“Luxury prêt is our signature strength”

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With a strict selection process in place and intense competition from established designers, a PFDC showcase is often a rare achievement for aspiring fashioners. Hence, designer duo Saira Shakira’s solo debut at PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week this year initially stirred quite the curiosity among experts but was followed by general appreciation. Top graduates of the PIFD (Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design) and close friends, Saira Faisal and Shakira Usman may not be so visible in the fashion industry yet but they have carved a considerable niche amongst the Lahori crowd, ever since their launch three years ago.

After a couple of diversions earlier on, the two designers landed themselves a lucrative deal with Sehyr Saigol – designing for the label Libas – that mostly targeted international clients at that time. “Sehyr aunty had already seen our work and knew outlook,” Saira shared with Instep on a rainy afternoon at their comfortable studio in Model Town. However, with post-marital duties imposed, the ‘BFFs’ took a hiatus and gave their careers a backseat until prodded by their husbands to take it more seriously. The constant persuasion led to a rather unexpected and unusual collaboration with Sadia Mirza for an exclusive shoe line. “We made the initial samples literally with our own hands and held a few exhibitions after getting a positive response from a niche clientele. But this was only for a short time,” they said in unison.

While the initial response was generated only through word-of-mouth, the label’s Cirque de Vanite collection at fashion week has definitely put them on the map. Whether they will deliver consistently or disappear from the mainstream, like many others like them, remains to be seen. “Our first goal was to show at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week ever since we started,” said Saira. Clearly an association with Sehyr Saigol (the brains behind PFDC) worked in their favour as she advised the duo to produce a theme that offers a balance between fine tailoring and subdued hues while making an impact. “We were basically interested in doing an Afro-centric theme with an earthy colour palette but were advised against it,” Shakira informed. “You need to impress me with exclusive samples and a mood board,” Sehyr Saigol had said, telling them to tone down the collection with a minimal colour palette and a simpler approach.

The monochromatic black and white colour palette was put together using only pure silks, chiffon and sheer organza and creating versatile looks for their fashion line up on the ramp. “We shed all our inhibitions and let our inner souls run free; the collection did just that.” While some doubted the collections potential, others applauded their innovative effort labeling their collection as the strongest debut at PFDC.

Currently stocking at PFDC Boulevard in Lahore, they do plan on expanding to Karachi to cater to their existing customer base in the port city. “Our Karachi-based customers vouch for understated pieces while the demand for everything grand and glamorous comes from Lahore,” informed Saira.

Their brand is known for being a fusion of traditional with modern. Their separates are a hybrid between comfort and creativity defining their signature style as rather offbeat. When it comes to the palette, the girls don’t seem to shy away from adding a burst of colour with a contemporary twist. Their embellished cigarette pants and capris in embroideries of birds and rose motifs, and shrugs that can be paired with plain tops are some of the hot-selling items from their collections. “Our luxury prêt is our signature strength and the collection sold out at the label launch three years ago,” Saira recalled.

Unusual cuts, detailing with laces and beads, cutwork and appliqué on a diverse set of materials and variant tones, their staple pieces and well-tailored cuts bring out a fresh new outlook. “Our clothes appeal to a large number of women for we are offering styles that are not overly high maintenance,” said Saira. However, with so much intricacy involved in their work, it is obvious that their clothes aren’t a bargain, costing around 15,000 rupees for a single shirt. “We do not keep double margins like the rest of the designers but people still label us as expensive. We don’t know how to pull back the overheads including electricity and generator costs that are hampering in keeping the prices to a desired level,” asserted Shakira.

Trying to keep a balance between work and domestic responsibilities they have imposed certain rules on themselves which also means that they finish everything and reach home by the time their children come back from school in early afternoon. “We do not go for fabric hunting which saves us a lot of time and hassle. Staying out for long also means that we have to neglect our children and that is why our work is based on readily available material. The studio is open from morning till six in the evening for any walk-in client and orders for bridal wear are taken on appointment only,” said Saira.

While studying at the PIFD the girls idolised fashion icon Tom Ford and his design ethos. “He changed the face of Gucci; we have ‘great admiration’ for his designs that have a certain androgynous feel and are ultra modern.” On the local front, Umar Sayeed, Faiza Sami and Sana Safinaz are their personal favourites.

Shakira’s forte lies in her intricate detailing and color contrasts whereas Saira has a better sense of motif placement. The only thing deterring these two young entrepreneurs from spreading out to open their flagship store at the moment is the prompt production facility. “We believe that there is still a long way to go before we can manage production to meet the rigorous demands of retail business. But the brand is accessible to everyone off the rack at PFDC Boulevard at the moment,” they concluded.

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