The trend of retail stores collaborating with designer kingpins has taken centre stage. Recently, a few outlets of Gul Ahmed Ideas have been raising funds for the Layton Rahmatulla Benevolent Trust through collaborations with designers Sania Maskatiya and Deepak Perwani.
Sania, who created a series of scarves for the same cause last year, has now come up with a capsule collection of kurtas emulating her quintessentially elegant aesthetics. Meanwhile, Deepak has created a range of printed scarves with themes that reflect the ‘Fashion for a Cause’ ethos.
Placed next to Gul Ahmed’s regular ready-to-wear, the designer creations certainly stand out. Although Gul Ahmed and other retail bigwits such as Nishat Linen, AlKaram and Bonanza are aiming at taking over the high street with ready-to-wear, they seem to prefer sticking to their own brand philosophies instead of leaning on a designer. “We have a highly experienced creative team of in-house veteran designers who create our stitched and unstitched lines,” says Quratulain Sohail Ahsan, Gul Ahmed’s marketing manager.
But with multiple outlets and a considerable budget, it would be beneficial for the fashion industry at large if Gul Ahmed and other textile brands establish long-term partnerships with the country’s leading designers. “Our brand is catering to a mass market and designs are based on what the majority of our customers want,” clarifies Shehnaz Basit, the director for marketing at Gul Ahmed.
If a brand sells only what a customer wants without introducing even a limited range of apparel that raises its fashion quotient, it runs the danger of blending into the crowd instead of standing out. It’s a balance that Khaadi is in the process of striking; Khaadi’s prêt is predominantly ‘safe’ while sister-brand Khaadi Khaas has been translating fashion week favourites to retail racks.
Bonanza Satrangi 2014
Where Khaadi serves the regular customer, Khaadi Khaas tries to step up the glamour. One also recalls a time when Khaadi’s accessory-line grew popular, designed by Mahin Hussain. The collaboration eventually ended, but Mahin recalls it to be a win-win combination. “People came to Khaadi [because of its brand name] and for the bags I designed. When I eventually launched out on my own, I already had a clientele that knew of me,” she says.
Taking onboard a designer with well-defined, unique aesthetics piques customer interest. It has been happening internationally for a long time now – Stella McCartney for Gucci and Alexander Wang for H&M. Locally, Bonanza seemed to be following suit when it collaborated with Maheen Karim and Sanam Chaudhri, prophesying ‘long-term’ plans. However, in a matter of months, the partnership faded as the brand opted to focus on its women’s stitched line ‘Satrangi’, which has managed to storm the market with its economical prices, although not so much with its spot-on trends.
Moving past the unstitched lines, one encounters lacklustre silhouettes on the ready-to-wear racks at Nishat Linen, Gul Ahmed and AlKaram stores, among others. The prints created by Maheen Khan for Nishat Linen, for instance, always catch the eye, but those same prints stitched into baggy tunics simply lose their charm.
It seems that retail hotshots may be eager to announce ‘designer’ collaborations for unstitched lawn, but they haven’t really woken up to the possibility of enlisting avant-garde designers to create their ready-to-wear. Sana Safinaz, for now, appears to be an exception. The brand’s recent collaboration with Inaaya was an ode to rilli and now, Lahore’s Mohsin Ali has joined the team, adding his firebrand ethos to the Sana Safinaz range. Within this year, Bonanza also promises to launch a premium Satrangi line, created alongside designers.
Maliha Rehman is a fashion and lifestyle journalist with an obsessive, compulsive need to write. Log on for more updates on Twitter @maliharehman
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2014.