'Love thy neighbour' might be a far cry for India and Pakistan due to political differences, 'style thy neighbour' is definitely a mantra for the Partitioned countries. For Indian designers are increasing their presence in Pakistani cities at a rapid pace. Ruchika Kher traces the trend from the launch of the Indian multi-designer store Karmik in Lahore, to a changing fashion dynamic in the subcontinent.
Fashion knows no bounds and what strongly reiterates this statement, is the growing interest of Pakistan's elite in Indian fashion designers or even, vice-versa. When Indian multi-designer store, Karmik, opened shop in Lahore in November last year, it reaffirmed the fact that Pakistani cities like Lahore and Karachi and to an extent, Islamabad, are gradually becoming potential hotspots of Indian designer wear. And since, a new market is always welcome, several designers are making a beeline to woo Pakistan's fashionistas.
Delhi-based designer Ranna Gill's collection is available in Lahore
"A line drawn by politics does not divide fashion. We were one country at one point in time, and ethnic Indian wear is famous on both sides of the border.
We have very similar design sensibilities, so there is no reason that launching a space for Indian designers there wouldn't have worked," says Pradeep Hirani, CMD, Karmik. The store stocks collections by various Indian designers including JJ Valaya, Rohit Bal, Rocky S, Rina Dhaka, Ritu Beri, Anamika Khanna, Falguni & Shane Peacock, Kavita Bhartiya, Neeta Lulla, Ranna Gill, and Shantanu & Nikhil, to name a few, and has received phenomenal response since its launch.
Two countries, one taste
Ace Delhi-based designer Ritu Kumar, who is a known name in Pakistan's fashion circuits and was one of the first to retail her collections there, puts things into perspective: "The cultural aesthetics of both nations are similar; we share a common historic tradition. Indian designers, hence, have a demand for the traditional side of their lines in Pakistan. I have sold there for at least 20 years now." Though the designer has a franchise in Karachi, she is looking towards expanding her presence in cities like Lahore and Islamabad, as well.
The interiors of Karmik in Lahore that stocks collections of many Indian designers
While Indian designers have woken up to the market potential of Pakistan, people across the border feel that this trade relationship can also help in blurring barriers between the two countries.
"Fashion like other forms of art is a non-political language and an easy way to eliminate barriers. It can work as a strong means to bring the two countries together. Pakistan is a robust market for India, since it is a growing retail market. Also, Bollywood influence is huge here, so people wish to wear those designs," informs Karachi-based fashion designer Huma Adnan. She informs that embroideries like Chikankari and Gara as well as traditional prints like Bandhni are very famous in Pakistan.
Adnan, who is part of Pakistan's stardust culture, brings to notice that she has often noticed socialites in Pakistan sporting ensembles by Tarun Tahiliani, Ritu Kumar, Satya Paul and the current flavour of the season, Sabyasachi Mukherjee. "Generally, people like wearing Indian designers at weddings.
Personally, I like Sabyasachi," shares the designer, who has showcased her collection in India, a number of times.
Sabyasachi's vintage-inspired designs has been catching the eye of Pakistanis
Vintage and all things Bollywood
Throwing light on Mukherjee's growing popularity in Pakistan, Senior Karachi-based fashion writer Aamna Haider Isani decodes the reasons for this inclination, "There's a huge interest in Sabyasachi Mukherjee because of his eclectic style and old-world aesthetic. The vintage and classic Indian appeal is of interest to us — more than Westernised trends. As for Sabyasachi, his Bollywood connection and global recognition both add to his appeal."
Elaborating further on other aspects of Indian design that appeal to Pakistanis, Isani states, "Pakistan's fashion-conscious love Indian sarees because of their authenticity. We often joke about how (still) Pakistanis cannot cut a saree blouse and Indians cannot cut a shalwar!"
A blue and white angrakha from designer Rohit Bal's collection is an ethnic choice available in Lahore
Competition to break complacency
Taking the conversation to a serious level, Isani comments that she would love to see more Indian brands coming to Pakistan, not only for the creative liberation that they offer, but also to jolt Pakistani designers out of complacency. "Like the import and screening of Indian films, I feel Indian fashion can serve as healthy competition here. It is important for official franchises of brands like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Manish Arora and Rohit Bal to open here and likewise, for brands like Khaadi, Sana Safinaz, Shehla Chatoor and Sania Maskatiya, etc, to open in India. Multi-retail stores stocking capsule collections were a good beginning but the equation has to evolve now," she suggests.
"I would love to design all the women in Pakistan. Also, I feel that they need a change of fashion. Since, their dressing can be conservative and their styling hasn't changed a lot in all these years. Indian designs can bring in new and contemporary cuts and silhouettes to their ensembles."
— Anita Dongre, fashion designer