The Sapphire-Elan venture: Hope for a trendier Pakistan

Nabeel Abdullah, Director at Sapphire with Creative Head Khadija Shah.  - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din.

In the grand scheme of creating ready-to-wear for the local market, Pakistani fashion is growing with leaps and bounds – but it is also, occasionally, floundering. Sadly, brands that one had once admired have lately started resorting to the tacky rather than the stylishly minimalistic, the run-of-the-mill as opposed to the out-of-the-box, a mish-mash of print meets embroidery meets boring, baggy silhouette that may please the average woman but is in no way fashionable.

The just-opened Sapphire store at the throbbing Dolmen City in Karachi then, comes as a refreshing change. Sapphire has simply, perceptively, merged its prowess in manufacturing quality fabric with the creative talents of designer Khadijah Shah. The resultant line of stitched and unstitched fabric is crisp, pretty, utterly wearable and absolutely affordable. What makes Sapphire unique is their reasonable prices, even with the head of a huge designer house on board. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din. One sees smatterings of Khadijah’s ‘Elan’ aesthetics in the apparel – although the luxe brand can hardly be available at such mass-friendly prices! Prices at the Sapphire store begin at Rs 2,200 for

stitched tunics, staying well below Rs 10,000 even for the digitally printed silk. There’s a capsule line of men’s kurtas and stitched embellished formals flitting about the Rs 40,000 mark. Sapphire also offers formals as well as menswear. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din. Aside from the miraculous prices, Sapphire has actually managed to refrain from pretending to be a Khaadi, that kingpin of mass-retail that has set new precedents in local fashion. Khadijah’s aesthetics are very much her own and her absolute knack for print reflects in the designs. With buttons, tassels and embroidered detailings, she delves into a mélange of conventional florals and geometrics as well as fun prints of vases, architectural outlines, stripes and some very Elan-like flocks of butterflies. Models display the designs at the launch.- Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din. “I love playing with print,” declares Khadijah whose annual Elan designer lawn is hugely popular. “I could come up with five to six designs simply before I go to sleep!” The silhouettes mostly teeter about the knee and are straight and slim keeping the ongoing winter season in mind. “I focused on tapered shirts because one inevitably wraps a shawl or wears a jacket in the winter. Voluminous shirts wouldn’t have made sense.”  Amna Babar, Hira Tareen and Sana Ansari all clad in Sapphire. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din. There are no quirky cutting-edge cuts, though – it’s a shop very specifically targeted towards the mass market. And judging from the clustered, cacophonic throngs of women that gravitated towards the shop during its opening weekend, Sapphire’s well on its way to becoming a hit. From the opening day, when sizes of certain designs ran out to the next day, when shoppers began milling about from morning on, the unique diaspora that makes up Karachi seem to like Sapphire’s offerings. One spotted women in veils, young college-going girls, middle-aged aficionados, regular working women and glimpses of the ‘fashionable set’, all stocking up on their winter wardrobe. Women from all sphere's of life will find something worthy in Sapphire's new collection. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din.

Nabeel Abdullah, Director at Sapphire with Creative Head Khadija Shah. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din.

In the grand scheme of creating ready-to-wear for the local market, Pakistani fashion is growing with leaps and bounds – but it is also, occasionally, floundering. Sadly, brands that one had once admired have lately started resorting to the tacky rather than the stylishly minimalistic, the run-of-the-mill as opposed to the out-of-the-box, a mish-mash of print meets embroidery meets boring, baggy silhouette that may please the average woman but is in no way fashionable.

The just-opened Sapphire store at the throbbing Dolmen City in Karachi then, comes as a refreshing change. Sapphire has simply, perceptively, merged its prowess in manufacturing quality fabric with the creative talents of designer Khadijah Shah. The resultant line of stitched and unstitched fabric is crisp, pretty, utterly wearable and absolutely affordable.

What makes Sapphire unique is their reasonable prices, even with the head of a huge designer house on board. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din.

