The house that HSY built: How the celebrity designer juggles fashion, TV and his star persona
Trust HSY to launch into a new city in a grand way. HSY the designer — Shero, the celebrity — has always been larger-than-life, easily flitting from his many avatars of rockstar designer, ace choreographer, garrulous talk show host or simply, glamorous showman.
His ‘World of HSY’ is an enchanting one; resplendent with the shimmer of crystals and sequins, glistening with bright lights and colour, replete with drama, celebrities and sheer joie de vivre. It is this love for glamour, in heavy, unadulterated doses, that he brings to his new quarters in Karachi: a glorious, reconstructed mansion near Karachi’s Mohatta Palace.
A gilded lion roars at the door — for he is fashion’s sher — leading to chandeliered rooms, spiraling staircases, vintage-tiled floors, sun-dappled rooms lined with windows and walls bordered with images of Shero’s career milestones.
“This is my way of making visitors feel special,” he smiles. “I’m not just welcoming them to my workplace, I am inviting them into my home. We’re planning to set up tables in the courtyard where, once every week, we’re going to host afternoon tea. People can drift in and sit with their friends, roam about the studio and try clothes on. The photographs on the walls are by Alee Hassan but later on, I want to make this space available for exhibits of photography, jewellery, art or even furniture.”
From Lahore to Karachi
Shero’s full of ideas, plans and characteristic exuberance. “I’m living my dream,” he says.
“There was a time in my life when I was blinded in a car accident. My face had to be reconstructed through multiple surgeries and I lost all my hair because I had to take strong medication. From that difficult time in my teens to now, I consider myself incredibly fortunate. I am on a perpetual drive to set new boundaries and I never let criticism get me down. This year is going to be an exciting one and I’m looking forward to it.”
“There was a time in my life when I was blinded in a car accident. From that difficult time in my teens to now, I consider myself incredibly fortunate. I am on a perpetual drive to set new boundaries and I never let criticism get me down," says the designer.
His work is just about to be seen at a Hollywood red carpet affair and in Pakistan, his retail dreams are already underway.
“We launch our first retail store at Dolmen City Mall in Karachi around April, timed with our fashion showcase at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week. The collection will simultaneously become available at our store in Lahore, at the new store in Karachi as well as at this mansion.”
Why bother with setting up an entire mansion when he could have just made waves with a store in the city’s most popular — and most expensive — mall?
“It is expensive,” he agrees, “and setting up this mansion has been a labor of love. It’s more than a hundred years old and it was in shambles when I came to it more than a year ago. It’s been difficult resurrecting it back to its former glory but this is the kind of space that defines my brand. It is luxurious and classically beautiful and it creates an aura that ultimately leads to higher retail sales.
“The store in Dolmen City will stock the HSY Limited line which begins at Rs2,500 and primarily features cotton and silk tunics for working women, our ready-to-wear light formals priced between Rs10,000 and Rs25,000 and luxury-wear priced above Rs25,000. Anybody who wants our heavily-embellished pieces will be able to take an appointment via the store for the mansion.”
For a designer who is constantly ricocheting between Lahore and Karachi, this market expansion makes long-overdue logistic sense. Shero spends days on end recording his TV talk show in Karachi, which is now in its third season. At other times, he is flying in to choreograph shows or even take part in the occasional fashion week.
As fashion’s self-professed ‘couture king’ — and a popular designer — it was about time that he extended his market beyond his home-base in Lahore by dabbling into other, equally lucrative markets.
“I have always had a strong clientele in Karachi,” points out Shero. “Many of them fly in to place orders at my Lahore studio and they follow my fashion week showcases. Also, the TV show has made me a household name and improved upon my brand’s popularity. But yes, it was certainly time for me to set up store in Karachi. I intend to follow it up with more expansion in the future and a greater focus on building my brand. This probably means that I will choreograph fewer shows although I do plan to continue on with my TV show.”
His TV show has been building a considerable audience but is simultaneously criticised for being a Koffee with Karan spin-off. Does he agree? “Any talk show that is mostly in English will seem similar to Koffee with Karan,” he argues. “But I think that Tonite with HSY has an edge of its very own and its popularity is testament to it.”
Talking about his successful career as a choreographer Sheru says: “I do feel that shows are being over-styled now. The elaborate accessories and hairstyles actually take away the limelight from the designs."
Moving on to his choreographic talents, it would be a pity if he retired from the field altogether. Shero, at the helm of a fashion week, brings an unmistakable energy to the catwalk as he spins and rolls it to his tune. He has hitherto always professed that he is easily able to waltz the balancing act between choreography, design and his TV show. Why the sudden change of heart?
“Whenever I do something, I plunge into it wholeheartedly and have to do a fantastic job. I just need to invest more time into my brand but having worked as a choreographer for the past 22 years, I don’t think I’ll ever leave it altogether.”
With fashion slipping into a repetitive rut, does he feel the ennui slipping in while he choreographs umpteen shows?
“I don’t usually even look at the clothes because I am so occupied with organising the shows,” says Shero. “I do feel that shows are being over-styled now. The elaborate accessories and hairstyles actually take away the limelight from the designs.”
In contrast, accessories were kept to a minimum at Shero’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ showcase at October’s PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week. Was the line-up well-received by his clientele considering that it had him leaning towards anglicised silhouettes whereas traditional wedding wear has always been his USP?
“People appreciated it but they really took notice of it when I tweaked it into traditional wear for my show at the recent Telenor Bridal Couture Week. Girls want to look traditionally beautiful at weddings, it’s as simple as that,” he observes.
Does he feel that by pandering to traditional market-friendly silhouettes, he allows his brand to meander towards the boring?
“I do think that fashion, in general, is getting repetitive with far too much emphasis on economics. Having said that, with my own brand, I stick to my DNA and manage to evolve within it. I do feel that backless gowns and slinky cholis don’t hold much significance beyond the catwalk. But it is possible to create design that is fashion-forward while simultaneously marketable.”
A deep blue floor-length ensemble with a matching sequined jacket caught actress Brooke Shields’ attention and had her agents placing an order at the HSY design studio.
It was a gown, though — a deep blue floor-length ensemble with a matching sequined jacket worn by Cybil at the Lux Style Awards in 2014 — that caught actress Brooke Shields’ attention and had her agents placing an order at the HSY design studio.
“She’s going to be wearing it during the awards season,” says Shero. “I will be flying out to her for the final fittings. I think that Brooke Shields emulates my brand well because I usually design for the adult woman. Also, I think this is going to be a great red carpet statement, equating Pakistan with fashion and craftsmanship, overlooking cultural and religious prejudices.”
It will, of course, showcase the oft-ignored glamorous side to Pakistan and who better to put it forward than HSY? It’s what he does best … at star-studded red carpets, backstage at fashion weeks, on TV, at the LSAs or now, holding court in his glorious new mansion. Karachi today, Hollywood tomorrow — where next, HSY?
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 17th, 2016