Pakistani couturier Nauman Arfeen has preferred to stay away from the spotlight and always let his work speak for itself. Last year, he garnered worldwide recognition for crafting a timeless teal sherwani for Prince William during his visit to Pakistan. Haider Rifaat was in conversation with him about his thoughts on the fashion industry, dressing royalty and more
Youâ€™ve created something special with your label â€˜Naushemianâ€™ that resonates with a lot of people. To what do you attribute your success?
Itâ€™s been a blessing and the result of the boundless support Iâ€™ve received fromthose around me. I was more interested in the field of medicine, but my father wanted someone to look after â€˜Hat Villaâ€™, his millinery business. I was the youngest in my family, so my father expected me to assume this role. It was a struggle for sure, but I was able to persevere and it culiminated in the launch of â€˜Naushemianâ€™. My first fashion show, Fashion Pakistan Week, was in 2009 where I presented my collection â€˜Ravenâ€™; this was a turning point in my career. The designing of shoes followed and the rest, as they say, is history.
What drew you to fashion in the first place?
There was always a gapâ€”a missing piece in menâ€™s fashion that needed to be addressed. When I heard that Fashion Pakistan was on the lookout for new talent, I registered for a slot. Presenting my first collection was daunting, but I credit Rizwan Beyg and Raheel Rao, as their their critique and encouragement led me to be lauded on the ramp.
I recall making turbans for almost every label in the mid and late 90s. They ranged from Aitchison College turbans to traditional Rajasthani ones, so thinking about eastern wear all the time inspired me to launch â€˜Naushemianâ€™, which essentially translates to â€˜bridegroomâ€™ in Urdu.
What is a core component of your fashion ethos?
My embroidery and craftsmanship; they make me a different designer.Â Menâ€™s sherwanis are my forte, but I have also ventured into womenswear and menâ€™s western formal wear.
Have you ever experienced a creative block?Â
I donâ€™t believe true artists face creative blocks. Creativity is innate and inspiration can be found from myriad sources. Iâ€™m inspired by nature, the world around me and the people I meet.
Why has Pakistanâ€™s fashion fraternity not been inclusive of all shapes and sizes?Â
Maybe designers find it a hassle to cater to mass crowds and designing for a range of sizes. Not everyone can think on a macro scale. For me, fashion is for the masses. I donâ€™t understand why garments are designed for a specific size or body type. Iâ€™m everyoneâ€™s designer. If you visit my atelier, I have four sizes that range from small to extra-large. I drive satisfaction from providing people with custom-made products that they want to wear.
Whatâ€™re your thoughts on sacrificing personal creativity over trends?Â
Fashion changes by the minute; itâ€™s about how you perceive an attire and make it your own. Fashion is what makes you feel attractive and confident. So I believe itâ€™s silly to follow trends. Sadly, many contemporary designers are working strenuously to follow trends, rather than creating them. True fashion should be that which is a true reflection of onself.
How is androgynous wear changing the way we look at style?Â
Style is something we are comfortable and confident in carrying. Androgynous wear is harder for men to swallow than women. Then again, if youâ€™re confident, youâ€™re stylish.
Whatâ€™ve you planned so far for the summer and fall 2020 collections?Â
Our entire team is working to devise a collection. I have matching separates and soft pastel colours in mind for the summer season. They can work well for Eid festivities too. Weâ€™ll surely come out with dark, vibrant colors for this fall.
Whatâ€™s a more creative substitute this season for overdone floral prints?Â
Checks and stripes
Who do you cite as your fashion icons?
Tom Fordâ€”I admire how he made a name for himself in fashion after having studied architecture. After finding success with Gucci, he went on to give the world one of the best brands there is.
What draws you to his work ethic?Â
I met Tom once. His products are well thought out, beautifully designed and incredibly practical. These factors attract millions of people towards him, me included; I even love his fragrances. He is an all-rounder.
Last year, you were the only male couturier from Pakistan to have designed for HRH Prince William while he toured the country. The teal-coloured sherwani was stellar. How were you approached for this and why did you specifically choose the colour teal?Â
Iâ€™ve been stocking in London for a decade now. The royal team reached out for my designs there, got my contact details and closely reviewed my credibility. As you may know, royal managers handle things with precision. They initially required a classic blue sherwani with greenÂ buttons. I designed according to their demands and had an extra sherwani as an option as well, which they loved.
They strictly scrutinised my design and made sure no calligraphy was embroidered on the piece. On complete satisfaction, they opted for my garment for His Highness.Â It was my personal vision to see the prince in teal for the occasion. Teal is an upcoming hue in fashion. The colour sends out a message of solidarity and peace.
What went through your mind when you saw HRH Prince William wearing your label?
It was a memorable moment for me as a Pakistani designer. I was honored to be selected as the only male couturier from my country to create a garment for the future king of England. This was the first time heâ€™d worn another countryâ€™s traditional attire on tour and that was a tremendous feeling in itself. He overshadowed Duchess Kate on that day, if I may say so. That sherwani will remain a timeless piece for decades to come.
Did this achievement garner your label immense recognition across Pakistan and the world?Â
Yesâ€”not only this but an attire that had lost its identity globally returned ferociously as a new trend in fashion. Those who consider it a long buttoned jacket now know very well that it is a traditional sherwani.
Of all the public figures you have dressed, who has been the most special?
Although Iâ€™ve designed for many dignitaries, I believe that every client we cater to is a prince and princess. They are all not just my clients, but my family. Iâ€™ve witnessed happy tears in the eyes of mothers when they saw their sons wearing the complete ensemble at my stores. Such moments often humble you.
Who has mentored you in your craft?Â
Time and experience have been my best mentors. I learn in my everyday life. I donâ€™t follow people in our industry, because theyâ€™ve hardly guided me. Learning from time to time, however, has given me the confidence to reflect on what Iâ€™ve accomplished so far.
What important lessons has your profession taught you?
Manyâ€”the best would be to never show your cards. Showing off is a foolâ€™s idea of glory so if youâ€™ve noticed,m not a fan of sharing my ideas.