“The key is to make the designs look aspirational,” says designer Safinaz Munir of Sana Safinaz. “We do this with the stylisation of the models and by traveling to beautiful locations that a girl would want to go to.” -Photos: Sana Safinaz
“The key is to make the designs look aspirational,” says designer Safinaz Munir of Sana Safinaz. “We do this with the stylisation of the models and by traveling to beautiful locations that a girl would want to go to.” -Photos: Sana Safinaz

Hania Aamir twirls into the frame, smiling coquettishly into the camera, her dupatta fluttering behind her. The chorus of a catchy new song plays out, sung by Asim Azhar. Asim Azhar’s in the video too, music’s most popular star, dancing and grooving with Hania. The two, by the way, are also a real-life couple and this adds to the video’s allure. It’s a great song, a fun video — it’s also an ad for Asim Jofa’s lawn for summer 2020.

And if you listen carefully to the lyrics, you’ll hear references to fabric colour and textures, subliminally telling you that, out of all the hundreds of lawn collections in the market, this is one worth checking out. Hania, twirling in three-piece glory, bolsters this message. You may notice an embellished neckline or a vivacious print. It’s a lawn ad in shiny, new packaging; old wine in a new bottle, per se — and this, essentially, is what Pakistani lawn needs.

After all, there is nothing new about the lawn suit and its four or five-piece jigsaw puzzle. Customers enjoy making trips to tailors and putting their lawn suits together, getting the embroideries appliqued and scrutinising the thickness of a chiffon or silk dupatta. From a design perspective, lawn is generic, with its add-ons and fancy fripperies — but this works well in the market and hauls in heavy profits for lawn’s main players. Beautiful — and not cutting-edge — designs get sold out. But beautiful can also be boring and here’s where interesting marketing tactics can come into play, adding extra oomph to a lawn collection.

It may not be high fashion and the market may still be crowded, despite a frequent turnover of designers. How then do the veterans stand out and keep their breezy summer fabric exciting?

Shiny candy-wrapping

Maria B
Maria B

Asim Jofa, packing in the punches with celebrity appeal and great music in the snappy Sassiyan, is one example of this. “We timed it all very carefully,” says Asim Jofa. “The video was released on Valentine’s Day and the lawn collection came into the market some weeks before all the other brands were launching. That helped us stand out. We’ve been designing luxury lawn for a decade now and there is a lot that we have learnt from experience. We started out with actress Iman Ali as a brand ambassador because we wanted our designs to have a larger-than-life appeal. And with this video, we are connecting with a massive audience across the world, young girls as well as older women, who will connect well with the celebrity appeal as well as appreciate the different ways in which the suits are styled.”

When one thinks of impactful lawn videos, Sana Safinaz also come to mind with their very well-styled models and hit song soundtracks. The Sana Safinaz brand has often asserted that they do not believe in relying on celebrity, and prefer to place the spotlight on their designs. And in their carefully conceived videos, the lawn suits, accessorised with handbags, jewellery and exotic backdrops, look positively glamorous.

“The key is to make the designs look aspirational,” says designer Safinaz Munir. “We do this with the stylisation of the models and by traveling to beautiful locations that a girl would want to go to. We always have a catchy, popular song playing in the video. At the same time, we are subtly telling customers what shirt lengths and silhouettes are in and how to wear their lawn suits to dinners and soirees.”

Hira Mani for Zainab Chottani
Hira Mani for Zainab Chottani

Similarly, designer Khadijah Shah observes that aspirational imagery is important when marketing lawn. Her very popular Elan lawn is consistently shot in foreign locales, while the less pricey, newer Zaha unstitched line is shot locally. “Even with Zaha, a lot of thought is put into the styling. But the Elan lawn line only comes out once a year and I always want to present it as high fashion. I look at the collection and think about where I want the Elan woman to be at that point in time and how she will be wearing the suits. As a designer, I have shot in nearly every location in Pakistan, and continue to do so for my seasonal collections. But a foreign shoot for the lawn line offers a new look.”

