Indignant moralists and closet commies will say that it is elitist to “own” a piece of Karachi by appropriating elements of its landscape. But their hysteria blinds them to the sheer joy others experience when they see the familiar phrase ‘Do-Minute Chowrangi’ on a giant poster print, the words ‘old Metropole hotel’ on a tray, a purple and neon green pop-art chenak kettle cushion cover. Our Identity with a capital I as Karachi wallahs, can never be summoned enough.
Thus, for design lovers familiar with her work, it was about time Mahin Hussain of the accessory fame moved into home furnishing given the void that exists in original linens and home décor.
Last April, she got together with her two other sisters, graphic designer Mariam and textile graduate Zainab to create the label ‘Veranda at Five’, a title that refers to their happy childhood afternoons at the veranda at home off Shahrae Faisal. What emerged on Saturday as a result was an explosion of eye-popping colour (and the odd coffee-stained khaddi) in the launch of their line at the Elephant Warehouse.
“The one thing that we wanted to do was create a unique line for people like us who are fans of offbeat art,” said Mariam. Indeed, if you want to furnish your home you have limited options; either you get furniture made or copied from magazines, buy the imported sleek Italian items that cost a bomb, settle for rickety Chinese imitations or suffer the overwrought baroque gilt nightmares from Tariq Road showrooms. But almost no one offers something that is unabashedly designed with local culture in mind. And until Veranda at Five perhaps it is safe to say that most of what is available in the market caters to the well-heeled, equally well-connected “aunty” crowd in all its largely wooden, sedate and classic throwback to colonial times.
Veranda at Five includes cushions, chairs, trays, rugs, framed screens and scarves, a hundred sixty of them for now, although the Hussains plan to accept online orders in the near future. There are Taxila stone spice grinders in their raw form that have been turned into decorative bowls. Train-bench like trays can hold your mugs. The label liberally draws on emblems of Karachi, Metropole Hotel, places like Kharadar, Empress Market and Do-Minute Chowrangi whose simple names in print appear on upholstery, the trays, screens, rugs and scarves. “Anything Pakistani just doesn’t have to be desi,” adds Mariam. “My emphasis is on ‘type’ that nobody really explored in home design.”
At the centre of the collection though, is the star piece of the Shamiana chair, whose satin-silk upholstery is a print of the classic marquee design. For those familiar with Mahin’s bags, the chair is the one iconic piece for the season. “I wanted to promote the shamiana as it is symbolic of our culture but is cast aside,” she said. “It has great design sensibility and is inherently ours.”
Move over truck art, Karachi kitsch has arrived.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2011.
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