A profusion of flora and fauna flits through Farah Talib Aziz’s studio. It sweeps past smatterings of sequins and intertwining filigree over a canvas dominated by pastel shades. And within this glint of wedding-wear, silken luxury of evening formals and occasional bursts of bright colour, sits the designer herself.
On a winter morning, smack in the middle of the busy wedding season, Farah Talib Aziz’s schedule is lined with back-to-back clients. There are brides-to-be placing orders for their wedding dresses, customers stepping in for their final fittings and last-minute orders filtering in that Farah tries to fit into her busy calendar.
“My problem is that I can’t say no,” she sighs. “Often, customers come in, claiming that their wedding or engagement dates have gotten scheduled at the last minute and that they desperately need a dress to be ready within a week or four days. Against my better judgment, I sometimes end up complying. It means that for the next few days, my craftsmen and I work day and night. These are not ordinary clothes after all; each stitch is meticulously hand embroidered.”
These sudden clients are an understandable downside to her job but at the same time, they are testament to Farah’s increasing popularity in the bustling, money-minting market for bridal-wear. For the last 15 years, the designer has been operating from her home, only having recently begun stocking capsule lines of ready-to-wear at multi-label boutiques. She’s also steered clear, thus far, of the media-savvy catwalks of the fashion weeks. And yet, Farah Talib Aziz is a name that is well-known and increasingly popular.
How to be famous 101 – FTA
FTA’s designs easily fall in the pretty, wearable category and then, it helps that the designer is well connected. Her feelers easily reach out to the country’s who’s who, her clothes being worn and seen at ‘it’ weddings and soirees. Considerably more credit for her growing business can be allotted to her designer lawn collaboration with Lakhany Silk Mills last year, which publicized her brand across the country on billboards, TV hoardings, print and the Internet.
More than anything else, though, Farah is extremely well-versed in the ways of the Internet. Followers of Pakistani fashion on Instagram and Twitter know the ‘FTA’ brand and its decisively feminine ethos. They’re reminded of it, several times every week, when images of women wearing FTA are floated onto social media by a milieu of avid bloggers.
“We’re just very persistent,” explains Maliha Aziz, Farah’s daughter, brand manager and veritable right hand. “If we have a fashion shoot ready or our clients send us images of themselves in our designs, we make sure we post them onto the Internet. It’s definitely helped the business grow.”
Wouldn’t it help more should they extend themselves onto the much larger platform provided by fashion weeks? The Internet, with its many marketing tools, has a limited audience in Pakistan. Meanwhile, every woman with a penchant for designer-wear watches fashion weeks on TV and catches their coverage in glossies.
“I do hope to participate in a fashion week this time,” says Farah. “I have worked very hard for a very long time and I feel that I now have a market that is enthusiastic about seeing my designs on the catwalk. Earlier, I always had my hands full and didn’t feel prepared. Also, I cringe at the thought of airing my painstakingly created work at a fashion week and then have it replicated by embroidery-waalas in bazaars.”
Plagiarism, though, is an unavoidable impediment in a designer’s life and already plagues the FTA brand. “A woman somehow managed to get hold of the image of my daughter Maliha at her wedding and someone told me that they saw the picture with an emboiderer in Karachi’s Kehkashan market. Women lift our images off the Internet and get them copied blatantly. I also see so many so-called fashion ateliers lifting my floral patterns and pastel colours and claiming them to be their own. It distresses me.”
The pastel rut
Distressing though it may be, this is precisely how fashion’s wheels work throughout the world: designs are created for exclusive circles by high-end designers and more economical, generic variations of them eventually filter down to the high street. Shouldn’t couturiers like FTA delve into newer design realms instead of bemoaning the plagiarism of their older designs?
“It’s precisely what we plan to do,” says Farah. “Pastel shades and florals are my USP and I don’t plan to give up on them. Instead, this year, I am going to tweak them into newer variations. I am delving into shades of rose-gold and ice-blue and working with new inspirations; imperialistic architecture, the tree of life and fine Wedgwood porcelain, for instance.”
Her lawn line-ups, though successful last year, were criticized for being pastel and floral explosions. Does she also plan to improvise with their design?
“Lawn is a tricky market where you have to walk the fine line between fashion-forward design and market-friendly aesthetics,” says Farah. “I refrain from using faces and animals in my prints simply because it alienates a large proportion of lawn-wearing women who feel that it is unreligious to wear these clothes. Not every designer is able to understand the intricacies of creating lawn and I am thankful that my debut line-ups were appreciated.”
For her second innings in the lawn market, Farah does plan to bring in new design elements but she will no longer be doing so with LSM. Instead, the designer has become the Creative Director of Crimson, a new brand offering unstitched fabric and ready-to-wear for women. The unstitched lawn will launch in early summer while Crimson will begin opening shop from May onwards, setting its sights on popular malls.
“It’s all very exciting because we’re sourcing fabric from some of the best textile mills in the country, playing with interesting prints and the stores are set to open in some very coveted locations,” enthuses Maliha. “For a start, we’ve created 16 unstitched lawn suits and eight designs for ready-to-wear tunics. All stitched shirts will be priced under Rs 2500.”
The phenomenal pricing reminds one immediately of Sapphire, the retail wonder that’s taken the country by storm. Sapphire’s Creative Director, designer Khadijah Shah tackles the grueling challenge of designing ready-to-wear simultaneously for Sapphire as well as for her own label, Elan. Is the FTA team ready to face a similar predicament?
“We have decided to change our brand structure,” explains Maliha. “Our more economical designs will only be available at Crimson. The more expensive, slightly more formal prêt will continue to be manufactured under the FTA label. In this way, we won’t be undermining Crimson while simultaneously building our own brand.”
Fashion weeks, luxury lawn and plans to spearhead a glitzy new retail brand … this year is looking busy for FTA. Are we in for umpteen floral bouquets or will she steer her pleasingly pretty ethos towards newer, unique design? Farah promises the latter.