When Mohsin Naveed Ranjha launched a store in Karachi in January 2023, he chose to make the announcement in true Pakistani style: with mithai. A store was born, and with it, Ranjha shared the essence of his aesthetic and personality without uttering a single word.
Scrolling through the MNR website or Instagram pages in itself is delightful. Everything about every single design is very rooted in Pakistani craft and tradition. The color palettes are unabashedly bright, the embellishment isn’t for the weak, and the in-house styling for every outfit is very much the dramatized version of what you might think a typical Punjabi beauty looks like day in and out.
Everything about the MNR aesthetic is dramatic, and you might think that the clothes might be too loud, or perhaps not cool enough; if very traditional desi costuming isn’t your style. Although, even when the palette leans on the darker side, the shades are rich, evoking a depth and gravity in design that are pleasantly unexpected. Once you peer past the sum of all parts and focus on individual motifs and other design elements, you will find yourself looking at carefully curated patterns and details that have a very distinct miniature art and Mughal architectural influence. This isn’t entirely surprising; MNR is a label born in the heart of the Mughal empire, Lahore.
Like his designs, the designer too is unabashedly desi and forthcoming about it.
“We have our own DNA and people have decided that they like and want the Punjabi touch,” says Ranjha. To him, it isn’t at all surprising that his designs have found both mass popularity and are favored by international celebrities of desi origin. If you feel like we’re throwing that descriptor around far too much, you have to consider the celebrities MNR has outfitted more recently.
Karan Aujla, the Punjabi rap star, and his wife Palak chose to wear MNR at their Jago ceremony, which is basically an all-nighter organized by the bride and groom’s maternal families. For the event, Palak had the design house customize one of their outfits with a dupatta to complement Karan’s outfit. Ranjha, who says he is a fan of Aujla’s and vice versa, created three looks in all for the rapper’s wedding, taking care to match the event’s vivacious Punjabi vibe, which really wouldn’t have been such a stretch for him.
A couple of years prior, Ranjha had proudly announced that Queer Eye star Tan France would be wearing an MNR design to an Asian event. The cream-colored sherwani was created in close collaboration with France, and Ranjha had said then: “I was ecstatic to see Tan wearing my creation, to be honest I enjoyed the process of creating the outfit much more. I think the major reason behind it was that I got to learn a lot about international trends and how the market works there.”
This is actually part of what makes Mohsin Naveed Ranjha successful at what he does. Although he does speak with much passion about staying close to one’s roots and translating that sentiment and understanding into something tangible, Ranjha is also an astute businessman who knows when to capitalize on what.
“At this point it both is and isn’t about inflation and the cost of living,” says Ranjha, while talking about the current national economy, and its impact on purchasing power.
“People have made their peace with the fact that the dollar rate has gone up from 100 rupees to 200, and that it will definitely land at 300. Because of that, there isn’t really a dent in our sales.
“Saying that, the last few years have been tough; everyone has been doing what they can to sustain their businesses, and in doing that, the fashion aspect of the ‘business of fashion’ has disappeared.”
Ranjha refers, of course, to the two years the world spent in lockdown. While we didn’t stop buying things, we did stop going out. All events were canceled indefinitely, and boutique and luxury brands did not see as much traffic as people dealt with lockdown fatigue, layoffs, and a general sense of isolation and uncertainty.
However, that isn’t the only reason fashion has exited from the business of fashion. Fashion is so much more than collections and clothes. It is almost a living, breathing entity that connects people, brings together communities, promotes industry, and flows back into the economy.
Even before the world shut down without much warning and any promises, Pakistan’s fashion industry was suffering from a lack of cohesiveness. Even if business was good, the kind of getting along that is essential for any place of work to thrive had been mostly missing. Once Covid brought everyone down to basics and keeping afloat, the larger industry never bounced back. Everyone might be trying to – as Ranjha points out – keeping their businesses running, but they have also learnt that they can easily make the sales and retain their clients without the community of a shared industry.
“It’s like everyone is working in isolation now,” says Ranjha. “What I miss most are the fashion weeks and shows. It was a privilege to show with other designers, and it was exciting to be part of that process. Part of the thrill came from seeing whom you would be showing with: who would come before and who would show after. [Fashion industry may not be dead] but fashion sure seems to be playing dead.”
The sentiment is heartfelt, and Ranjha comes across as someone who fights to preserve what has been before. “The kind of aesthetic MNR has is all about preserving tradition but grounding it into the present,” he says, “when people see my designs, they like them because I make sure to style them in a way that doesn’t make the model seem unattainably otherworldly. The women who see my designs can see themselves in them.”
Ranjha refers to the Chawl ‘23 editorial he shot in Karachi, “my friends in Karachi were stunned by the location, they had never seen it though they live here! But that’s something I like doing – if it’s part of our country, no matter how downtrodden or messy, it’s ours. Pakistanis have notoriously not preserved anything, the mehel, qila, chawl, it doesn’t matter how it looks. It’s ours.”
While MNR might not be the most fashion-forward or futuristic, the appeal is obvious. What’s the point of wearing something if it doesn’t make you feel beautiful? And if traditional an ensembles are what speak to beauty for you, then a Mohsin Naveed Ranjha outfit is for you.
Ranjha’s design philosophy and business philosophy come together to make his a successful brand, and when its inevitable evolution comes, the results should be intriguing.
At this point it both is and isn’t about inflation and the cost of living,” says Ranjha, while talking about the current national economy, and its impact on purchasing power. “People have made their peace with the fact that the dollar rate has gone up from 100 rupees to 200, and that it will definitely land at 300. Because of that, there isn’t really a dent in our sales. Saying that, the last few years have been tough; everyone has been doing what they can to sustain their businesses, and in doing that, the fashion aspect of the ‘business of fashion’ has disappeared.