As a nation, we are smitten with Bollywood; the masala, song, dance and larger-than-life stars. There are movies that we know by heart, actors we love and songs that we hum all the time … Indian cinema has entranced us for generations, not exactly our own, but never really alien, speaking our language and singing our songs.
It is this cinematic obsession that Indian brand DIVA’NI is banking upon as it prepares to open its first international flagship couture store in Lahore this month. Launched by Yash Raj Films and the Karol Bagh Sari House (KBSH) Private Limited back in 2013, it is a fashion-house specializing in cinema-inspired wardrobes, a concept that is bound to enamour a considerable clientele.
Think back to trends that have often gone insanely viral across the frontier: the lehngas in Karan Johar’s extravaganzas, Yash Chopra’s slinky, elegant takes on saris, Deepika Padukone’s midriff-baring cholis, right down to oddities like clasping sunglasses down the back of shirts a la Salman Khan in Dabangg or a cap declaring ‘Captain’ sported by a young Aamir Khan and getting hugely popular. These are all statements that we’ve seen walking down our streets or asked our befuddled tailors to replicate.
Now, some of that fashion will be available to be purchased right off the rack or ordered all the way from India. In fact, there’s a chance that an intricate chikankari and banarsi lehnga worn by Anushka Sharma in the just-released hit Sultan is going to be in high demand soon. For those who’d rather wear the bona fide design as opposed to the copycat Liberty Market version, the lehnga was developed by DIVA’NI and variations of it are going to be stocked in the store.
“The store in Lahore is going to be our first international couture retail-point and we’re very serious about establishing ourselves in this market,” says Sanya Dhir, DIVA’NI’s Creative Director. “The initial collection that we’ll be bringing in is titled ‘Queen’s Ransom’ and as the name implies, it is very regal, taking inspiration from Mughal art and architecture and interpreting it in modern ways.”
Preceding their grand opening later this month, the brand recently hosted the launch of a coffee-table book titled A Queen’s Ransom alongside a special screening of Sultan earlier this weekend. A considerable number of Lahore’s glitterati were amongst the attendees, drawn in by their curiosity surrounding a Bollywood-inspired design house, Salman Khan’s all-pervasive popularity and an event timed cleverly in the midst of Eid holidays.
Of course, there is no denying that Indian fashion has definite market potential in Pakistan and vice versa. The aficionados amongst us diligently livestream Lakme Fashion Week while women across the border have a penchant for our lawn. Cross-border trade in fashion could be truly lucrative if it wasn’t for burdensome red-tape and a volatile political climate.
Furthermore, prices in Indian rupee, when converted to their Pakistani counterparts, are often too exorbitant for customers. It is, in comparison, much more viable to pick and choose from a burgeoning array of local ateliers that are getting increasingly business-savvy and, in some cases, fashion-forward day by day.
In the past, one has seen Indian stores like Karmik and Rubaaiyat enter the fray, only to fade out without leaving a mark. Meanwhile, Pakistani designers are yet to gain a foothold in India, earning limited revenues by sporadically stocking in multi-label stores or via small-scale ‘suitcase’ exhibits.
Sanya is well-aware of these impediments and has plans to tackle them head-on with intelligent pricing, a consistent supply chain and well-trained in-store staff. “Our prices will be similar to that of Pakistani embellished designer-wear and we will have trained design consultants in the store to deal with customers’ queries,” she outlines. “We’ve mixed in formals that can be purchased off-the-rack with bespoke designs that can be ordered and a smaller collection of formal couture titled DIVA’NI Man.
When it comes to wedding-wear, we know that many people like to get designs customized according to their requirements. They will simply have to discuss details with our consultant who will, then, communicate them to another consultant in India and the clothes will get made and then shipped off to Pakistan.”
This may turn out to be a logistically tricky situation but Sanya regards it as a “first step that someone had to take”. Some years ago, she gave a face-lift to her family-owned KBSH and now she’s ready to traverse the cross-border divide. She’s also got a partner who is well-acquainted with the Pakistani market; Shakil Zindani, the CEO of the very mass-centric Flitz fashion.
“I visited the DIVA’NI store in Delhi when I was there in 2014 for the Trade Development Authority Pakistan’s Aalishan Pakistan exhibit,” recalls Shakil. “They were having an event dedicated to Oudh royalty and I felt that the brand’s ethos would resonate very well with Pakistan. I went back home and started working out the import technicalities. We have selected Lahore for the store’s location simply because it is a bigger market, catering to surrounding cities like Multan, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.”
Will DIVA’NI’s designs be tweaked in order to appease the Pakistani consumer? “We won’t be changing our color palettes at all,” says Sanya. “I’ve observed that a lot of Pakistani designers like creating pastel formals but there would be nothing different about us if we were to follow suit. Also, sartorial sensibilities are more or less the same in Pakistan and India. Except for a few silhouettes, we haven’t had to change much.”
“We have always been very dedicated to promoting handcraft and art via film and most of our clothes are intricately created by craft clusters in Lucknow, Veranasi and Delhi. There are four verticals within the brand: retail, couture, in-film styling and celebrity wardrobe. What we stock in our stores - whether in Mumbai, Delhi or soon, in Lahore – may not be precisely what we have designed for a movie but all the designs have a definite Bollywood oomph and glamour. In essence, everything in our store personifies the belief of late Indian director Yash Chopra that the woman is the most beautiful being in the world and that he could beautify her even more with the right aesthetics.”
Thinking back to Yash Chopra’s most iconic hits, his heroine’s were always as gorgeous as his favorite scenic Swiss locales: a long haired, smoky-eyed Rekha, a svelte Sri Devi a la Chandni, Madhuri Dixit’s fitted shalwar kameezes and in the director’s last movie to release, an anglicized, glamorous Katrina Kaif.
“These are the kind of clothes we create at DIVA’NI,” emphasizes Sanya. Will the shop trundle into decline like its predecessors or will it turn out to be a hit? We’ll need to drift through DIVA’NI’s store in Lahore, set to open by the end of this month, before we pass our verdict!