When one thinks of impactful lawn videos, Sana Safinaz also come to mind with their very well-styled models and hit song soundtracks. The Sana Safinaz brand has often asserted that they do not believe in relying on celebrity, and prefer to place the spotlight on their designs. And in their carefully conceived videos, the lawn suits, accessorised with handbags, jewellery and exotic backdrops, look positively glamorous.

Nevertheless, foreign locales have been done to death. They may still look glossy in a catalogue but Khadijah agrees that customers are savvy and will only truly spend on a suit if they like the design. “The design needs to be beautiful and the quality and weight of the fabric really matters. Thick layers of embellishment may look good in a catalog but they aren’t very wearable. Customers are now discerning enough to know this.”

She continues, “A few years ago, hundreds of lawns would filter into the market, and since summer goes on for so long, eventually everything would sell out. But with the ongoing economic crisis, people have become more selective with their spending. They are appreciating good aesthetics and innovation. Repetitive designs, copied off other collections, are no longer selling easily.”

Making the cut

Image Fabrics
Image Fabrics

Truly, the so-called ‘lawn boom’ seems to have worn off. Five odd years ago, umpteen designer collections would be announced with great aplomb, professing to have ‘sold out’ entire stocks. And yet, come next season, many of these designers would back out of the ‘lawn rat race’, often claiming that the generic demands of the market no longer interested them — when, reading between the lines, it was quite evident that, in fact, the generic market hadn’t liked their designs.

How, then, have certain collections managed to make the cut? Maria B., a veritable lawn mogul, outlines, “I think the key to lawn is understanding what Pakistani women really want to wear. These are seasoned, intelligent buyers who want a statement dress every season. Constant product development, value addition and crazy design innovations are imperative. Pricing your product wisely and keeping the costs in check is also critical. Marketing mechanisms may be impactful but they will be useless if you don’t have a good product to sell. Pakistani women are not going to buy your campaign. They will, however, buy good clothes.”

What also stands out is a distinctive aesthetic. “It’s important to think out-of-the-box,” observes Zara Shahjahan, another very popular lawn designer. “A lot of people think that a luxury lawn suit just has to have certain add-ons, but what worked for me was delving into new ideas and textures. There was one year when my lawn collection didn’t have any print at all. Another year, I placed a lot of focus on cotton-jacquard dupattas. It was a different take on lawn, and it worked very well.”

Asim Azhar and Hania Aamir for Asim Jofa
Asim Azhar and Hania Aamir for Asim Jofa

Similarly, high-street brand Images Fabrics dabbled with printed lawn suits before realising that it would be far more effective to play up to their strength, their signature chikankari. “It’s what we do best and it makes our designs stand out in the market,” says Marium Ahmad, Director Marketing and E-Commerce at Image Fabrics.

Zainab Chottani, who initiated her lawn designing career by collaborating with mills before launching out on her own, agrees that the designer aesthetic needs to be evident in an unstitched line. “The lawns I create are distinctively my own. I implement chikankari in the designs and the mix of colours is similar to those that are seen in my couture lines. Also, people really like the khaddar dupattas that are part of the suit.”

These are only a few of the designers who will be launching their lawns this year. There will be many others as well, of course, with major textile mills nudging shoulders with them. The market may have shrunk but it’s still quite crowded. And, as pointed out earlier, the summer is long and moreover, it’s peppered with festive occasions: two Eids and a perpetual wedding season. Spring/summer lawn, as always, will be followed by Eid collections, midsummer lawn and ‘Festive’ lines. There will be plenty of visuals of dupattas beguilingly fluttering into the air plastered all over billboards, social media and television.

Asim Azhar and Hania Aamir for Asim Jofa
Asim Azhar and Hania Aamir for Asim Jofa

Many find these images beautiful and will be enticed enough to make a beeline for stores with their credit cards. A jaded minority may find it repetitive and boring. But lawn remains Pakistani fashion’s most lucrative phenomenon. It’s been there, done that and is unlikely to be high fashion … but it is what sells.

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 15th, 2020