Elegant and Erudite – Jahanara Saigol invites HELLO! Pakistan to her home for an exclusive interview, and talks about art, travel, style – and her work for the Gulab Devi Chest Hospital in Lahore

By Sonya Rehman

Dressed in slim-fit, electric blue pants and a white summer top, Jahanara Saigol comes breezing into her living room, swooping down to calm her perfectly groomed Shih Tzu (sporting a little fountain hairstyle on the top of his head, bunched together with a sparkly scrunchie).

A few minutes earlier, the curious little fellow was sizing me up, on alert, his furry chin quivering – curious and on guard, ready to spring into action. “He’s quite a character,” Saigol says, smiling, while her maid scoops the fur ball away.

Having studied Art History both at the undergraduate and graduate level, Saigol’s area of specialization at Oxford was Renaissance Art. “Specifically,” she says, “I did a lot of work on Leonardo Da Vinci.”

Jahanara Saigol – Photo by: Guddu & Shani

“A painting should say something – it should move you in some way,” Saigol, an “old master’s fan” says. “For people like me, Da Vinci was it…but I think a lot of the established artists in this country like Iqbal Hussain, Colin David, of course Sadequain – to me, that’s art.”

There is something rather charismatic about Saigol. Given her privileged background, she comes across as a modest, well brought up, girl next door kind of girl. She laughs easily when she talks about how averse she is to flying, even though she travels quite frequently.

“Oh I hate flying,” Saigol says, “When I have to fly somewhere I’ll be thinking about the flight two days beforehand. If you give me the option to drive or fly, I’d rather drive. I’d even take a boat if I have to.”

Fluent in French, Saigol dabbled a little in Italian too, however it was French that she decided to pursue seriously and consequently took intensive French courses straight after graduating from Concordia in Canada.

With the culmination of her degree at Oxford, Saigol worked “very briefly” in London with an Islamic art dealer called Francesa Galloway. “It was interesting because I learnt about Islamic art, which is something that I had never really studied or never really been exposed to at that level.”

Later on she came back to Pakistan and joined one of her family’s textile companies as Director Marketing in 2004. “I then shifted my attention to the philanthropic work that my family does,” Saigol states, “One particular project that I took on was – we were donating a cardiac facility to the Gulab Devi Chest Hospital…initially it started out as a donation my grandfather, the late Mian Sayeed Saigol, had given many years ago, but the facility needed to be modernized, so it was a project I took on. I’m now on the management team for the hospital. It’s an incredible charity – because the hospital treats very poor people for a nominal fee. It’s very rewarding work.”

It is obvious that Saigol’s appreciation and understanding of art is influenced by her mother’s love of art (numerous paintings adorn the walls of the spacious, aesthetic living room, where we’re seated).

“My mother is a huge patron of the arts. She has a gallery called the Lahore Art Gallery which has played an immense role in the whole art scene in Pakistan.”

Jahanara Saigol – Photo by: Guddu & Shani

Having grown up hearing a majority of the artists associated with her mother’s gallery (such as Iqbal Hussain, Ejaz Ul Hassan, Zulqarnain Haider, Khalid Iqbal, etc.) talk about art, Saigol agrees that she has been “in a very privileged position” in getting to know the artists personally.

“When I was doing my O’ Levels I was being tutored by Iqbal Hussain for painting,” she says, adding while laughing, “It was tough because I’ve always been more interested in the actual history of art rather than sitting and painting. I’m not very good at it but I can definitely look at a painting and tell you what’s wrong or right with it.”

Speaking about her personal style, Saigol says; “You’ll find me in a lot of flats but I’m equally comfortable wearing enormous heels.”

Regarding local fashion designers, Saigol speaks highly of Shamaeel. “I’ve always worn her clothes. I think she knows me very well and will always make things reflective of me.”

Agreeing that local fashion “has definitely come a long way,” Saigol mentions that she recently attended a local fashion week. “There are people doing interesting things. But one issue that I have with a lot of these designers is their cut – because I think this overly baggy, ‘one size fits all’ look doesn’t do it for me. You should wear clothes, clothes shouldn’t wear you. I mean you don’t necessarily want to look three times your size!”

Today, her look is classic and fresh. Her skin is flawless, she’s wearing gloss and mascara, and her shiny hair is pulled back in a clean ponytail, not a hair out of place.

“It all really depends on where I’m going and what part of the world I’d be in,” Jahanara says in response to what she likes wearing, “During the day it’s mostly casual, skinny jeans with a top or a jacket, depending on the weather, and in the evening I like a more glamorous look. Accessories are an essential part of my wardrobe and I tend to mix faux with real jewellery. One fashion house that I would choose over others is Chanel…It’s timeless yet edgy.”

HELLO! Pakistan

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