Elements of elegant couture

Meet Maheen Khan, one of the bespoke fashion powerhouses of ladies wear in Pakistan



by

Nisthula Nagarajan

Published: Sat 14 Aug 2021, 12:00 AM

Since the tender age of three, Maheen Khan has always loved dressing up. It seemed natural for her to move into bespoke tailoring soon after her marriage. It was the year 1965, when she, along with her family, moved to Lahore where she soon realised that it was either “work or wither away in boredom”. Thus, her tailoring salon ‘The Seamstress’ was born and was a huge success. She says that for the demimonde of Lahore, it was a novel experience.

“The 15 years of experience I had in cutting and styling were and still are my strengths. I developed my third eye that saw beauty where no one else would or could,” Khan muses.

She launched her first boutique in Karachi in 1980 with Capri pants and stylish Western-style shirts. The entire collection sold out quickly, but that was just the beginning.

 

“Fabric has its own language. You just have to learn to listen and pick up what you need. The language of fabric has to be mastered before you even pick up your pen to sketch or your scissors to cut.”

A woman in Maheen Khan stands out in a crowded room, looking confident, elegant and chic. In the end, one has to create their own style and women must have an inherent desire to be part of that essence.

Khan states that she is “a terrible businesswoman”. She feels that the fighter inside her is what keeps her motivated and going, carrying her passion with her to design endlessly. If asked at the beginning of her journey, she thought she would be retiring by this age but now she realises that she can go on seemingly forever. She is a true mark of the saying ‘If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’

In 2007, Khan noticed a demand for well-designed and perfectly finished couture with an international flavour in the market. Her answer to this was her Gulabo line launched in the same year. Unintentionally, she had made a great business decision as this was the line that would carry Khan through the challenging Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Speaking on her inspiration, Khan says, “I am always in search of beauty, of the balance and scale in a garment. The most difficult lesson for any creative is to learn when to stop. Delete is possibly my favourite word after create.”

She likens fashion design to ballet. Like the delicate dance form, a designer always has to be on their toes, graceful, precise and beautifully balanced. “Each piece and performance has to have your special signature — how else will the world recognise you?”

Talking about the global demand for Pakistani couture, Khan says she has noticed a growing clientele for Pakistani designers, especially in modest fashion. The Middle East, Great Britain, the USA, Singapore and India are all huge markets. During her tour of Pakistan with her husband in 2019, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge wore one of Khan’s designs that created waves and, to this day, Khan still gets orders for it. The Duchess also wore a shawl and pair of trousers by Khan during the tour.

The fashion industry has had it tough due to Covid-19. The top and bottom end of the market have weathered the change but those in between have suffered. Many smaller and emerging brands were not able to sustain their businesses.

“Fashion houses need to keep the imagery alive through virtual shows. We have a captive audience of women all over the world who are trapped in their homes. It is a breath of fresh air from the outside world. In my opinion, virtual shows cannot save a business but can keep the memory of a brand alive,” says Khan.

During the past year, Khan’s label has donated 2,000 masks to Indus Hospital in Pakistan, which provides free treatment. The Gulabo line has now evolved to loungewear, which has been successful along with printed items. And now, after 50 years, Khan is finally ready to launch a bridal line.

On her plans from here on out she smiles, “Fashion is the wind of change specific to an area but inspired by winds everywhere, who knows where my winds will blow.”


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