The fashion brand hopes to employ fashion diplomacy to at least aesthetically unite the two countries.
It’s a hot, sunny afternoon in October. The dry heat is unrelenting; summer is seemingly lasting forever. We’ve been invited for a viewing at the new Diva’ni bridal studio, off of Lahore’s bustling M.M Alam Road and the thought of heavy, embellished outfits in what can be considered the most desultory beginning to a new decade, doesn’t inspire any kind of excitement.
After all, 2020 has been a difficult year; economic, political and climate related turmoil has sapped the year of all its mirth. 2020 has given us very little to celebrate and the celebrations have been tinged with austerity and caution.
Frazzled, fighting Lahore’s snarling traffic and sweating along the way, we make it to the new Diva’ni store on Javed Iqbal Street in Gulberg. When you first approach the standalone store, with heavy wooden doors and an unassuming gray structure, you are unaware of how stepping across its threshold will transport you into a different dimension.
The doors part open into a cool, dimly lit corridor and you are no longer in Lahore. The ceiling twinkles with hanging Persian lamps, a larger than life painting of a sub-continental nawab decorating the other end of the passage-way. You haven’t walked into a store or a commercial atelier, you’ve stepped into the mysteriously fragrant harems of yore – the affluence is almost palpable in the air.
Making our way through the corridor we turn into a spacious reception, greeted by courteous staff and are given the run of the store. It’s difficult to decide where to focus once you are actually surrounded by their wares; each piece hanging on the racks or curated as décor is beautiful, seamlessly melding the old with the new.
Diva’ni, introduced to Pakistani in 2016, is an Indian heritage couture brand with a cinematic history. The clothes, hand loomed, hand crafted are made by artisanal clusters spread across the Indian state, drawing on traditional techniques that have otherwise been superseded by cheaper, machine worked embroideries in today’s fast fashion world.
It came out with a big splash, hosting a solo fashion presentation in Lahore with Mahira Khan and Ali Zafar as its show-stoppers. The brand followed up their initial foray with a stunning shoot of Khan in Turkey, executed by grungy photographer Abdullah Harris.
The show and the campaigns were both well-executed and sparked interest in the brand. And then suddenly Diva’ni seemed to disappear from the news circuit. Tensions between the two neighbouring states had a role to play. Relations still remain sour, with populist governments ruling both states making it impossible to normalize ties in the near future. However, Diva’ni hopes to employ fashion diplomacy to at least aesthetically unite the two countries.
Shakil Zindani, the man behind Diva’ni’s presence in Pakistan, sheds further light on the brand’s positing and future. Mr. Zindani reveals that the degradation of trade and diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan did affect business but Covid 19 brought things to a grinding halt.
But with the pandemic no longer actively raging in the country, the nuptials postponed earlier in the year are being rescheduled and business is back to normal, if not better than before, explains Mr. Zindani. He opines that business will remain normal unless restrictions come back into play, limiting the size of wedding festivities. “The bigger the event, the more people invited the grander the bride wants her outfit to be but if it’s a smaller event then dynamics change,” he explains.
Mr. Zindani also reveals that had the pandemic not waylaid plans for the year, Karachi would be hosting its own Diva’ni store by the end of the year, plans that have been deferred for another six months. The brand has been well-received in Punjab and there had been growing interest in Karachi regarding its discerning, hand-crafted outfits so the natural progression would be to give the coastal city its own store. He hopes to share more news regarding the Karachi store in a couple of months.
Coming to the store’s wares themselves, they are truly magnificent pieces. From formals in white cotton and chikankari to spectacular saris, hand-worked shawls, sherwanis and delightfully modern beaded, evening bags, the atelier takes your breath away with its elaborate apparel.
In the sub-continent, bridal couture is perhaps the only couture, which means that connoisseurs or commentators are bombarded with new brands and fresh takes on wedding finery but very few manage to actually show something worth looking at twice. Diva’ni’s outfits will not only stop you in your tracks; they will make you wish you had the kind of money requisite to play with these works of art posing as garments.
On different ends of this chamber are walk-in closets that house rows upon rows of intricate bridals, some of the most beautiful and heavy ensembles we’ve ever laid eyes on. A unique lehnga features fish scales embroidered in mother of pearl, another 45 kg weighing outfit is hand-embellished with lotus flowers.
The new store most certainly does justice to the charming, storied clothes. The journey through their store is borderline overwhelming; it’s like being allowed access into royal vaults and at no point does the stark difference between the dreams the brand is selling and reality more jarring than when you walk across the cool corridor and step back out into the sunlight.
You have to experience it yourself to understand the magic Diva’ni creates.