By Sonya Rehman
There’s something about fashion duo Moeed Yousaf and Faryal Aftab that reminds one of Kamiar Rokni and Maheen Kardar (of ‘Karma’) when they’d just started out – much before the latter wound up going their separate ways.
Not to draw comparisons, but both Yousaf and Aftab – just like Rokni and Kardar – work well together. Interviewing them at their office in Kot Lakhpat in Lahore, one discovers that the duo have had interesting journeys – journeys which eventually led both individuals to MUSE, their design house.
With her striking red/orange hair set against pale skin and large eyes, Aftab is earnest when she talks about her work, her divorce, her 13-year-old son and her love for acting. Originally from Peshawar, Aftab lived in Sri Lanka with her family (till her teens), subsequently moving to Karachi where she studied at Indus Valley.
Yousaf is straightforward and quirky with his black-rimmed glasses and sense of humour – an interesting guy who studied at Princeton, went to business school in France and worked on Wall Street for a few years, collecting fashion magazines that his neighbours would chuck out in New York.
Aftab joined the relatively new, 3-year-old design house a year after its initiation. Having met at a dinner through common friends, Yousaf and Aftab got talking about their careers. While speaking with Yousaf – who at the time wanted to launch his own thing – Aftab states that she was inspired by him because she didn’t know anyone who wanted to do something “very French, very chic.”
Speaking about his admiration for French fashion, while in France, Yousaf mentions that he was especially impressed by the way French women dressed. “They’re incredibly stylish,” he says, “Even the kids are dressed impeccably. So that is really what I wanted to bring to Pakistan – to bring that aesthetic to the country.”
“We’re a small company so we experiment a lot,” Yousaf states, mentioning that the duo come up with ideas about their new lines together.
Revealing that she often enrolls herself into short courses at St. Martin’s College of Art & Design in London, Aftab states that the courses have helped the designer understand the business of fashion. “There’s an entire process that they run you through,” she says, “And I try and implement the process especially when it comes to a fashion week or a collection that we’re taking abroad.”
Traveling helps quite a bit too, Aftab adds, “It’s an eye-opener.”
“For example, we were doing colour blocking and people here were saying we were really good at it, but then when I went to London and looked at the colour blocking done by really high-end brands, I realized that it was done with so much sophistication! You know? And I was like; oh my God I’m creating rubbish! So yes, if you’re a keen observer and going abroad? It’s massively important.”
The best way to enter international markets is through trade fairs, Yousaf states, who earlier mentioned the fact that MUSE has been, and is still keen on targeting international markets “since day one.” Currently due to leave Lahore in June for a trade fair in Paris, the duo had participated in a few trade fairs before too, in Paris.
With MUSE up and running, Yousaf mentions his trips to Italy – trips which almost always left him inspired beyond measure. He visited old and established fabric houses, family businesses, which supplied to the biggest names in international fashion (Gucci, Prada, etc). He was bowled over by the quality of fabric and their output. When he speaks about his trips you know they must’ve left a deep impact on Yousaf, given his far-away look and wistfulness when he’s talking.
“We’re very lucky that we have a business in Pakistan where we’re continuously learning,” Yousaf states, “One may say that Pakistani women don’t know fashion, but there is something that they do know and they do push you in the right direction: if you have a good product it does sell.”
Saying that the Pakistani target audience – that MUSE caters to – understands what they want to wear, Aftab states; “They love their skinny jeans…”
“Yeah they like form-fitting clothes,” pipes in Yousaf, “We’ve had a lot of clients who really want fitted stuff – you know with boobs falling out,” laughingly adding, “We don’t do that, much as I wanna see that we don’t do that!”
Speaking about how Pakistani society seems to have “opened up” vis-à-vis parties, etc, “One of our best sellers is the jump suit;” Aftab says enthusiastically, “Every woman wants a jump suit that she buys again and again!”
“But it’s very easy to understand because a jump suit is not a dress,” Yousaf quips, “A dress over here is very difficult to wear – for one, you need a really good body to wear it. A jump suit is perfect because you’re still wearing trousers and a top and you can walk out of your house without having five people…” “…Yeah because if you go to a party what do you wear?” Aftab cuts in, “Enough of jeans: people want silk, something formal – so the jump suit does really well [in Pakistan].”
Jovial and interesting to talk to – it’s almost hard to keep up with Yousaf and Aftab when the two are on a roll about fashion and Pakistan.
“You need to marry this profession,” Aftab says towards the end of the interview when the chatter has quieted down, “You need to be truly and deeply in love with it.”