Saba Ahmed talks to Lahore-based designer Arjumand Amin
On a warm June afternoon I walked into Arjumand Aminâ€™s cool, dimly-lit office and breathed a sigh of relief. There she was in the corner, scribbling something on a notepad. I have been to many offices of executive types, and I have to say: rarely have I seen a working space so calm and yet so purposeful. The room is stacked with art books â€” tools of the designer trade. There is a drape of colour swatches, as well as stretched canvases of gorgeous fabric. In the corner, a wire mannequin makes itself useful.
Perhaps the most important way in which Lahore-based Arjumand distinguishes herself from the ever-increasing slew of designers is her drive for perfection. Her brand, Mahnoush, is Persian for somebody who seeks beauty or perfection. Laughing, Arjumand tells me she wanted to become a designerÂ Â emphatically not because every other person was doing it. Those around her noticed her knack for creating something different and goaded her to take up making clothes professionally. In 2010, Mahnoush was born. Itâ€™s hard to believe, but when Mahnoush was launched, there were just a handful of lawn pioneers competing in the market â€” Sana Safinaz, Mausummery, and Gul Ahmed to name a few. The easy, breezy fabric that is lawn is utterly wearable, and has a growing clientele. While talking to Arjumand, it was clear to me that like any thoroughly involved business owner, her mind is in ten places at once: she talks and thinks fast.
She has a hilarious drill memorised when allocating work, with snippets like â€˜you are the bestâ€™ and â€˜we are what we are because of you!â€™
The existing format of making lawn entails collaboration between a textile mill and a designer, whose name and brand drive the product forward. For Mahnoush, the fabric is produced at Samin Textiles, the family business; the designs are done in-house while everything else, including the printing, is outsourced. Specifically, the printing is done in Faisalabad, and the chiffon dupattas are flown in from China. â€œIâ€™m trying to pick the best from everywhere,â€ Arjumand tells me. â€œI had always told myself that Iâ€™d never do textiles. Never say never,â€ she smiles.
Earlier, Mahnoush chose five iconic Pakistani women â€” designer Bunto Kazmi, artist Shazia Sikander, athlete Naseem Hameed, filmmaker Shameen Obaid, and entreprenuer Roshaneh Zafar as the faces of the brand and to highlight their outstanding accompilshments in their respective careers. Mahnoush had another delicious lawn launch this summer, with the top models of the industry including Cybil and Zara Peerzada, modelling the clothes. As always, the collection emphasized prints (Mahnoushâ€™s bird motifs in her first collection 4 years ago were a big hit among other bold and risky designs.) The lack of add-ons, which I personally find unbearable and suffocating in our scorching heat, is one of the reasons Mahnoush is my go-to choice for lawn: their speciality lies in screen-printing with stunning borders, necklines and back motifs. I still remember Mahnoushâ€™s collection from 2011 that included embroideries on sheer organza and chiffon. I bought a peach-coloured outfit with white-on-white embroidery on the back. One felt ethereal floating in it.
I still remember Mahnoushâ€™s collection from 2011 that included embroideries on sheer organza and chiffon
What does running a business entail? â€œInteracting with production people in Pakistan is like groundhogâ€™s day,â€ Arjumand tells me. Sheâ€™s referring to the type of overconfident and proud man in the production sector whom she has to really push to produce work on time. She has a hilarious drill memorised when allocating work, with snippets like â€œyou are the bestâ€ and â€œwe are what we are because of you!â€
With Mahnoushâ€™s heavy emphasis on prints, I asked Arjumand about her sources of inspiration. â€œInspirations come to you in the world you inhabit,â€ she says. While travelling, she finds herself noting the visual treats on offer. The next step is â€œchannelling the designâ€ â€” translating the designs from computer to printing. Distribution, she says, can be crazy. Stocking at stores takes some edge off the tedious details of retailling, but adhering to the summer rat race is particularly enervating. â€œBut this is the reality of Pakistan,â€ I say, to which she sighs and smiles. If there were one word to describe Mahnoush, it would be meticulous. Iâ€™m looking forward to Arjumandâ€™s venture into winter wear and pret.