Saba Ahmed meets Arjumand Bano, entrepreneur extraordinaireÂ
The peacock that eclipses all other fashion motifs, including the Angry Birds chick, can be traced to architect-cum-fashion designer, Arjumand Bano. Upon arrival at her swanky and meticulous studio in Defence, I see that the peacock is just one of many motifs that Arjumand has single-handedly developed in her signature 3D style. She is an artist who believes in creating something exquisite from her bare thoughts. This instinct coupled with serious drive makes her a formidable contender in the world of Pakistani fashion, where old powerhouses are found to be, more often than not, stoic and formulaic.
At Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, Arjumand developed a discipline in sketching that led to ideas one rarely sees in the carousel of commercial fashion designers. Of her process, she says: “The idea evolves from the first sketch to the last; the result itself is often a complete transformation from the initial scribble! Like most artists, I keep sketching and then I leave it for a while; I revisit my design and it can take up to three months to work it all out.” That she sketches with a needlepoint drafting pencil is telling of the effort that goes into her drawings. No computer-aided software for Arjumand, who believes in feeling out her work through hand drawings and extensively intricate sketches. As she says, “I love paying attention to detail.”
The two months of November and December, Arjumand can be found exclusively in her tracks and a huge chaaddar, surrounded by mugs of coffee and her sketches
With increased access to technology and the manically-updated bubble that is social media, designers in the East can keep up now more than ever before with the fashion world of the West. Arjumand argues that this is the changing face of the industry: In fits and starts, new designers are trying to outdo the old by putting in longer hours. “Everyone in the Pakistani fashion industry is trying to stay on top of their game because every year you hear there are fifty new designers coming out!” But the profusion of fashion designers has somewhat devalued the profession, says Arjumand. When people find out about her occupation, their reaction is, “Oh God, another fashion designer!”
If anything, the reaction has spurred Arjumand to stick to her guns. “Every party I’d go to, I’d put together something to wear, often stitching it myself. A good friend, Rana Nauman, asked me why I didn’t just do this for a living. For the longest time, it was a hobby: taking scraps of fabric and putting something fun together,” Arjumand recalls of her pre-Opera House fashion obsession.
Eventually, her family convinced her to go for it. Arjumand dotes on her mother and tells me how all this would not have been possible without her mom who has given her strong motivation to excel and to be happy. “I’ve always been the kind of person who never wants to be treated differently because I am a girl. My parents have always been so proud of me: I do architecture, I do clothing, and I take care of my family. Even if everything drives me crazy, I love it because I’m a workaholic and I want to have no regrets about having missed out on life, especially because I was a girl.”
â€˜Iâ€™m a workaholic and I want to have no regrets about having missed out on life, especially because I was a girlâ€™
The study of Mughal architecture and jaali work, patterns, mehrabs and various other more figurative elements has brought Arjumand to the realm of old-world workmanship that merges with a contemporary vision. “I don’t just like doing a simple motif on a shirt, I like to go the extra distance and would want it in 3D.” True words from someone who is constantly seeking to do better in everythingâ€”from how the inside of her studio looks to how her labour is run. A workaholic to boot, Arjumand finds it difficult to delegate: in the process, a degree of charm and attention to detail is lost, she says. But as she expands, she is learning to slowly entrust her colleagues with authority. “Every time a client comes back to me, the little child inside me jumps with excitement!”Â
The two months of November and December, Arjumand can be found exclusively in her tracks and a huge chaaddar, surrounded by mugs of coffee and her sketches. She is churning out work for the onslaught of shaadis that begins in the winter. Often, when she ventures out herself, she finds people in her eveningwear. “It’s a great feeling to run into someone wearing my designs and hear them say how strikingly signature my pieces are.” Some of Arjumand’s signature flourishes include peacock motifs, jewellery woven into pieces, and bright embroidery reminiscent of Pakistani truck art.
“When it comes to creation, it’s constantly a learning process”, says Arjumand. With anyone coming into the fashion industry, especially those with a college education behind them, engaging with Pakistani craftspeople is a true test of patience. Putting aside the lack of proper documentation of age-old crafts, Arjumand has learnt everything by simply plunging headlong into her work, and getting her hands dirty. Now, nothing makes her happier than working alongside her kaarigars to create something old from new, and vice versa.Â