So it seems the mall is no longer the ultimate fashion destination.
As the high street booms and inflates into a gargantuan digitally-printed monster, fashion designers are quietly sidling out of their shiny, chic little stores in malls.
Let the majority of people head out to malls and stand in long queues at high street stores where ready-to-wear prices begin at Rs 2000. The fashion purists, meanwhile, can seek out apparel in select stores, set up in key locations, and pay a little extra for bona fide designer wear.
No mall stores for Elan
Consider Maison Elan which opened its doors to Karachi this past weekend. Within a leafy alley in Old Clifton, Elan’s Khadijah Shah, jeweller Sherezad Rahimtoola and interiors brand Strata Spaces joined hands to bring a century old haveli back to life.
Displayed through the sunlit corridor and wide, spacious rooms was an eclectic mix: Sherezad’s timeless gold pieces, Elan’s heavily embellished wedding formals, edgy luxury-wear, dupattas and saris and cotton-based Elan Vital and statement furniture pieces by Yousuf Shahbaz: amidst others, a chandelier with multi-colored fish interspersed amidst the crystals, statement mirrors, chairs and a statuesque striped hybrid reindeer of sorts, with a pom-pom cheekily dangling from its side!
Though all three labels are vastly different, the collaborative space made sense. Sherezad Rahimtoola’s jewellery has long been visible in Elan’s shows while Yousuf Shahbaz has been creating interiors for Elan for some time now.
“We wanted people to walk in here and experience the different brands. That can’t happen in a store at a mall,” explains Khadijah Shah who flew in from Lahore for the store’s opening weekend.
“This building was originally in ruins and it’s actually great that now it has been preserved. The upper floor is still under construction, being converted into a bridal studio for Elan. Samples of all our wedding-wear designs will be on display there, available for ordering by clients. And the store, of course, will be open on a daily basis. We will also hopefully benefit from the footfall generated by customers who come in to look at one brand and end up buying from the others also.”
Sherezad Rahimtoola adds, “I am not a mall person because parking and finding your way to the store of your choice can be tedious. Maison Elan makes sense to me. Also, it’s uncanny that we chose this location and it was only later that I found out that it used to belong to my mother’s grandfather. It used to be their beach resort and was right by the sea at the time. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how everything has come full-circle like this.”
Are other designers going to follow suit?
Also shifting far from the mall-bound crowds is designer Maheen Khan, whose new eponymous store has opened up in Karachi’s Khyaban-e-Bukhari, an area that may as well become the next big hub for standalone designer stores.
The classy little white-washed store is stocked with the latest ‘Gulabo’ line; a heady mix of the hot-off-the-FPW-ramp ‘Liberation’ collection and the more minimal statement pieces that are mainstays within the brand.
Does this mean that Maheen will be closing down her store in Dolmen City Mall, which is located on the same floor as major high street players like Nishat Linen, Khaadi, Sapphire, Tarzz and Sana Safinaz? Caught up in price wars where mass production facilities enable retailers to give off colossal discounts, one assumes that Gulabo, with its niche production facilities, must find it difficult to survive.
“For now, the Dolmen City store will stay there but I am observing the footfall and looking into whether I want to continue it into the future,” says Maheen. “Gulabo has always been synonymous with quality stitching rather than mass production when means that the clothes have an edge but they are also pricier than those in the high street. But I am going to give it another six months."
Interestingly, Maheen – and Ayesha Hashwani – are the last ones standing in Dolmen City Mall while other designers have decided to forego paying the considerable store rentals and operate through their own standalone spaces. Over the past few months, designers Sania Maskatiya, Deepak Perwani and HSY have shut down their mall stores. The spaces have quickly been taken up by high-street brands like By The Way and Image Fabrics.
“A brand like ours is a destination that people especially set out for and it requires its own standalone space,” says HSY. “A mall like Dolmen City Mall is no longer a destination for fashion. When we set up shop there, we were told that we were being placed at a designer location only to find large retail stores opening up all around us. The customers who buy HSY simply don’t belong to a space like that. A luxury designer mall, though, still befits a fashion brand. In Lahore, my store is located at the Galleria Mall which also has stores of other fashion brands like Elan, Muse and Sana Safinaz.”
In Karachi, HSY will, for now, be operating via the Mansion, a palatial old-world haveli that the designer opened two years ago, where he meets bridal clients, holds exhibitions and throws some very memorable fashion parties.
But will high-priced designer wear, even when placed in tasteful individualistic stores, manage to match the popularity and profits reaped by ready-to-wear? Or maybe the retail landscape is just evolving to sustain both business models for prêt?
The aficionados can wear the original; the rest can wear the less savvy but economical version from the high-street store. Nothing wrong with that.