Designer, Élan and Creative Director at Sapphire
Instep: You’ve come a long way from being an exclusive, limited couturier to one of the most celebrated bridal wear and lawn designers in Pakistan as well as the Creative Director of Sapphire, handling their ready to wear and fabric divisions. How important has this transition been for the growth of your brand?
Khadija Shah (KS): It has been instrumental in the growth of the brand. As a design house Élan has never been static; we’ve been constantly growing since I started off from my parent’s backyard. When growth is organic it happens over time, with brands evolving as opposed to exploding on to the scene. With lawn, Élan crossed the threshold from being niche to becoming a household name and now Sapphire caters to that larger market, furnishing a sound design esthetic at high street price points every day, year round.
Instep: People complain that you are unaffordable as a bridal designer. Do you think that price tags these days, running over a million rupees per outfit, are too high or can they be justified?
KS: Every design house has an ethos – for Élan it is quality and luxury so that is something I cannot compromise. However, I never refuse to work with people’s budgets; we simply adjust the amount of embellishment accordingly. If a bridal costs a lot it will also be extremely worked. Someone paying less will cut down on the embellishment but there will be no compromise on the design or quality. There are people who irrespective of affordability prefer to wear lightly worked clothes.
Also to give perspective, our embellishment, embroidery and motif development is very detailed and elaborate. Therefore it takes time and entails a higher cost of production. The average person may not be able to distinguish between hand sewn and machine done, or an embroidery technique which may take infinitely longer than another or the intricacy and value of detailed patterns as opposed to embellishment thrown on for the sake of effect. Many couturiers produce heavily worked ensembles which have an overall impact but close up there is little intricacy. People who come to Élan for lightly or heavily embellished clothes understand these nuances.
Instep: Another common complaint we hear is regarding your lawn prints, which were considered to be too busy. How do you respond to that criticism?
KS: We are fortunate to have a strong and loyal customer base for Élan Lawn and now for Sapphire Lawn - who appreciates our aesthetic season after season - it is their patronage that has allowed critics to acknowledge that we are one of the select hottest selling lawn brands in the region. We didn’t therefore get the busy print feedback from these customers - if anything the print is our strength and that’s what sells. In terms of our inspiration: this year print on print was a huge trend on all the international runways and as a design house we do follow global forecasts. We are however always cognizant of trend Vs practicality and therefore design our lawn in such a way as to give multiple stitching options to ensure that the Élan commitment to quality and high end design is not compromised. I can of course understand that some may or may not be able to carry off a complete head to toe print on print look for which reason customers always get enough fabric to play around with. Everyone in the West for instance, does not pair the printed Etro top with the printed Etro pant, even though that is how it was shown in the ad campaign. I personally mix and match all my prints and since I’m not a huge fan of embroidery during the day and I use that separately.
Instep: Coming to your collaboration with Sapphire, it is considered to be one of the most successful of 2014, giving other popular ready to wear brands like Sana Safinaz and Khaadi a run for their money. What do you think is the secret to its success?
KS: Sapphire is envisioned as a true high street brand. We are not confused about our market, price points or product. I am extremely proud of Sapphire, wherever I go I’m surrounded by people wearing our designs and it’s only been open five months! I also sense the nervous competition and emulation it has created in other mass retail brands which I find flattering as well as motivating. Nabeel Abdullah handles the business and production end whereas I look at the creative and marketing end. We both share a vision and respect each other’s opinions. There is mutual understanding and trust and since we don’t allow people to get in the middle of that relationship it works out really well.
Instep: Élan was missed at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week earlier this year and your absence got the rumour mills churning. What’s the truth; why didn’t you show?
KS: I was really stretched work wise. Setting up a high street brand is a time consuming activity and between that and Élan’s bridal and lawn seasons in full swing, I had no choice but to forgo a PFDC presentation this year.
Instep: Will Élan show at the PFDC L’Oréal Paris Bridal Week in October?
KS: We will be showing at PFDC L’Oréal Paris Bridal Week.
Instep: What’s in store for you as a designer this year? What can your fans look forward to?
KS: Élan will be opening its flagship store in Karachi this year. Our valued customers can also look forward to more seasonal Élan unstitched fabric collections. Sapphire is set to open more stores nationwide and we plan to frequently evolve and add to our product range so the Sapphire customer always has something to look forward to.