Khadijah Shah at the launch of Sapphire in December 2014
Khadijah Shah at the launch of Sapphire in December 2014

All good things come to an end, especially partnerships between designers and investors.

Fashion is replete with instances when some of the world’s most illustrious designers have chosen to call it quits with labels that they had infused with creative energy: Raf Simons opting out from being creative director at Dior, Alexander Wang leaving Balenciaga in order to build his own label and the mercurial John Galliano getting ousted from Dior only to go on to create magic at Maison Margiela. Closer to home, we are likely to be adding Khadijah Shah’s departure from high-street brand Sapphire to this list.

The rumor mills have been busy for some time now. Khadijah Shah, as creative director of Sapphire, can be credited for having helmed the brand since its inception three years ago and industry insiders are now insisting that she is on the verge of leaving her position.

This will be no ordinary departure either.

Pretty prints galore at the Sapphire megastore in Lahore
Pretty prints galore at the Sapphire megastore in Lahore

While credit can be given to the parent Sapphire mill for having established fabric quality control, from its very inception Sapphire's aesthetics have resonated with those of Khadijah's. Design teams at labels may change from time to time, but Khadijah Shah had long been referring to the brand as her own.

Quirky, flippant touches would be noticeable in the prêt, the unstitched fabric hinted at the luxurious aesthetic that the designer employed with her personal couture label Elan, the accessories were standout and the recently launched ‘Home’ line boasted of classy minimalism as opposed to the mixed chutney of color churned out by other contenders.

Exotic fashion shoots were carried out for the unstitched fabric and even the décor of the Sapphire stores was distinctive: vibrant exteriors leading to extensive pristine, all white spaces with dashes of foliage and birds suspended mid-air.

It is no mean feat that Sapphire, still in its fledgling years, now stands out as a major player in the high street. The brand has glossy stories in mainstream malls in the country and its seasonal sales have become the stuff of legends, with women jostling over purchases and standing in never-ending long queues for hours.

“Sapphire just wants to be a mass brand and they think that they can achieve this just as well without Khadijah,” explains an insider who is currently working within the local high-street.

One remembers how, at the brand's launch, Khadijah had mentioned that she had suggested that the high-street label should have the same name as the mill that was backing it. The designer, in fact, often talked about her contributions to Sapphire with personal pride and a sense of ownership.

Perhaps that is where things went awry. Big mills and investors don’t tend to like it when others walk away with the credit. They like it even less when another earns some of their profit. It is a well-known fact that Khadijah is not an employee at Sapphire and is, instead, in partnership with the brand.

“Sapphire just wants to be a mass brand and they think that they can achieve this just as well without Khadijah,” explains an insider who is currently working within the local high-street.

Khadijah Shah refuses to comment on the topic although when asked, director of Sapphire, Nabeel Abdullah, made a revealing answer. “Khadijah is still at Sapphire because her contract persists. We will see what happens when her contract ends.”

Nabeel Qureshi, Director at Sapphire, with Creative Head Khadijah Shah
Nabeel Qureshi, Director at Sapphire, with Creative Head Khadijah Shah

Earlier, it was unthinkable for Sapphire to consider Khadijah’s departure. Now, based on Nabeel’s answer, the move seems to be imminent.

Of course, Sapphire is now a high street heavyweight and it can probably continue to haul in profits while being steered by a new creative director or design team. But not all designers have the vision or the design acumen that Khadijah Shah possesses. Not all designers can flit from couture to the high street with the same ease that Khadijah has in balancing her label Elan with the affordable prêt lines at Sapphire.

Sapphire has gone through its highs and lows but guided by a specific design philosophy, it has managed to build a fashion savvy image for itself. Most 'mass' pret brands in the market can't profess to have similar pull. Now, with major changes taking place, Sapphire has to make sure that it doesn’t trundle into generic waters. One is, of course, assuming all this based on an imminent split between Khadijah and Sapphire. According to rumors, both parties are sorting out legal issues before issuing official statements.

Sapphire’s new creative director has their work cut out for them.

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