A huge bougainvillea-lined brick house that would easily qualify as palatial in Lahore is where cousins Kamiar Rokni and Tia Noon host the House of Kamiar Rokni. It is also known as one of the most sought-after hubs of high fashion, stocking retail and the four distinct lines falling under the KR umbrella.
One walks through a sprawling garden offset by a coterie of staff quarters to see chefs busy lining an outdoor tandoor (clay oven) with flat bread for lunch. In the sizzling heat of a summer afternoon, a usually alert German Shepherd opts for the lazy shade of a mango tree instead of his customary ferocious welcome.
This seemingly rustic setting is a reflection of Rokni and Noon’s Punjabi roots; their designs have often alluded to this heritage, the Jalwana Collection being one example.
The ethos of this highly coveted brand, however, travels much farther and borrows from Rokni’s Iranian lineage and Noon’s European exposure. They are both equally involved in the design process. That said, while Noon takes care of the administration of the brand a bit more, Kami (as he is known) has more of a “red carpet presence”. As a brand, Kamiar Rokni is one of the top-most fashion labels in Pakistan today, enjoying a strong brand identity at all of the country’s fashion weeks as well as an enviable retail presence at a cross section of multi-brand stores in Pakistan and Dubai. The brand will be representing the Pakistan Fashion Design Council at the Prêt à Porter Paris fair this year (along with six others) and as far as the future is concerned, Rokni’s is secure in a faultless aesthetic and a rapidly strengthening logistical infrastructure. Both designers talk to the Herald about the path the fashion industry is trotting.
Q. Despite the recent success of Pakistani fashion, what in your opinion is still holding the industry back from blazing ahead?
Rokni. At the end of the day, you still have many designers who are a small-scale business making made-to-order clothes. The trend is now changing where you have bigger companies that are stepping in. Outfitters has just started an ethnic line and you have Sheep.
Noon. This trend is still very, very new. We’re still learning to walk. It’ll take companies time to figure out the market.
Q. What is the market for fashion these days?
Rokni. These are times of economic recession and designers who are catering to a wider audience at a lower cost are probably doing better compared to those only doing specialised, high- end clothing. A wider range and lower-cost product actually does quite well during a recession.
Q. You easily oscillate between both types of clothing. How difficult is that to manoeuvre?
Noon. The clientele in Pakistan has a habit of coming in and ordering unique, one-off clothes. They still feel that they need to own something that no one else does. It’s a habit that they’ll find hard to break.
Rokni. Also, when you’re doing ready-to-wear clothes you have to think of a wider cross section of society. I may want to take the plunge of a neckline a certain number of inches lower but will stop myself when designing something ready-to-wear fearing that women won’t wear it. I won’t use a fabric I may love if it’s going to raise the price of the outfit too much. Ready-to-wear has to be done much more carefully.
Q. Couturiers have always preferred designing two expensive bridal outfits a month instead of slogging over low-priced ready-to-wear. Yet you are going down the path of ready-to-wear. Is it worth it?
Rokni. Yes, totally. You see, you may have two outfits one month but what about the next? The bridal industry is so competitive now; a designer may get 15 bridal orders in one month and then just three the next. You can’t depend on something that is so erratic. Ready-to-wear is certainly more substantial than made-to-order.
Q. Between Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Dubai you stock in four completely different cities to equally diverse clientele. How do your designs differ accordingly?
Rokni. We don’t modify designs as per city but design a collection and send appropriate pieces to different cities. We send out a blend. What works where is a mystery we still haven’t managed to solve. Short shirts, for example, are selling in one shop in Islamabad and long shirts in another. Our experience with the buying pattern has been the shop that we stock at.
Noon. What sells depends on what kind of clientele the proprietor brings in.
Q. Have fashion weeks helped in creating a larger market for fashion?
Rokni. Fashion weeks have helped in brand-building and in making an international profile. We do get a lot of interest from international boutiques after each fashion week because it floods the Internet. Many buyers who haven’t even come may call with queries, like a Kuwaiti woman from Anohata. We weren’t even showing at the last fashion week, yet she wanted price quotes for our products. We have people show interest from England and America especially, and from the Middle East. Brand-building is serious business though I don’t know whether anyone has gotten a serious, lucrative deal out of fashion week yet. It is not bad for two seasons, though it will have to evolve into a serious business eventually.