Karma’s Chameleon

By Sonya Rehman

“In my head I’m always designing for a woman who can blend in anywhere in the world. A woman who wears clothes that are expensive yet nonchalant, glamorous yet not vulgar and feminine without being twee,” Kamiar Rokni tells me as I sit across from him in Karma’s office.
It’s one of those anomalous winter afternoons where the bright Lahore sun can be seen slouching lazily like a slothful seth on a charpoy (in this case, a clear blue sky), as the city below shivers every time a gust of wind slices through the little warmth that the sun has to offer.

Every once in a while my eyes wander towards the wall behind Kamiar – a crimson (yet slightly chipping) coat of paint, framed pictures of Audrey Hepburn and other vintage posters hang casually on it. With the dark chocolate wood floors and unfussy ambience, the office is bohemian without being too overdone. And in the distance, the whir of the sewing machines – of the tailors and kaam-wallahs hard at work – is apparent. The place reeks: fashion.

“I think Karma’s business acumen is a major plus point. Besides as designers, the male and female duo truly works for Maheen and I. It’s like the balance of yin and yang”, Kamiar speaks fondly of his partner whilst pushing his tortoise shell glasses up the bridge of his nose. Self-assured and graceful, Maheen and I spoke for a few minutes before she left for a funeral. On the Bridal Asia high like her design partner, Maheen was all gung ho about Karma’s new collection.
Breezing out just as she had breezed in, she left Instep to have a one on one with Kamiar.

“I’ve been reading Vogue since I was ten… infact I have every edition from 1987 till the present. I consider myself a walking talking encyclopedia on fashion and if I wasn’t a designer I’d probably be heading Instep by now,” he says impishly.

Unpretentious and unaffected, Kamiar does not suffer from false modesty and is “very secure” about his “abilities as a designer”, “I’m my worst critic” he states. After attending the much ‘famed’ Bridal Asia exhibition in India this January, Maheen and Kamiar also intend to participate in the next which is scheduled for October 2007.

Instep catches up with Kamiar on his experience in India, Karma’s latest line and their plans of the future.

Instep: You and Maheen recently attended Bridal Asia in India this January – what was Karma’s experience like?

Kamiar Rokni: As a professional experience it was pretty good because Bridal Asia is extremely organized. Even though we arrived two and a half hours before the show, it was smooth and controlled.

Instep: Which Karma lines did you display?

KR: From two of our collections – which were Deco/Raj and Nauratan – we chose sixteen signature pieces and called it The Full Circle line. We wanted our work to be distinctively different so we started off with stark black that went on to outfits of neutral shades and then later onto colours.

Instep: What was the feedback like?

KR: Fantastic. A picture of one of our shoots was on billboards and in magazine advertisements for Bridal Asia (takes out a Bridal Asia magazine and hands it over). We were absolutely swamped with orders.
Because it was marketed so well, there was a lot of hype therefore the coverage was very intense and by the end of it I was tremendously hoarse from speaking!

Instep: What differences did you notice with regard to fashion shows across the border in comparison to ours?

KR: Well for one, they start on time! Not only that but there’s also a certain degree of professionalism that we tend to fall short on. Everyone from the coordinators to the models I found to be more efficient. See, Indian models are that way because they simply get to do more shows than our girls. In Pakistan not only do we have less work, but we have a small number of models, too. Where it takes a model in India somewhere between six to seven months to learn the ropes, it takes newbies in Pakistan at least two years to get established. It’s not their fault because our models just aren’t provided with enough opportunity to put their skills to use.

Instep: I’ve noticed Karma experiments with colour quite a bit…motifs too…for instance, the star burst, tie and dye theme really took off. Where does Karma take inspiration from?

KR: Well I’m really inspired by nature, a certain film, a particular character in a book or a movie. I think it just springs forth from there.

Instep: Right, but before you incorporate your creativity into the final product, do you have to keep what Pakistani women ‘can’ wear in mind?

KR: Of course.

Instep: Doesn’t that end up stifling you; when you know you have to curb your creativity?

