January Issue 2008
The Rise of the Orient
Passionate about clothes, Samar Mehdi, a graduate in fashion design from Bristol University, started her own label 10 years ago. This talented young designer caters to the modern Pakistani woman: someone who is independent and has an attitude, but is not scared of flaunting her femininity. Mehdi’s silhouettes are simple yet elegant, feminine yet practical. But what sets Mehdi apart from most of her contemporaries is that she keeps her prices affordable. In this interview with Newsline, the designer talks about the fashion scene in Pakistan, her evolution as a designer and her stunning oriental line created for the fashion week that never happened.
Q: Please describe your latest collection.
A: This collection is based on an oriental theme, basically Chinese and Japanese motifs, calligraphy and silhouettes. I had originally designed this collection for Pakistan Fashion Week, but since that never took place, hopefully I’ll get to show it on the ramp soon. At least that’s part of the plan.
It’s a fresh and brand new collection. I wanted to slightly deviate from the typical image of the Chinese silhouette: the buttons and neckline and all. I’ve also taken inspiration from western ball gowns and the grand sort of couture element of it and made a collection that is prÃªt, but a very high-end prÃªt almost bordering on couture. It’s very grand, princely and stately.
Q: What was your inspiration for the oriental line?
A: Actually, about two years ago I did a shoot which was roughly based on the oriental theme, but my clothes back then were different to my present collection. So when the fashion week came along, I thought why not explore this theme further. And so it took off from there. I just love the femininity involved, the delicate motifs and the silhouettes — the whole theme is so beautiful that it really just gelled into my frame of thought at that time.
Q: What differentiates the Samar Mehdi label from all the other designer labels out there?
A: It is very important to create a distinct identity for yourself. I think every designer has to have a signature style, so that when your clothes come out on the ramp or in a shoot, the audience should instantly be able to recognise it and say, that’s a Samar Mehdi [creation] or whoever’s clothes. My use of fabric, my cuts, the way I use embellishment, maybe a signature style in the sleeves — I think you can certainly tell a Samar Mehdi apart. And the same goes for a lot of other designers. The sign of a good designer is that you should be able to tell their clothes apart.
Q: What is your design statement?
A: My design statement can be divided into several lines because I do a fusion-eastern line, then I do a purely western line. I do bags and shoes as well, and then there is the made-to-order stuff where clients come in and place orders for gowns and bridals. That is the more non-prÃªt side of my business really because at the shop I like to keep things affordable.
I like very feminine clothing. I design for the woman who has a lot of attitude, a lot of independence, but she’s not your grunge woman. She’s definitely very feminine and enjoys her womanhood.
I love working with chiffons. I like a lot of bling, I like sequins, I like a lot of glitter — but glitter where it is needed and work where it is needed. Not embellishment for the sake of embellishment.
Q: How would you define the current fashion scene in Pakistan?
A: We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long, long way to go. I think fashion is on its way to becoming an industry. But I wouldn’t call it an industry just yet because unfortunately we have so many factors that affect it both internally and externally. For instance, the fashion week that was supposed to take place [in November] but never took off and all the problems that it faced prior to that in terms of the political situation in the country and the tussle between the fashion councils. The industry is very, very small and we have to look at the bigger picture.
In terms of the international fashion scene, we really don’t figure anywhere. It’s sad. However, I think we are making inroads. Designers are going abroad; I myself went to Copenhagen in 2001 and participated in the Scandinavian fashion week and professionally it was a very successful experience. My clothes were featured on the same ramp as Chanel and CK. I got a lot of media coverage. It was great. If we are given the opportunities and the government is a bit more active in terms of sponsoring the designers and sending them abroad, rather than doing these stupid, aimless fashion shows over here that really don’t serve any purpose other than provide people an evening out, we could go a long way. I think we need to get into the business of fashion.
Q: How could the fashion week have helped the fashion community?
A: If done properly, it could have really helped the fashion community. But this fashion week was plagued with so many problems. There were rumours of nepotism, of featuring people who didn’t deserve to be included — and God knows what else. If it is done fairly and if it showcases talented people who know what they are doing, then I think it’ll serve the fashion community. We don’t need those mindless fashion shows to launch a product. That is not fashion. That’s just entertainment for the people out there. The fashion industry can bring in so much foreign exchange, and it can really help the country if it is a proper industry.
Q:How challenging is fashion designing as a profession in Pakistan?
A: I think it’s very challenging if you are a designer of substance. However, if you are a bored aunty sitting at home and have a lot of money and darzis at home and you mish-mash things, putting it all in a food processor then, yes it’s fairly easy. Anybody could do it. But I think if it’s your passion, it’s your motivation, if you’ve studied it, if you’ve learnt it, then I think this profession is very challenging. And I think we now have designers who are proving that it is.
Q: How do you plan to deal with the differences in fashion trends between Lahore and Karachi?
A: The idea was initially a little disturbing for me as well. But I have been advised by my seniors to not change my style when designing for Lahore. Be yourself and people will come and appreciate it as being something different and possibly will buy it. I too believe that it should be different because if it’s exactly in tune with their sensibility then they’ll probably say that there are already a lot of people doing the same thing out here, so they won’t latch on.
Q: Who is your favourite Pakistani designer?
A: I have always loved Maheen Khan because I feel that she was one of the designers all those years ago — and even today — who doesn’t put on embellishment just for the sake of putting on embellishment. She loves the silhouette, and so it’s cut and fashion rather than costume. And I think even Umar Sayeed is wonderful when it comes to bridals and colour on colour.
Q: What keeps you going?
A: Everything! My four-year-old and my nine-month-old keep me going most of the time. Additionally, my passion for my work keeps me going. I’ve always been into clothes and I think this is something that I’ve always wanted to do. The first thing I remember about a person, even though we may not have met for several years, is what they were wearing the last time we met.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: Well, I’ve already expanded to the UK. I’m supplying there through an organisation called Organza Design. I’m going to be opening up a small place in Lahore as well very soon. That’s in the pipeline.