Khadijah Shah and Rehan Bashir have been working together for quite some time, especially since Rehan did the show direction and choreography for Élan’s last solo show. On their own, Khadija Shah is a fashion force to be reckoned with, who – other than being the creative head behind Élan - first lent her design skills to Sapphire and now has her own high street label called Zaha. Rehan Bashir was part of the brilliant team at The House of Kamiar Rokni and recently left to join Khadijah at Élan. News poured in of their joint venture for the high street and this weekend Afsaneh opened its traditionalist retail fashion doors in Lahore and Multan.
Khadijah Shah has taken a supervisory role in this venture, which she’s left it in the capable hands of Bashir who is himself a revivalist and old-school designer at heart. As Creative Director, Rehan shares that Afsaneh is backed by textile mill owners who provide excellent quality of fabric for them to work with. But good quality fabric and aesthetics aside, the retail market is a clustered place; what made the two sure of their venture?
With Rehan, traditional design comes as second nature since his own aesthetics are deeply rooted in tradition. He is focused on that direction with the brand and feels that it’s the one thing that will set them apart. “Everything a design house does should be in one direction. Share images that put your ethos across and have a standardized brand philosophy. Khadija has that direction and shoots down anything that contradicts our traditional aesthetic which in fact, allows us to define our brand and make it bigger than a personal entity. In the future, this philosophy can be maintained even if Khadijah or I aren’t there.”
Rehan adds, “our design philosophy is no tall claim but we’re just ensuring that our design is not too cluttered. The little print we’re doing is Persian, Mughal and Far Eastern but we’re focusing on block prints and solids. We’re well aware that print and lawn has been done to death but that’s what’s worn almost eight months of the year so it will remain a lucrative field.”
For someone who’s enjoyed the slow-paced designing of a bridal design house like The House of Kamiar Rokni, meeting retail timelines must be tough.
“The process is very different compared to what I was doing earlier,” Rehan said when we met at the busy launch of the first Afsaneh store in Lahore. “I would take months creating something and was used to it but here the learning curve has been incredible.”
The Afsaneh debut collection, Sahib-e-Jamal is based upon artisanal embroidery and indigenous fabrics. Traditional silhouettes like angarkhas, kalidaars, chooridaars, ghararas and even crushed shararas all make an appearance in their pret collection. The colour palette includes a few darker colours but mostly lighter ones with little to no print, which are incidentally also the ones already sold out on their website. They are also stocking accessories at the store but currently they are more modern than the brand positions itself to be. That’s one of the changes Rehan plans to bring along in time to come, depending on market feedback.
This weekend Afsaneh opened its first flagship store in Lahore, followed by Multan yesterday. As expected, the traditional ethos of the brand was played up by strings of fresh motia and spaces that were strewn with rose petals. On the menu were cultural delicacies like sandal ka sharbat with basil seeds, almond milk infused with cardamom and saffron, seekh kabab bites, tiny samosas, etc. Dozens of models and celebrities – who would seem to be the entire Lahore social scene – turned up in Afsaneh’s latest designs and the visual that went out was very strong. We have a feeling that this brand will resonate very well with the masses.