The Bridal Connoisseur
by MUHAMMAD RAHAT HUSSAIN
When you talk about haute couture and designer bridals in Pakistan, there are only a few names that come into the mind and Ruby Shakel's is one of them. The veteran designer has been in the fashion industry since the last 15 years and having built a reputation for herself, she is considered by many as the ultimate connoisseur when it comes to bridal wear. Her signature style juxtaposes the contemporary with the classicality of traditional outfits, signifying the sheer grandiose she adheres to, in her apparel. When you enter her studio, you will see a classic space of a creative genius at work – folded colourful fabrics perched on shelves, semi-finished pieces on mannequins, some hung on hangers, catalogues, measuring tape and canvases with sketches strewn on the dashboard – you for sure get the feeling that what comes out of all that work is of exceptional quality. In a chat with MAG, Ruby Shakel talked about many things, her focus on bridal ensembles and the subtlety and intricacy that comes with traditional designs. Excerpts:
Tell us how you forayed into fashion designing?
I started out around 15 years ago, for my friends and family, with an exhibition of just 35 outfits, and by morning each one of those outfits had sold off. I was getting a good response, and with the support of my family, I decided to be a professional designer.
Even then in the first three or four years, I used to design clothes for my friends and family members and had never thought about fashion designing as a full-time profession. It was only after I started doing wardrobes for plays that people started noticing me; later on designing outfits for morning show hosts gave me the real boost.
What were your plans while taking up fashion designing as your career?
I knew that I had to live up to the expectations of my clients, and that I had to gain their confidence. I, for example have clients abroad, who cannot be here to place their orders, so it's important that they have enough confidence in my work that they can coordinate with me from there.
Your inspiration while designing clothes?
How do you think has the fashion industry changed over time?
In the early days there were limited designers, who never used to get that much projection, but now, with the advent of electronic media, the picture has totally changed. Now the designers have endless opportunities to get noticed. Plus, nowadays the fashion schools are producing young and energetic designers.
How has your career affected your family life?
In the first few years I really had to work hard because my children were young, and I didn't want to neglect my family. But now both my daughters are happily married, and I have plenty of time.
Do you think it's difficult, as a woman to seek a career and yet manage a family?
Yes, it is difficult, but I think that when you are a working woman, you give more attention to your family as compared to a normal housewife.
How do you think bridal trends have changed over the last decade?
I think that today's bridal outfits are more practical because of the cuts as these can be worn later as well. In our days, we just used to have short shirts and ghararas, which were worn only once and locked in the cupboard for good, but now, the bridal trend has revolutionised.
What is trending in bridal-wear these days?
Fabrics like silks and jamawars are IN these days while for the cuts, sharara is every bride's choice. But as far as I am concerned, I prefer the traditional jora for the wedding day, and for valima, I go for modern cuts and different contemporary styles.
What difference have you found in the style quotient of Pakistan's two fashion hubs – Karachi and Lahore?
There is a huge difference; I think women in Lahore mostly prefer gaudy embroidery and bulky designs, but in Karachi, women prefer more subtle, delicate and minimalistic designs.
Do you think the recent boom in fashion scene is helping the fashion industry from a business viewpoint?
It's definitely making a huge impact, because it's bringing in buyers. If you are working individually in the house, and running a boutique, you are not going to get that kind of clientele, which you can get through fashion shows – and that makes a huge difference.
You have designed for, and dressed countless celebrities… of them all, who has been your favourite and why?
My most favourites are Shaista Wahidi, Reema and Ayesha Sana, because they carry my outfits beautifully.
One local or international celebrity you want to design for?
I would like to design for Angelina Jolie, because she has been in Pakistan many times, and I think she should have a little bit of know-how about our fashion and designs.
One special memory that you look back and reminisce about.
I once met Mohtarma Shaheed Benazir Bhutto with my friend, and Mohtarma really liked the outfit that I was wearing. Mohtarma told me that she was talking to someone else when she noticed my dress and admired it so much that she could not grasp the conversation she was having. She told me to pursue fashion designing professionally and her words were a great encouragement for me at that time.
Do you think the surge of new talent in the fashion industry is giving veteran designers a tough time?
I don't think so, one has to have confidence in oneself.
Do you believe that dressing up according to the latest trends and wearing the IN thing is important in order to make a style statement?
No, not at all! You have to assess your personality and see what suits you the most. You don't have to see what is IN and wear that, it's important to understand what suits a person well. If someone has seen a celebrity wearing a particular dress in a morning show and wants to wear exactly the same outfit, irrespective of the difference in body structure and size, it's not always possible. In that case I have to counsel them, and explain them that that particular dress can be modified and made in a way that it suits them better.
What trends are you forecasting for the year ahead?
I really like the trend that is IN these days, all the flowing materials; it's very feminine, stylish and smart. The orders that I am taking for 2013 are with the same cuts and styles with little variations in the material. I personally like the current trend, and I am sure this trend will continue.
What are your plans for the future, with respect to prêt and bridal wear both?
I am already working on prêt wear, because if you have to survive in the industry, you have to take care of the prêt portion too, but my focus is going to remain on bridals. A designer can play with a lot of things on bridal-wear, it's like a canvas to experiment with, embellishments, colour combinations etc – it's a challenging task that I love to take up.
Any advice to young aspiring designers?
They must be patient in the initial years of their career to learn the trade well. They must do internships with senior designers to get some first-hand experience of the profession. Making an outfit is not the main thing, marketing and selling that outfit is what matters the most. One has to work hard on each and every aspect to survive in the industry.