I don’t do fashion, I am fashion: Rizwanullah

As ace designer gears up for new responsibilities, he takes a look at his life and recovery from drug abuse

Mehek Saeed July 06, 2015
His last collection titled ‘Age of Elegance’ was showcased at Fashion Pakistan Week this year. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY


Dressed in crisp white pants, a cream jacket and a black waistcoat, paired with lace-up boots and spiky hair, Rizwanullah stood out a mile when seen at the Swarovski store launch earlier this year.

Having been made creative head at Fifth Element, official distributors of Swarovski in Pakistan, he seemed like he’s willing to take up this new undertaking at full throttle, despite a distressful past few years. After battling with drugs and marital life, he has now reemerged with a passion fierier than ever. “I don’t do fashion, I am fashion,” he said, giving his own spin on Dali’s words, “I don’t do drugs, I am drugs.”

From fierce to fairytale-like, Rizwanullah feels his design aesthetics have evolved with time. “I was mostly [about the] black or white, dark or grunge with hair and make-up, but now it’s more fairytale-like,” he explained. As he takes up his designated role at Fifth Element, he acknowledges the need to take into account how people perceive his work. “I’ll always have an experimental, risk-taking side to me but since I’m associated with a brand like Fifth Element, I need to focus more on the market, the people and how they feel about my work,” he stated.

At the organisation, he has found what he calls his new fashion family. “Initially I was a bit apprehensive to join the [team] because I wanted to push my professional life aside to recover [from dug abuse], but we soon became very close,” he stated. The designer now vies to put his best foot forward in fashion. “Previously, I was immature and enjoyed the attention … Everything was about having a good laugh, but now, I’m more serious about designing for those who place their orders to me and give me the leverage to continue with my business,” he noted. “I feel like I’m born again with fashion.”

Speaking of rebirth, Rizwanullah is not only focused on revamping life on the professional front but also in terms of philanthropic efforts. “Fashion will always be a part of my life but now, I’m getting involved in other ventures to help people like they helped in my dark times,” he said. He is involved with a string of NGOs that work for the welfare of women, children and the elderly. “I don’t want people to fall prey to the darkness I fell into.”

Rizwanullah feels that the designer in him has little to do with the person he is. “A lot of times, people don’t realize that what they’re seeing on the runway or photo shoot is not real. I’m showing the public what they want to see.” Each collection Rizwanullah has put forward so far has been about a stage in his life. In 2009, he showed his first collection, titled ‘Hereafter’ at Fashion Pakistan Week (FPW), featuring henna inscriptions, and with a focus on being unique more than commercially viable. His close friends Mahira Khan and Feeha Jamshed and his siblings walked the ramp for him. “When I started out, my clothes were more art-based, which I knew were things the masses may not accept,” he noted.

In 2010, he showcased the ‘Depression Chic’ collection. That’s when his substance abuse began for three long and tumultuous years. When he started recovering, he created ‘Love, Devotion and Separation’ for FPW in 2013, which was evidently a cathartic experience for him. His last collection, put forth at FPW this year, was the ‘Age of Elegance’. The line was minimalist and clean and featured in solid colours, such as white and cream.

Rizwanullah set foot in the fashion industry at age 13 when he did a shoot for Deepak Perwani. Growing up, he was always surrounded by big names in fashion, making pursuing a profession in the industry a natural choice for him. “I’ve been the fashion industry’s spoilt brat. I got so much attention as a child that it made me fearless,” he said, accounting this as a reason for his downward spiral. From 13 to 30, the years past have seen him grow both as an individual and a designer. “The clothes I make now are more real and for real people. It’s more about how people perceive my work rather than how I feel.”

The designer is also set to go back to college to study medicine and psychiatry, which form the basis for therapy, something that has been an integral part of his own recovery process. He’s also working for his eponymous brand, taking orders from his bedroom studio in Karachi.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2015.

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