“Fashion is a strategy, not a combination of various pieces of clothing,” Ahmed Bham points out as he talks about the rebirth of his brand.
Ahmed Bham is undeniably one of the most solid menswear designers in the country; he has almost twenty years and countless clients stretching over two generations from literally every walk of life but he also has an understanding of the style and structure required to dress a man. Menswear in Pakistan is known to fall in any one of the following genres: it’s either overtly traditional (wedding and festive wear), stoic and conservative (work wear) or it is rebelliously flamboyant, leaving one wondering where any Pakistani man would wear such a garment. You know the kind one is talking about; over the top clothing that tries too hard to be cool resulting in a sorry mess of rags no stylish man would be caught dead wearing. Ahmed Bham is someone who understands the many facets of what it takes to dress a man, any man.
After being away from the spotlight for several years, it appears he’s back in the game, refueled and energized enough to step into a new phase of his creative life. Where was this energy coming from, I asked him as we set off on a 14-hour editorial shoot that began in Phase 8, DHA Karachi and ended on the periphery of Mubarak Village, way out there on the horizon. We wanted to tap into the four elements of nature - earth, water, fire and air – to reflect on integral elements of a man, which were basically integrity, passion, wisdom and strength. Ermenegildo Zegna may have bottled the elements of man in a series of fragrances a couple of years ago but Bham had caught them in pure sartorial essence.
Back to his rebirth, where was the energy coming from?
“Myself,” he replied. “The energy is coming from myself. Over the years I’ve done a lot of things that have never been credited to me; I’ve seen people promote them as their own. I understand that these things happen when you’re not active and we haven’t been too active in shoots or social media. This year we’re putting out a lot of shoots with a lot of new energy. This particular shoot, for example, came up as something for men’s wellbeing and awareness, which is why we used Osama, who is a doctor amongst other things. We wanted to give him an elite air combined with roughness, keeping his physique in mind. It was experimental and it came out pretty good.”
Ahmed, Shahbaz Shazi, our fantastically patient photographer, and Osama – who fits into the genre of role model for his many diverse traits (medicine, music and acting being just three of them) were managing to capture the essence of the shoot despite the harsh Karachi sun. The energy surely was great and flowed easily from one creative mind to another. The clothing, on close inspection, had mind blowing detail, which Ahmed further explained. Was this a peephole into new trends for the season?
Ahmed Bham is someone who has concrete expertise in classic suiting and yet he has the flair for fashion too, I pointed out. Men’s fashion in Pakistan, however, sees two extremes; either it’s really drab or it’s really outrageous. How did he, as a menswear designer, strike a balance in the absence of any street culture?
“Fashion is a strategy, not a combination of various pieces of clothing,” he pointed out. “It’s not cutting a suit and putting two sleeves together. Fashion is very simple and comes with an essence of works as style. I consider the 1930s and 1960s as the best eras of fashion. That’s what I personally feel, which is why I definitely try to be in that era and I take my essence from it. The way we take men’s fashion forward is by making small tweaks and changes here and there. I’m designing wider peak lapels and notched lapels, two combinations that men wear and they tend not to experiment with. I’ve always been fascinated by these kind of details; I’ve started making peak lapels nine years ago, when no one else would. Men usually go for colour variations but not style variations but I’ve been experimenting and encouraging people. We experiment with lapels, pockets. The length and structure of jackets keeps changing though I like classic lengths, not shorter jackets.”
I know you’ve worked with the detailing, the shape and structure as well the fabric and palette of the suits in this shoot. Are there any specific trends that we should be looking at this winter?
“The new trend is experimentation with different fabrics. We’ve used the houndstooth in a long coat, herringbone in a grey suit, I’ve done a suit in denim, which is very experimental. I’ve done printed shirts, which can be worn casually under suits when you don’t have to go to work and you don’t have to wear a tie. It’s more social. Plain white shirts are for the office. There are many trends, depending on who’s wearing them and where they’re being worn to.”
Ahmed designed this six piece collection, that includes a black hoodie to inspire the rapper in Osama, in a record breaking week but it’s his swanky new store on Zamzama that is taking much longer to complete. He speaks of the necessity of expanding as we stop for a beverage break; even though the economy isn’t great these days, this new store was long overdue and he could see no reason to stall anymore.
“This plan was in the pipeline for a long period and I’d been working on it for a year and a half,” he said. “Something or the other always came up - personal commitments, family, my accident - until one day I said I had to do it. Allah malik hai. It had to happen and maybe this was the perfect time.”