In Wardha Saleem’s just-launched store in Karachi, there’s a digital floral print that seems conventionally pretty until you see the unusual skulls interspersed between the filigree.
As a designer, Wardha has always been at her best when she’s having fun, playing with textile, color and indigenous inspiration. She translates this ethos to her first flagship store with quintessential flair.
Tribute to the roots
The essence of Wardha’s native rural Sindh comes alive as you step through old doors, revamped and painted brilliant yellow and pink, and walk over refurbished Hyderabadi tiles.
There are vintage Victorian grills fitted onto door-frames and vestiges of old furniture collated from Wardha’s family home in Hyderabad: a cupboard posing as a showcase shelf for unstitched cloth and old chairs rendered new with bright pink paint and dotted upholstery embroidered with quirky parrots.
Taking center stage in the store are Wardha’s signature birds, in bright pink, hanging down the ceiling, signifying the ‘freedom to design,’ according to the designer.
The right time and space
Better late than never. Wardha Saleem has grown from strength to strength from when she first started out seven years ago.
She is a mainstay at fashion weeks, figures prominently on social media with regular seasonal collections and as CEO of the Fashion Pakistan Council, is responsible for steering the Karachi-based council onwards. It is only now, though, that the designer has stepped up her game with a flagship standpoint that will smoothen and, hopefully, accelerate the transition from ramp to retail.
The interior may have been designed by Ali Asghar Alavi but it resonates absolutely with Wardha’s design philosophy: colorful, bright, artistic.
“It has taken us two years to create this store,” says Nubain Ali, Wardha’s brother and CEO of the design house, speaking of flea-market sojourns and extensive trips to Hyderabad, Shikarpur and Karachi’s Bori Bazaar. “We wanted to create a space that was unique to our brand.”
More than the décor, though, the designs at the store pay homage to Wardha’s journey.
Peacocks flit about, lotuses unfold in kaleidoscopic glory, sparrows merge with filigree on chikan fabric, Sindhi folklore intersperses with frivolous doodles, Madhubani figures stand poised to dance and block-printed paisleys mingle with ralli created by artisans in Tando Mohammad Khan.
What's in store
The prêt and luxury-wear catches the eye more often than bridals. Wardha’s forte has always lain in marrying tradition with the vivaciously modern and it resonates well in the kaftans, tunics, jumpsuits and laser-cut suede capes, high-points of Wardha’s showcase for Jafferjee’s earlier this year.
She has in fact, delivered quite a few catwalk hits over the years and while some stock, particularly the delicious capsule line of cotton tunics, is new, there is much else that is hardly hot-off-the-catwalk.
Still, at least the designer has now extended herself beyond exhibits and sporadic shelves at multi-labels. The stock at her store adroitly traverses the cotton boundaries of affordable prêt and extends on to the silken realms of luxury-pret and heavily embellished quarters of bridals and trousseau.
Prices are very competitive; cotton tunic rates begin at Rs 3500 and most evening-wear, as well as unstitched cotton-silk three-piece suits, falls below the Rs 20,000 mark.
Bridal-wear is ostensibly a market in which Wardha wants to delve deeper; last year she showed her ‘Madhubani’ line at Lahore’s PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week and the upcoming Telenor Fashion Pakistan Week (TFPW) in Karachi will, once again, feature her heavy formal designs.
The bridal and trousseau at the store displays Wardha’s forte with color most prominently. Once again, prices are comparatively affordable; a stitched three-piece formal is priced at Rs 180000 and there are lighter designs that veer towards lower prices.
“I want to draw in customers with reasonable prices so that the store quickly gains a stronghold over the market,” explains Wardha.
Why not, then, open in a well-crowded mall as opposed to a standalone store which, no matter how lovely, is not as convenient to find?
“I wanted my first store to emulate my brand,” she says. “Anybody who walks in here is immediately aware of my design aesthetics. We couldn’t have been as inventive with a generic store placed in a mall. Beyond a store, this is also a work-space. This is where Nubain and I have our offices and meeting room. It’s where I will be meeting clients for customized evening-wear and bridal orders. We do want to open in a mall eventually. This is just the first step,” she promises.
But even while she basks in the success of her launch – attended by a considerable smattering of Karachi’s fashion heavyweights and media figures – Wardha has much, much more to do.
The TFPW, originally taking place this month, has now been delayed to a date in late November. As CEO, Wardha’s schedule is about to run amok with rehearsals, overseeing other designers’ collections as well as fine-tuning her own.
“The fashion week got delayed because it was clashing with far too many other events,” she says. “We wanted to do it properly, when all the models and designers were available. We have a very good designer line-up and hopefully, it’s going to be a great show.”
Better late than never applies to TFPW also, then, in that case. And what Wardha shows on the catwalk will now be available easily at her flagship store. It’s good to see her step into retail.