One sees smatterings of Khadijah’s ‘Elan’ aesthetics in the apparel – although the luxe brand can hardly be available at such mass-friendly prices! Prices at the Sapphire store begin at Rs 2,200 for stitched tunics, staying well below Rs 10,000 even for the digitally printed silk. There’s a capsule line of men’s kurtas and stitched embellished formals flitting about the Rs 40,000 mark.

Sapphire also offers formals as well as menswear. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din.

Aside from the miraculous prices, Sapphire has actually managed to refrain from pretending to be a Khaadi, that kingpin of mass-retail that has set new precedents in local fashion. Khadijah’s aesthetics are very much her own and her absolute knack for print reflects in the designs. With buttons, tassels and embroidered detailings, she delves into a mélange of conventional florals and geometrics as well as fun prints of vases, architectural outlines, stripes and some very Elan-like flocks of butterflies.

Models display the designs at the launch.- Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din.

“I love playing with print,” declares Khadijah whose annual Elan designer lawn is hugely popular. “I could come up with five to six designs simply before I go to sleep!” The silhouettes mostly teeter about the knee and are straight and slim keeping the ongoing winter season in mind. “I focused on tapered shirts because one inevitably wraps a shawl or wears a jacket in the winter. Voluminous shirts wouldn’t have made sense.”

Amna Babar, Hira Tareen and Sana Ansari all clad in Sapphire. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din.

There are no quirky cutting-edge cuts, though – it’s a shop very specifically targeted towards the mass market. And judging from the clustered, cacophonic throngs of women that gravitated towards the shop during its opening weekend, Sapphire’s well on its way to becoming a hit. From the opening day, when sizes of certain designs ran out to the next day, when shoppers began milling about from morning on, the unique diaspora that makes up Karachi seem to like Sapphire’s offerings. One spotted women in veils, young college-going girls, middle-aged aficionados, regular working women and glimpses of the ‘fashionable set’, all stocking up on their winter wardrobe.

Women from all sphere's of life will find something worthy in Sapphire's new collection. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din.

“We want women from all age-groups and stratas of society to want to wear our clothes,” agrees Nabeel Abdullah, Director at Sapphire. “Khadijah, as our Creative Head, has the experience and understanding to know exactly what works.”

One recalls Sania Maskatiya creating a similar capsule prêt line when she collaborated with Sapphire to bring out her lawn last year. Why, then, did Sapphire opt for Khadijah to spearhead their entry into ready-to-wear? “We share a great relationship with Sania but taking Khadijah on-board was logistically more convenient,” explains Naveed. “Sania is based in Karachi while Khadijah lives in Lahore, where we have our manufacturing units. We’ll be bringing out new designs on a weekly basis and it would have had been difficult to coordinate with a designer living in another city.” Khadija Shah poses with guests and models at the launch. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din. It’s a game-plan that so many other mills desperately need to follow, collaborating with a designer to create trendy prêt for them. Nishat Linen has beautiful prints, created by Maheen Khan, but their ready-to-wear hardly ever catches the eye. Gul Ahmed’s unstitched fabric gets lost in translation when converted to stitched garments. Bonanza’s ‘Satrangi’ may have nailed the market with its price-points - beginning at a mere Rs 1800! – but the all-important fashion quotient is clearly missing in the garments. One wishes the brand would have continued collaborating with Maheen Karim and Sanam Chaudhri for limited edition ready-to-wear lines.  The swanky store also stocks statement jewelry. - Photo courtesy: Kashif-ud-Din. Coming back to Sapphire, the brand plans to expand ‘step by step’, streamlining manufacturing even as it gears to open its next store in Lahore early next year. It remains to be seen how Khadijah will master the balancing act of catering to her responsibilities at Sapphire while also creating seasonal collections for the many lines that fall under the Elan umbrella: luxury-wear, bridals, the affordable Elan Vital and unstitched lawn. For the sake of dressing a swankier, trendier Pakistan, one hopes that this designer-mill collaboration is in for the long haul.

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