remarkably, Farooq considers the Islamabad market a better playing field for his label. Launching at ModeVille brought the city’s refined tastes to his designs. “It’s a connoisseur market,” he explains, adding that it’s full of experienced and discriminating palettes — the large foreign community also has an eye for this sort of thing.
Challenges and future plans
Pakistan’s political situation poses a particular challenge to any designer working in the country. Farooq laments, “No one wants to come to Pakistan or invest in the local fashion scene.” This, by default, makes our fashion shows and fashion weeks superfluous because a fashion show should, by rights, cater to “buyers, not consumers”.
Still, Farooq remains undaunted. He is focused on a relatively unchartered niche in Pakistan — the world of high-end menswear, and it seems his persistence has paid off. He has been nominated for the upcoming Lux Style Awards under the ‘Best Menswear Designer’ category. With the launch of another store in Lahore in the pipeline and plans to open in Karachi, he proves that when there’s a suit, there’s a way.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2011.