Seven years ago, designer Faraz Manan had very openly decided that he would no longer be participating in the group shows that formed the modus operandi of the fashion weeks organised by the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC) in Lahore. It was a time when fashion weeks were a popular catchphrase and the PFDC had steamrolled its way to the top. And yet, Faraz decided to pave his own yellow brick road to fashion stardom, taking a risk that ended up working for him. He has, since, been hosting only the occasional solo show in his home-city of Lahore, making trips on to multi-designer events in Karachi and has successfully treaded international waters by latching on to the Middle East’s affluent fashion mecca.
So, this year, when he returned to the PFDC catwalk with a show at the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week (PLBW), the event was jokingly referred to as the ‘Return of Faraz.’ It was quite the show to see, the show that proceeded to rule the clustered bandwidths of social media and one of the most vivacious of feathers in PLBW’s mixed-up hat.
Faraz returned, but on his own terms — the PLBW had redesigned its patchwork, incorporating solo shows as well as group designer shows in its schedule. He had carte blanche to invite his own considerable clientele, friends and family to his show. His positioning as an established designer also ensured that he had more say in when he wanted to show, and he opted for the opening act on the last day of fashion week.
It was a prodigious 40-piece collection — 30 designs for women and 10 for men — that drifted from bridal-wear to trousseau to red carpet statements: tasteful column dresses, long front-open shirts, tunics with exaggerated trailing sleeves, lehngas and fitted halters among them. Glinting lame was mixed in with chiffons and organzas, the palette moving from lemon sorbet to pastel pinks and greys, culminating in a brilliant emerald green worn by Mehreen Syed, among others. Flanked by his glittering regalia, Faraz took his bow at the end of the show, acknowledging the applause with a nod here and there but never really smiling. He doesn’t usually smile for the cameras; even when he’s the recipient of applause or posing next to a sultry Kareena Kapoor or clicked at a high-end party with an exclusive guest list.
Faraz Manan has laid the foundation of a prodigious fashion empire. But after opting out seven years ago, he was once again recently exhibiting at a fashion week show in Lahore. What made him change his mind?
It doesn’t mean that he isn’t happy — he is. Very — and, off camera, when I meet him after the show, he is all smiles. “I feel extremely lucky that 14 years into my career, I have the appreciation of senior designers and serious critics who truly understand fashion. I feel humbled that so many of them turned up to see my show and gave me sincere feedback afterwards.”
It is on this note that we start our conversation. Faraz is on a high, surrounded by friends and his family, who help him run his business. In a few more days, he leaves for a week-long trip to Dubai and as soon as he returns to Lahore, his day is packed with meetings with clients. He has a show coming up in Hong Kong in early October, one in London in November and, then, his Spring/Summer 2019 collection is going to be showcased this December in Dubai. He is busy — but euphoric — and he wants to talk about his journey thus far through couture’s elaborately textured world.
We start off with the most obvious question: Does this return to the PFDC’s catwalk imply that he will no longer be flying solo in his hometown Lahore, joining hands with the council instead? “Nothing’s for sure,” he says. “I may have different plans for my business in a few more months. Showing at PLBW just made sense to me this time because I had a solo slot and could make sure that I could showcase my work my way.”
But hadn’t he parted ways with the PFDC seven years ago because he had differences with the Council? That’s a thing of the past evidently. “I respect the Council and the vision of its chairperson Sehyr Saigol. Back then, I chose to step away from fashion weeks in Lahore because I felt that it was my hometown and I could easily orchestrate my own shows here. No one else was doing solo shows back then, and it was a chance I took that ended up working for me. I just wanted to entertain my clients in my way, work on the ambience and make sure that the models looked a certain way. I’m not interested in the additional ‘guests’ and oglers that end up finding their way into fashion week.
“Over the years, I have come to realise that I don’t want to be a jack-of-all-trades. I dabbled with high street retail with the Crescent brand only to realise that I didn’t enjoy churning out generic prints by the hundreds every season. I love the intricacies of luxury-wear and bridals and the details that are incorporated into creating lawn suits. I am here to do serious business. So when I have a show, I want my audience to take it seriously.”
