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Show and Sell

Fashion weeks and the all-important retail angle

Show and Sell
The Elan cheese dress, seen on the runway and then on high profile celebrities, in this case Cybil Chaudhry at a press conference. Khadijah Shah professes to be translating her fashion week prints into wearable, viable tunics for retail.

As the fashion week fanfare dies down, focus falls on what is, inevitably, the whole point behind such events: where and when will these designer collections be available for retail? For fashion weeks are no longer considered mere entertainment shows featuring clothes, models and a dash of song and dance for good measure. They have, rather, grown and solidified into platforms that generate business. And the business of fashion means retail.

There are some designers that are blazing ahead in the game. Deepak Perwani and Shamaeel Ansari who showed at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week (PSFW) and Fashion Pakistan Week (FPW) respectively, got rave reviews and promptly cashed in on the media hype by immediately making the designs available for retail. As established designers with a fair stronghold over their market, they had their stock ready prior to fashion week and predictably sold very well right afterwards.

There are others with standalone retail stores – Maria B., Nida Azwer and Sania Maskatiya, for instance – who make sure their showcases are translated onto retail racks in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, many others are yet to follow suit. Their fashion week lineups get reviewed extensively in print and electronic media and they bask in the accolades but, more realistically, what’s the point of showing at fashion week if it doesn’t boil down to sales?

‘Made-to-order’ is the excuse often provided by designers who steer away from retail. Their clothes are apparently far too luxurious (in other words, expensive) to make it to retail racks. Clients, should they want, are welcome to take appointments, seek out their studios and have that intricately-worked evening-wear custom-made.

Two brands that spring to mind are current hot favorites, Shehla Chatoor’s ‘Shehla’ and Khadijah Shah’s ‘Elan’. Both brands were quite the toast at the recent PSFW; Elan with its whimsical, artistic take on sequins and print and Shehla with its sophisticated East-meets-West signature. Both collections have already begun to be featured at high-profile media events. Hadiqa Kiani only recently wore Elan’s hot-off-the-runway ‘cheese dress’ at a Pakistan Idol episode and Cybil Chaudhry wore the exact same outfit for the press launch of Veet Miss Super Model. Shehla’s PSFW ‘Samsara’  has just been worn by the newly appointed judges of the Veet Miss Supermodel hunt for a promotional photo shoot and also made an appearance at the recent Hum TV awards.

And yet, will either of these brands be available for retail, to be purchased by the random fashion-struck customer rather than be worn exclusively by a select strata of socialites and media mavens? “Some of the clothes certainly will be but not all,” says Khadijah Shah. “Fitted, structured gowns simply can’t be hung on retail racks. People can come to my studio with their size specifications. I also feel that trunk shows help facilitate business. Last year, I had a very successful trunk show at Labels in Karachi, shortly following my showcase at the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week. I plan to have one this time also.”

“There are other clothes, like tunics and shift dresses, that are more flexible in terms of size,” she explains. “I plan to make these available at my flagship store at Lahore’s Galleria Gulberg. All the prints in my PSFW collection were created in-house and we are going to translate them into wearable, retail-friendly tunics for our store.”

Left: Ali Xeeshan has a studio in Lahore and a spanking new one in Karachi but his fashion week drama continues to be available primarily through orders. Right: Shehla's inimitable saris, dupattas and capes can be purchased right off the rack from her studio; the fitted tunics and blouses have to be custom-made.

Left: Ali Xeeshan has a studio in Lahore and a spanking new one in Karachi but his fashion week drama continues to be available primarily through orders. Right: Shehla’s inimitable saris, dupattas and capes can be purchased right off the rack from her studio; the fitted tunics and blouses have to be custom-made.

Shehla Chatoor, meanwhile, is yet to traverse the flagship store route simply because she feels that her brand caters to a different audience. “This doesn’t mean that I am not focusing on retail,” says Shehla. “I advertise extensively in mainstream glossies, regularly take part in fashion weeks and I am constantly catering to orders from all over the country and beyond. Sometimes we even deliver online, through Facebook queries. Clients who come to my studio can buy clothes right off the rack or they can get them quickly altered according to their requirements. There are saris, tasseled capes and tunics that are completely ready. My just-launched jewelry line, featuring semi-precious stones on beaten metal, is going to be available for immediate purchase through an exhibit at the end of of this month. A studded jacket, gown or sari blouse, however, has to be made on order simply because it has to fit just right.”

Has Shehla considered translating some of her designs into a capsule collection of more affordable ready-to-wear that is easily available at multi-brand stores? “I enjoy the opulence and intricacy of my creations. It’s what my clients appreciate and I’d rather focus on what I do best than spread myself too thin,” she says.

Then there are designers who would rather spread their wings than fear “spreading themselves too thin”. Sania Maskatiya, Nida Azwer, Iman Ahmed of Body Focus Museum and Ayesha Hashwani are all designers whose predilection for luxury-pret hasn’t deterred them from being available at mainstream malls and retail stores. Why be niche when you can aspire to be a Khaadi or a Sana Safinaz?

After all, the high-society ‘it’ crowd that follows fashion rampantly is very limited; malls allow designers to reach out to the masses, to any random shopper with the wherewithal to buy high fashion.

“The clothes I create simply aren’t high street. They are intricate, hand-made creations that don’t really fit into the prices that generally prevail at malls,” insists Shehla.

Each to his or her own, the cookie crumbles in different ways for different design aesthetics, generating business in different ways. In fact, designers like Ali Xeeshan and relative newcomer Umaima Mustafa have ‘stores’ in Karachi that are open only on select days. Ali’s new studio in Karachi – he also has one in Lahore – does not generally entertain walk-in customers, operating on an appointment-only basis. He did, though, recently have an open to all exhibit at his Karachi studio, retailing ready-to-wear versions of his PSFW ‘Trouble’ line. Umaima Mustafa’s store is open only twice a week, where clothes are primarily created on order with only a limited selection available for right-off-the-rack purchases. It doesn’t really fit into the definition of a retail outlet but this is how these designers like it.

And however they may choose to bring in the sales – retail stores, trunk shows or in-house studio sales – successful designer brands understand the importance of creating a synergy between what they show at fashion week and what they sell. It’s what makes them noticeable and helps expand their customer-base.

As for the rest, who may show standout avant-garde designs on the catwalk but resort to mundane, ‘safe’ jhil-mil kurtas when it comes to retail, why are you showing at fashion week at all? Perhaps it’s high time that these self-proclaimed  ‘couturiers’ are sequestered to a segment of bridal week – an evening show, maybe, along the lines of the high-street shows at PFDC’s pret weeks – for their order-only designs certainly don’t have any place in a fashion week focusing on viable pret.  Yes, we’ve loved the drama, the goth inspirations, Bollywood masala and odes to truck-art, but if we can’t buy it, we’re really not interested.

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