There is a small statue of a markhor in a corner, emulating Ali’s logo, which features a ‘K’, beset by two markhors and a chakor — the family name melded with patriotic emblems.
There is a small statue of a markhor in a corner, emulating Ali’s logo, which features a ‘K’, beset by two markhors and a chakor — the family name melded with patriotic emblems.

An unassuming store in Karachi’s KDA area declares ‘Kazmi Menswear’.

It’s an exterior that belies the classy sartorial choices that lie within — well-conceived, stylish, a rarity in the erstwhile market for tailored menswear.

One would have expected the son of acclaimed couturier Bunto Kazmi to open his first menswear store with hype, hoopla and tall claims. Instead, Ali Kazmi chose to slip into retail very quietly a month and a half ago, letting the designs do the talking and word of mouth build publicity.

In today’s world of social media, drum-beating and paid reviews, it is a strategy that is something of an anomaly. One wouldn’t recommend it, except that it may just manage to work for Ali. There is a certain finesse to his work that one doesn’t see in the motley crew of menswear brands fumbling their way through the local market.

The random fashion-blinded dandy may get enamoured by Bollywood-like multi-colours and kurtas teemed with dupattas but Ali is designing for the true savants instead — and given the dearth of options in the market, they are bound to stumble into his shop sooner or later.

The atelier is small but stylish — the floor is a glossy black and white parquet, the chairs have leather finishes, the walls are in shades of wooden burgundy and all around, there are framed images of fashion icons through history: maharajas and politicos giving their nod of approval to this burgeoning business. There is a small statue of a markhor in a corner, emulating Ali’s logo, which features a ‘K’, beset by two markhors and a chakor — the family name melded with patriotic emblems.

On the clothing racks, you are particularly swept by sleek sherwanis, dealt with a side-order of kurtas, waistcoats, blazers and men’s shirts. The choices are clean and refined although very limited — for Ali has just started out and is primarily creating clothes on order right now — but what you see is menswear the way it should be, the way it hardly ever is.

The random fashion-blinded dandy may get enamoured by Bollywood-like multi-colours and kurtas teemed with dupattas but Ali is designing for the true savants instead — and given the dearth of options in the market, they are bound to stumble into his shop sooner or later.

A few turquoise and pink kurtas are hidden away in the back — they have been created specifically for clients and don’t really emulate Ali’s ethos. Instead, the eye is drawn to meticulous old-school sherwanis in pristine white, ivory and beige. A selection of waistcoats hang to one side, the blazers have sleek, precise lapels and there is a smattering of stiff-collared kurtas that can be bought off-the-rack. The shoulder pads have been imported and so is the fabric, predominantly linen and cotton from Italy.

There is also pure jamawar, brocade and karandi, procured locally. “I tried using local latha for the kurtas but the white would get tinged with a slight pink or blue after a few washes,” explains Ali, “and to me, the quality of the fabric I use is extremely important. Italian fabric is breathable and lightweight and it works well with our weather.”

Quite in contrast to his mother, who is famous for her passion for delicate embroideries, Ali believes that tailoring is the most important aspect of the best menswear. The embroidery is sparse — a tiny logo here and there or a sliver of thread-work around the neckline. Instead, there are buttons, selected carefully: made of mother-of-pearl or horn, again, imported from Italy.

“I want men to come into this store and appreciate the subtleties in the design, the way a pocket is placed, the buttons, how the collar stays stiff and a sherwani will never split open down the middle when the wearer sits down,” says Ali. “I believe that this is my brand’s forte and it will appeal to men who have hitherto had no choice but to buy their shirts from abroad.”

Although there are plans to launch an economically-priced machine-made line as the business grows, bespoke apparel has the option of being constructed the traditional way, over a horse-hair canvas. “The canvas forms a layer under the fabric and it makes the garment more supple, taking on the shape of the wearer’s body over time. It allows the clothes to be worn for longer, simply because they don’t get deformed and the fit is exceptional,” says Ali.

The attention to detail and fit is refreshing, especially in a sphere where even established menswear labels are unable to understand sizing and men’s fashion is showcased in unfathomable neons and effeminate embroideries. The sartorial options for men purported in local fashion, in fact, often fail to make much sense on the catwalk, let alone appeal in daily life.

Ali Kazmi has just started out. He’s catering to a niche market and it remains to be seen whether he’ll manage to harness the colossal requirements of retail. One also wonders if in this age of advertising, his subtle ways will last in the long haul.

His mother has long been setting benchmarks for bona fide bridal design and craft; maybe he’ll manage to do the same for menswear, somewhere along the line.


Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 30th, 2016

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