When you hear of a sale on branded or designer clothes, and if it’s on for just one day, you know it’s going to be crazy.
So when I found out the annual Bargain Basement Sale for charity was taking place in Lahore this weekend and that there’d be a flat 50% off on items donated by over 200 fashion and lifestyle brands, pictures began to form in my head of pushing and shoving, snatching, women running around with bundles of clothes in their hands – as has been witnessed at a couple of sales previously.
Even though the sale was to start as early as 11am on a Sunday (criminal, I tell you), I thought I’d just go check out what it’s all about, and see if I can also get my hands on some cool designer wear.
As soon as I entered the enormous Golden Pearl hall of Faletti’s Hotel, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Or not.
Hundreds of people – mostly women, racks and racks of all kinds of clothes in the centre: from bridal wear, prêt and high-end couture to kids wear and menswear, some accessories and shoes and, of course, a food corner; several payment counters lined the walls. Women – mostly organisers – all set with their blow-dries and make-up and their fresh-out-of-a-salon look.
Boy, were people spending money! By the time I showed up a lot of stuff had flown off the rack, but pieces still awaiting customers were Ayesha Farooq Hashwani gowns priced at Rs12,000, an HSY semi-formal black and gold jora for Rs19,000, and a few bridal joras priced at around Rs250,000.
I thought being half an hour into the event I won’t be late much. I was wrong; I found out many shopaholics had started queuing up outside the hall before the doors had opened and as soon as the clock struck 11, they rushed in, shopped for hundreds and thousands of rupees and left.
Confused about where to start, I walked straight ahead into the middle of the hall, and bumped into the menswear section. I found some semi-formal jackets and shorts by Republic, a few kurtas and waistcoats by Munib Nawaz and a couple of jackets by brands I hadn’t heard of. Barely anything for men.
Disappointed, I started looking around to see what other brands and designers had donated.
Prêt wear was overflowing – there was SO much of it! From Coco by Zara Shahjahan to Origins to Adnan Pardesy to Ayesha Somaya, Quiz, Boho to Generation and what not. You name it and it was there, and tops/tunics at almost throwaway prices of Rs1,000 to Rs2,000 max. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on their favourite brands/designers at half their original price?
And while browsing these racks I heard someone ringing a bell and simultaneously blowing a whistle. Some music started playing immediately and all the volunteers began clapping along with the tune. Looked fun, but what it meant amazed me a bit.
Every time this happened, it meant that someone had shopped for Rs100,000 or above. And guess what? This routine happened way too many times during my stay of almost three hours. It’s great that they generated a lot of money that’s going to be donated to various charities. But boy! Do people spend here or what?
Moving on, I located the couture and bridal section where I heard the most bells ring, and in a matter of time most of the pieces there were gone.
Mind you, they were the highly priced – even after discounts – Élans and Faraz Manans that flew off the racks in no time. Some pieces still awaiting customers were Ayesha Farook Hashwani gowns (Rs12,000), an HSY semi-formal black and gold jora for Rs19,000, stunning Sara Rohale Asghar, Nomi Ansari and Rana Noman bridals priced around Rs250,000 among other designers.
This section elicited the most response from women of all ages. I was told by a lady manning a rack that most buyers were girls shopping for their weddings or women for their daughters’ weddings, hence the constant bell-ringing.
By the way, these were all first hand, not hand-me-downs. And 50% off on the best of designer wear in this country is a blessing for some, while others have no problem paying the original price.
Located right next to this enclosure was the ‘Vintage Section’. This was an interesting corner featuring pre-owned new as well as slightly worn international and local designer items – shoes to evening gowns to sunglasses to totes – from Loubs to Choos to Bottegas to YSLs to our very own Faiza Samee, Ritu Kumar, HSY etc.
Some pieces I spotted included a YSL bag for Rs50,000, unused studded and platform Louboutins Rs30,000 each, a Jimmy Choo pair of heels for Rs8,000, Bottega Veneta flats Rs5,000, a slinky Ritu Kumar gown Rs1,000, Escada dress Rs25,000, Valentino bag Rs20,000, Sophia Webster slippers and a Gucci watch. Phew!
Meesha Shafi had also donated a pre-owned black and gold mehdi formal priced at Rs8,000, while Ali Zafar had donated a couple of jackets and a kurta from Amir Adnan priced around Rs5,000 to Rs6,000. Shoes, I’m guessing, weren’t as popular because of the size issue.
There were also a raffle and an auction going on simultaneously so I had my eyes on the sale items and ears open for any announcements in case I won something: names were being announced and prizes distributed which included discounted spa treatments, restaurant vouchers, movie tickets and so much more. Some of the items displayed at auction were a Bunto jora, a painting by Shazly Khan, and a cricket ball and jersey signed by Waseem Akram.
Then there were some cute accessories by Accessorize, Time and Jewellery, Toy Watch and jewelery pieces by Jewels by Saira, Amrapali, Manko to name a few.
I witnessed a similar trend here as at the couture section; women buying for daughters’ upcoming weddings and girls getting ready for their weddings. I also overheard a woman asking one of the organisers why they had displayed Amrapali, an Indian brand, and that they shouldn’t have. Sigh, so much for charity!
At the other end of the hall were ‘homely’ pieces: furniture, bed linen, cutlery etc. And never did I think these stalls would attract a lot of crowd, but was I wrong!
More than half of the furniture had been sold out in just half an hour, ceramics were flying off the tables, bed sheets/towels barely any left. As one woman behind a counter put it: "They’re literally waiting to fill their homes with stuff." Women were carrying heaps of bags to the counters, and their purchases were queued behind them as they stood at the counter to pay.
My favourite area was the food corner where a relatively new bakery, Pink Pistachio, had set up a stall.
But their’s was probably the most crowded section after clothes; there was no space to even look at what they had to offer. Their stuff was just flying out (or into tummies): cake slices, pastries, cupcakes, mini pizzas, quiche, assorted bread, brownies and so much more. I feel terrible I couldn’t get my hands on anything but a cup of black coffee. Boxes and boxes of their goodies were – deservedly -- going out to those manning counters since morning, like I heard one woman saying: "Can’t help it; all of them have to be fed."
After over three rounds of the entire venue, I decided to call it a day. I could only take so much of so many people. The more I heard those bells ring, the more I felt glad that all the money collected would be spent to help someone in need. Here's how one shopper expressed her views on the sale: "What’s 50% off for those who willingly pay original prices? It’s a bonus for them. They’re spending the same amount for maybe, two or three products here."
Unfortunately, I left empty-handed; there was nothing worth buying from the menswear rack.
All photos by author.