For seven odd years, design house Muse has stayed rooted to its single retail standpoint in Lahore.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that business hasn’t grown. The brand has augmented its market by showing regularly at fashion weeks, organizing trunks shows at multi-labels in Karachi and Islamabad, taking up orders via its e-store as well as featuring frequently on celebrities at red carpet event. It also has a relatively uncluttered, consistently updated Instagram account with its masses of followers.
There’s nothing quite like a standalone retail store, though, to build brand awareness and sales – which is why there’s a Muse store currently under works in Karachi.
Set to open in the vicinity of the hip and happening fashion-savvy E-Street, designer duo Faryal Aftab and Moeed Yousaf thought it was about time that they catered more regularly to their burgeoning Karachi clientele.
"We wanted to be available [in Karachi] in a more comprehensive way, with our entire seasonal line-ups of cottons, silks, formals and more casual apparel," says Faryal Aftab, half of the design duo behind Muse.
“With trunk shows, we could only bring a limited range to Karachi and people used to complain about it,” explains Faryal. “For a long time, we have had clients coming in from Karachi, buying things off the rack or ordering bespoke bridals or couture. Now, we wanted to be available in a more comprehensive way, with our entire seasonal line-ups of cottons, silks, formals and more casual apparel. It took some time – we wanted the ideal location and production to be streamlined before we expanded.”
The new store – as well as Muse’s present outlet in Lahore’s Gulberg Galleria mall – will also stock a range of bags and shoes that are currently under development. “I love shoes and it just made sense to branch out to accessories,” says Faryal. “Bags and shoes are going to now be an ongoing part of our label. Like our clothes, we have steered away from ethnic inspirations with our shoes and bags. We have sourced fine leathers and molded them into clean, delicate lines. The emphasis is on comfort, fine finishing and sophistication, with slight design elements like bows and ribbons added in.”
It is an aesthetic that one has always associated with Muse. In a market littered with generic traditional designs, the atelier has stayed committed to its anglicized take on luxury-pret. Designing for the individualistic woman rather than the general hoi polloi, Muse is characterised by dashes of bling, three-dimensional florals or even vivacious stripes.
Muse will also be branching out into accessories. Faryal says: "We are getting our shoes and bags created in Italy because we want the craftsmanship to be exemplary.”
Don’t Faryal and Moeed ever wonder if it would make more economic sense to toe retail-friendly pretty lines every now and then, rather than walk slightly more experimental ones?
“We are very passionate about our work and we are just incapable of following market trends,” says Faryal. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t take note of what the customer wants. I have noticed how colorful thread embroideries tend to fly off the racks and although they are not my favorite, I still incorporate them into some designs.”
But a Muse floral, unlike its counterparts, is more likely to be protruding out instead of merely milling amongst filigree. An oversized sweatshirt, as in the recent sportswear-inspired ‘Last Night’ at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week, will glitter with sequins in checked patterns, more suited for the discotheque rather than on the jogging track.
It is certainly the road less traveled and yet, according to Faryal, it’s made economic sense for them.
“We are sincere to our work and profits, so far, have just tended to follow,” she says. “If we like the best for ourselves, then we also want to provide the best for our customers. On a recent trip to Paris, I searched out the finest fabric that I could buy which was also relatively viable. Similarly, we are getting our shoes and bags created in Italy because we want the craftsmanship to be exemplary.”
And Muse’s decisively affluent clientele is happily willing to pay the usually hefty price tag that comes with its penchant for internationally sourced material and production.
Some of that uber-cool modern vibe is just about to splash into Karachi and it ought to make things interesting. You could love the brand’s statements or hate them but a Muse outfit is always instantly recognizable. That’s something most design houses can’t claim at the moment, as they churn out market-friendly clothes that all look the same.