KR: You just have to be pragmatic, there are no two ways about it. To be a successful designer, you have to give up things you love creating at certain times. It’s like with couture fashion abroad when you see a John Galliano dress and think: ‘Who the hell is going to wear that anyway’?
Speaking of which, you know there’s a huge misconception about me being too ‘funky’. I am creative, but my creativity is more driven towards the use with and play of colours. I consider myself a feminine, elegant designer – qualities that women respond to. But coming back to curbing creativity and feeling stifled, no, I’m generally not a wallower. I just ‘do’. If I feel sapped of all creativity I don’t do anything because I know it’s probably temporary and will pass.

Instep: Karma started off with very contemporary themes and motifs in the past. What do you have lined up for 2007?

KR: This year we’re using old silhouettes by focusing on the flares and panels – basically, exploring old traditional volumes. We’ll be integrating modernity in our embroidery.
Maheen and I were quite inspired by the cuts in India. Even though their clothes are more revealing, they have really great cuts – something Pakistani designers haven’t mastered as yet. But that complex that we seem to suffer from with regard to thinking India’s better than us is an absolute myth! The quality and finish of their work is not at par with ours. From a distance their clothes may look appealing yes, but up close, it just comes across as very tacky, filmi and messy. Since our society is more conservative, our outfits have a finish that’s naturally more elegant and precise.

With our new collection for 2007, we’re rethinking traditional. Witching Hour for instance, is a line which focuses on blacks with heavy metallic work of gota and lappa. Alongside that I’m working on a couture line geared towards the bridal market which will be something I’ve never done before because it’s going to be luxuriant and very exclusive. I’m going to let my imagination run wild on this one because the more you get into pret, couture just has to become all the more extravagant.

Instep: In view of your present line, what then do you see Pakistani women wearing this year?

KR: I hate predicting but for me, proportions are going to be exaggerated. For instance, if it’s flared – it’s going to be VERY flared. I’m bored to tears with boot-cut pants! This time around it’s going to be skinnier and straighter.

Instep: Any favourite local designers?

KR: Faiza Samee for her use of colour and traditional embellishment, Sana Safinaz – no one can do modern European like them and Rizwan Beyg because he’s proven to everyone that he’s still got it!

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Instep: I recall reading this interview of yours once where you stated that you’d like to see Karma expand into a lifestyle store.

KR: That’s in the ten year plan. Right now I just want to focus on consolidating Karma. Eventually I may branch out into men’s wear but that’s going to happen in another two to three years. The future of Karma is definitely going to have more international presence and locally we’re thinking of opening up Karma Pink stores in Islamabad, Peshawar and Multan.

Instep: What’s your take on the Pakistan Fashion Council?

KR: I’m on the board and I know how hard it is to get things going. I just hope something comes out of it. Not only do we have to get started on accomplishing our targets of eventually having a fashion week, but we also have to create a dialogue between the design community to compete with the international market and raise funds as well. But right now, everything’s still at a preliminary stage.

Instep: In India, just as Delhi and Mumbai have developed a rift, don’t you think Karachi and Lahore have one too? Why couldn’t there have been one sole Fashion Council for designers all over the country?

KR: There’s a rift because we have two groups of designers with entirely different agendas. And in a way it’s more practical to have it that way rather than to be in perpetual deadlock. With two totally different ideologies you’re bound to have transitionary phases where things won’t be so good. Yes, it is unfortunate that both parties have split up but everyone simply has to carry on. Maybe later on the two can converge but that’s only when and if some concrete work is done. It’s really all too soon to say anything right now.

Instep: How many people in Pakistan really understand ‘good taste’? Is the price tag attached to the outfit, the brand or is the outfit purchased purely for its quality?

KR: Good taste is the most elusive thing in the world and in Pakistan; unfortunately, we haven’t been blessed with large amounts of it! Everyone isn’t smartly dressed all the time but I don’t think we Pakistanis are known for our sense of style. We’re not the French but we’re getting there. I don’t think we’re all that bad though! (Laughs).

Instep, The News

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