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The looms of old world charm

Rano Usman of Rano’s Heirlooms talks to Instep about holding on to the tradition of craft and heritage while keeping the label relevant and suitably modern

The looms of old world charm

Fashion has been irrevocably transformed by the profusion of social media and our increasing dependency on it. It has made the global industry question the annual fashion cycle whereby designers showcase collections six months in advance, simply by making imagery from one remote corner of the world accessible in another, in real time. It has allowed trends to take on an international, larger than life appeal and it has given fashion aficionados the opportunity to dress in-sync with their counterparts all over the world.

It’s been great for business (terrible for the environment but that’s a different discussion altogether) and more than ever, fashion is being considered a serious profession that can provide steady income. However, with the global accessibility and fast fashion the industry has suffered set-backs in terms of loss of individuality in pandering to trends and the lack of time required to incubate ideas. Fashion has turned into a constant race to one up the other, whether it’s about who bought a certain item first or who managed to post a picture of it before anyone else.

In a highly competitive environment like this, Rano’s Heirlooms, an eponymous label by Rano Usman is a refreshing break. Not only is the brand unpretentious in its approach to fashion but it also refuses to let the current, obsessive nature of the industry dictate how Usman presents it to her audience. Rano’s Heirlooms is a small atelier based out Usman’s residence in Lahore and has been a fixture for the city’s style savants for well over a decade now. For some, it can be one the city’s best kept secrets since Usman isn’t one to advertise and doesn’t have retail presence (her standalone store in Gulberg didn’t last very long and Usman reverted to working out of her adda).

It’s a small scale operation, working as a ‘by appointment’ boutique run by Usman and her daughter, Jahan-Nur. In Usman’s own words, she is a revivalist by craft but designs for contemporary women. Usman’s clothes combine old world charm and techniques with modern sensibilities but aptly tie in with her claim of creating heirloom pieces because of the timelessness of their design. She creates by dipping in history and tradition but keeping posterity in mind.

Despite the fact that Usman rarely ever advertises her work and doesn’t believe in communal fashion showcases, she recently joined the list of designers who are opting to host solo shows. With a guest-list of twenty, it truly was an exclusive presentation, aimed at Instagram, featuring real women who are her clients and actual muses. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see a brand, whose philosophy is to lionize our craft and heritage, position itself as a modern brand for the contemporary woman, using 21st century tools.

We spoke to Usman about her ethos and how it ties in with today’s fast paced, technological world.

“The modern in my clothes, and I hope it’s evident, is the approach to fashion,” she reinstated. “Yes I believe in simplicity and craft but the clothes I design are for women who live in modern times and want comfort as well as quality.”

“As far as doing a solo show is concerned, I had wanted to do one for a while because I don’t believe in participating in fashion weeks,” she continued. “I feel like you lose control over the way your clothing is presented and honestly, it’s just too chaotic for me. I’ve never understood the concept of showcasing alongside collections that copy off international trends and I also don’t understand the criteria of the council because they allow work that is sub-par or obviously plagiarized on the ramp. I didn’t have the budget for a full scale event so my daughter suggested that we scale down and Instagram the event. I’m thrilled to say that it was a huge success and people have appreciated the effort immensely. My friend and our choreographer for the evening, Rehan Bashir also said that it’s one of the most unique presentations that have come out in recent times.”

Lifestyle-(1)_2What compelled her to walk this path, though?

“The one thing that compelled me the most was the fact that I had a beautiful collection, Asman Talay Sitarey ready and even though it was available for viewing at the atelier, it doesn’t have the impact as seeing it presented in front of you,” Usman explained.

“Another thing that I would like to mention about my work is the fact that all my designs have a story behind them. Or at least when I’m designing a piece I ensure that there’s association with the Indo-Artdeco, eastern influences that form our legacy. Since my embellishment or use of textile is rooted in tradition I try keeping my cuts contemporary to ensure that my clothes look like they belong in the current era.”

What kind of woman does she design for, I asked?

“My clothes are real clothes for real people,” she responded. “That’s also why I chose to feature real women in my show instead of the models; my clothes are very accessible and I wanted real girls to wear them and exhibit the fact that they’re not only for display on tall, skinny women who don’t really represent the most of us,” she elaborated.

Talking about the girls who walked in her show, Usman explained that with the exception of Fatin Gondal and Mehek Saeed, she enjoys a prior relationship with all the others who were featured. “All the other seven girls from Shehrbano Taseer to Rima Shehzad come to us and understand and admire our aesthetic. They are exactly the kind of women I design for and who understand what my work is about.”

“The women were of a varied age group and I also wanted to include Mehvash Amin and Aamna Taseer to cater to the matriarchs but the former was occupied in the publishing of her book and the latter couldn’t make it due to a dislocated shoulder,” she continued. “The girls all chose their outfits and some of them, like Rima even mixed and matched pieces, putting together raw cotton with banarsi (which is also something we normally do at the atelier). We let them style it the way they wanted because these women already have the ability to wear eastern clothing with a modern flair that doesn’t make the wearer or the ensemble look dated.”

Dressing up has ceased to be a personal act or a show of individualism but rather focuses on gaudy display with an overzealous approach to trends. And it’s true. Open any social media forum and you’ll see ostentatious flat-lay photos with ‘shopping hauls’ on display, outfit of the day photos that will inevitably feature a bag slung in front of the body or a shoe kicked out for extra visibility. It’s great if that is what makes you happy but subtly doesn’t seem to be a virtue any longer.

“We don’t make pretentious clothes; there’s a return to simplicity in our ethos,” Usman said. “It’s meant to be soothing on the eye, easy to look at if you please, instead of being a sensory overload. I like to take the same approach to life as well – to be simple, humble and unpretentious. I don’t want to look like a commodity that inspires awe when I walk into a room but rather look like a human being. The women who wear our clothes are beautiful yes, and discerning but most importantly have minds and personalities to match,” she stated.

Lifestyle-(2)_3The conversation moved to the red carpet culture that seems to have taken the country by storm and Usman is of the opinion that our aesthetic couldn’t be further from the mark. “We look like bad copies of Western designers on the red carpet. The fabric used isn’t right, the cut doesn’t work and it’s also not an original creation so I don’t understand the need to resort to clothes that aren’t made for us and aren’t even flattering for our body types.”

“I do firmly believe that we have a rich tradition when it comes to sartorial matters and to deny that in favor of plagiarized silhouettes doesn’t make sense. It’s a poor representation of our craft, our heritage and our aesthetics,” Usman added with vehemence.

As we wrapped up the tete-a-tete, Usman mentioned that her brand has garnered new followers thanks to its organic approach and feel. “We do plan on continuing with small showcases because we’ve noticed that they have huge impact. So many new people have come up to me and appreciated how the clothes truly look and feel effortless and we’ve managed to convert many a women who generally opted for western wear to a more traditional or fusion inspired style of dressing.

“We want to use social media and modern technology to promote our brand, which is rooted in legacy and heritage and with my daughter grown up now, I want to focus on younger women and show them that these clothes are accessible and easy to wear for contemporary women,” she added with a smile.

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