June Issue 2012
Profile: Bunto Kazmi
A wall in Bunto Kazmi’s office is decorated with framed embroideries. Some are Bunto’s own creations, while others are samples that she’s collected over the years. A wooden door is fixed alongside another wall, the intricate carvings surrounding a full-length mirror. Bunto’s work desk stands in a corner of the large room. It is scattered with mementoes, a sample card labelling various Swarovski jewels and a curious case of numerous magnifying glasses which, as I later discover, are used to scrutinise the intricate embroideries of her designs. And while the exquisite formals that Bunto designs are nowhere in sight, this room still reflects her ethos as a designer, her mastery over luxurious detailing, her penchant for the arts and traditions and her predilection for intricate craftsmanship.
It is Bunto’s love for her craft that attracts a sizeable number of clients to her office on a daily basis. Most of them are eager brides-to-be, who are more than happy to dictate nothing more than their preferred color palette, leaving the intricacies to Bunto. “I have been very lucky with my clients,” she tells me. “While I do take the bride’s preferences into consideration, the clothes are often completely based on my own vision. The bride and her family only see the final outfit once it’s completed. Yet, I have never had one disgruntled client. There are entire families who have had their bridal wear designed by me. My mother-in-law dressed their mothers at their weddings and now I am dressing their daughters and granddaughters.”
In this day and age of media hype and advertising, Bunto’s thriving bridal business is something of an anomaly. She has never advertised nor has she ever invested in a fashion shoot. She hardly ever gives interviews to television or the print media. “I suffer from sleepless nights every time I read something about myself in the newspaper. I am a very shy person and I’d much rather let my work speak for me as opposed to speaking about myself in interviews,” she confesses, right before I manage to cajole her into an interview. For while Bunto may not like talking about herself, there are certainly many people who want to know about her. Taught by her mother-in-law, the pioneer Sughra Kazmi, Bunto’s bridal couture is in a league of its own. She handles her work with a grace and an intelligence that is rare.
“I began working while my children were still young and I knew from the outset that I wanted my work to set a standard of its own and never be run-of-the-mill,” she says. At the recent Fashion Pakistan Week (FPW) in Karachi, one of the highlights was her career’s most iconic designs showcased as the opening act for the event. “I took part in FPW to show my support to the Fashion Pakistan Council, of which I am a founder member,” she says. “To date, I have only taken part in a handful of fashion shows and I, frankly speaking, wouldn’t want to be part of any such event again. Fashion weeks are beneficial for designers who earn by replicating their designs for retail. I am a couturier who creates one-of-a kind pieces on order. I don’t have any stock stowed away expressly for the catwalk and have to borrow clothes from my clients. I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on them again and even business-wise, there is no point in my taking part in fashion weeks.”
While many designers would be quick to emphasise the many ‘points’ to fashion weeks — the clients gained through the publicity and extensive international and local media coverage — things just don’t work that way in Bunto’s business of bridals. “People have always come to me because they have heard of me by word-of-mouth,” says Bunto. “I have never felt the need to advertise. When I designed Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s outfit for the Oscars, I got numerous calls, asking me to replicate the dress. I refused simply because I had expressly created the dress for Sharmeen, with a lot of love and effort. I just couldn’t reproduce it for the sake of acquiring more business!”
What she prefers to do instead is create equally breathtaking and original outfits for her clientele. Her inspirations are gleaned from nature, heritage, royal courts and folklore, transferred with tireless precision on to yards upon yards of fabric. “I am not fond of experimentating with bridal joras. A bride should always look traditional and beautiful,” she says. “My clients are people who appreciate my love for tradition.”
Her clients also benefit by wearing outfits that are exclusively created for them. A woman wearing a Bunto Kazmi original does not stand in danger of seeing another wearing the same outfit. “People may try to copy my designs — in fact, somebody pretending to be me has even created a Facebook page in my name — but they can’t achieve the delicacy and finesse of my embroideries,” says Bunto.
This exclusivity and finesse, of course, comes at a price. Bunto Kazmi’s couture is expensive but then again, these are clothes that are completely hand-embroidered, with painstaking effort, over several months. They are all timeless, veritable heirlooms that can be passed from mother to daughter. I mention this to Bunto and she nods imperceptibly, modestly. “Women sometimes come to my mother-in-law and me with clothes that are decades old. We are so happy to see that they are in good condition and are more than willing to alter them so that the women can pass them on to their daughters. Yes, my clothes are expensive but I think the prices are justified because of their quality and the hard work and experience that I pour into them.”
How many brides does she dress in a year? “I’ve never kept track,” she confesses. “I prefer to just keep doing what I do, enjoying the process of creating something beautiful.”
While the final outfit may be the purpose behind her hard work, the process of creating the apparel holds far more enjoyment for Bunto. She shows me a long bridal shirt on pink net, embellished in silver and white with a tree bark that branches out into myriad flowers that taper up the length of the shirt. “Each flower has been created with a different embroidery stitch,” she points out to me. “These are the details that I obsess over.”
On a rich silk shawl she points out miniscule embroidery stitches to me, tiny flowers with even tinier embroidered centres and minute faces of men that she makes sure have just the right expression. “My workers sometimes get exasperated when I pore over every one of the embroidered faces and single out a single stitch that has made a facial expression appear crooked. They protest before rectifying their mistakes. That’s just how I work — every single stitch has to be perfectly aligned.”
And while shawls and bridals are still relatively manageable canvases for the regal splendour of her embroideries, Bunto has also recently taken to creating large tapestries on order for clients. “I love creating my tapestries. I have been designing bridals and shawls for a very long time and they don’t usually hold anything new for me. Tapestries, on the other hand, excite me and challenge me,” she enthuses. She shows me a silk canvas several feet long that depicts several scenes from the Persian epic, Hamzanama. Through hand embroidery, Bunto has captured the fanciful adventures of Amir Hamza, riding horses and slaying dragons with swords that glint with silver zari stitches. “I created this tapestry for a client who was decorating her new house in Dubai,” she says. “She loves my shawls and she wanted me to create an embroidered wall hanging for her.”
In another tapestry, commissioned by a Karachi-based client, she has epitomised Farid-ud-din Attar’s The Conference of the Birds in a tree with birds sitting within its intertwined branches. Each detail is apparent — much like a painting — except that embroidering the details is a far more gruelling task than painting them in. “Sometimes the embroidery has to be right the first time around. The stitches are so small that if we try to undo them, the cloth would just tear,” Bunto explains.
These tapestries take a long time to make — at least a year-and-a half, according to Bunto — simply because of their detailing and sheer size. I ask her if she ever tires of nit-picking about the details and the long time span required to complete a commissioned outfit or tapestry. “Not really,” she smiles. “I love what I do. Even when I take a vacation, it doesn’t usually last longer than a week or ten days. For me, my creations are not just mere clothes but a form of artistic expression.”
This, more than anything else, is what makes Bunto the grand dame of bridal couture in Pakistan. She doesn’t merely make clothes or shawls or tapestries — with her fine eye for detail, she creates veritable works of art, with the fabric serving as her canvas Bunto’s work isn’t just breathtakingly beautiful, it’s representative of our culture and traditions.