Kareena Kapoor is Faraz’s ‘good friend’ who asks him to bring ‘paye from Lahore’ when he visits her and images of him socialising within the Kapoor and Pataudi inner circle frequently flit on to Instagram.
So Karachi was different? “In Karachi, I have opted for joint shows simply because they are more convenient. My other base is Dubai where I also have a flagship store. I also prefer to have an individual show there.”
His Dubai store, significantly, is the only standalone retail point set up by a designer from the Indo-Pak region. Even Indian bigwigs with considerable markets in the Middle East — Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi and Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla come to mind — operate via sporadic exhibitions and appointments and are yet to set up permanent brick and mortar establishments in the region. I recall the show that launched his Dubai store three odd years ago, an event with an impressive guest list dotted with quite a few names from the Arab world’s designer-wear-loving upper crust.
“I took the plunge not really being sure that the store in Dubai would be financially viable,” says Faraz, “but I have never believed in packing couture into a suitcase and taking it here and there. At the time, I was already getting a lot of enquiries from the Middle East, particularly from Dubai and Bahrain. I also already had a clientele in India, and Dubai made sense as a middle-ground where I could easily cater to them.”
The Bollywood connection
Fueling the wheels of Faraz’s business has been a unique Bollywood connection that he has managed to forge with one of India’s most ‘it’ actresses: Kareena Kapoor. Kareena is Faraz’s ‘good friend’ who asks him to bring ‘paye from Lahore’ when he visits her and images of him socialising within the Kapoor and Pataudi inner circle frequently flit on to Instagram. The friendship certainly helped generate hype for him in India over the past year. Other Bollywood sirens have also reached out to him from time to time: Jacqueline Fernandez wore a cardinal red Faraz Manan sari at diwali last year; Madhuri Dixit-Nene donned his front-open long grey shirt for her show Dance Deewane; and the late Sri Devi, in her last few days, had also become quite a client.
“Sri Devi saw my work at weddings that she had attended in India and she just got my personal number and gave me a call,” recalls Faraz. “I was just completely taken aback. It was a fan moment for me. There were two weddings coming up in her family and, when she was in Dubai, she came and ordered clothes from me for herself and for her daughter. She also wore a red-and-gold lehnga that I had designed at the premiere of her movie Mom in Moscow.”
Does Faraz think that his business would have expanded as much had he not enlisted Kareena Kapoor to model his lawn and struck a friendship with her? “A lot of other brands have also repeatedly enlisted major Indian actresses to model their lawn collections for them,” he says. “It may be able to generate mileage in the short run but a brand can only last the long haul if it has an aesthetically sound identity. I feel that my designs are not specific to any one culture and this has helped me in building a diverse clientele.”
Who forms the main chunk of Faraz’s clientele? It’s a varied group, ranging from Arab royalty to business magnates from the Middle East and India, a smattering of Bollywood actresses and quite a number from Pakistan’s top echelons who have the eye — and the deep pockets — for endorsing his designs. It is commonly said that, at most high-end Pakistani weddings of late, if the bridal outfit is by Bunto Kazmi, the valima jorra is by Faraz Manan — or vice versa.
And yet, I have to ask: have finances been affected by the burgeoning slew of copycat designers who are now making lower quality replicas of his designs, selling them for a fraction of his price? Some of these plagiarists now have well-reputed design houses and have lifted some of Faraz’s craftsmen by offering them much higher salaries. They have then proceeded to create more economical copies using cheaper fabric and machine embroideries as opposed to those done by hand. There are also other small-scale social media operations — one even declaring itself to be ‘farazmananofficial’ on Instagram before getting blocked — who regularly cash in on copying his designs.
“I have to be honest. Yes, business has been affected in terms of trousseau but this is only in some cases,” admits Faraz. “The main bridal business remains as is because a bride wants to wear an original rather than a substandard copy. It is irritating but, at the same time, the clients that remain loyal to me — the ones who understand the importance of bona fide design and quality work — are still there.
“They’re not going anywhere,” he asserts, with a confident smile. Business is obviously booming.
Published in Dawn, ICON, September 30th, 2018