He calls himself a traditionalist, but veteran Pakistani designer Rizwan Beyg, 48, is not one to let his designs, including bridalwear, be pulled down by an overdose of embellishments. Instead, impeccable craftsmanship is married to contemporary cuts that make the clothes as perfect for the streets of Milan as for the social soirees in Karachi. Part of a four-member delegation from Pakistan, he showcases his designs at the Lakme Fashion Week today.
The last time you were in India, there were rumours that you were here to design costumes for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heera-Mandi. Is there a possibility of a Bollywood project this time?
Sanjay and I are good friends, so we keep discussing projects and the possibility of working together whenever we meet. But so far, there’s nothing definite in the pipeline. One of the reasons for this is, of course, logistics. For a film, a designer would need to be around for sittings with the stars, for fittings and hundred other tiny details. But frequent travel from Pakistan to India is difficult because of our political environment.
So what will you showcase at the Lakme Fashion Week?
I am doing an affordable, fresh collection based on truck art. I have used neon colours, done the traditional floral and bird motifs but that said, I have tried to give the silhouettes an Indo-Western twist. So, the salwar has been re-interpreted as a jumpsuit. Embroidered bustiers have been used as crop tops. There are bright accessories like handbags and shoes. The whole collection is vibrant and showcases the cultural roots of our handicrafts and the price points are between Rs 5,000 and 25,000 for the clothes.
Your designs have always found praise with critics both in the subcontinent and internationally. Yet, you have never shown any interest in flagship stores. In fact, the one complaint against you has been that there isn’t enough production to go around. How do you react to that?
I am not very commercial and number crunching does not interest me much. I still operate out of my studio in Karachi’s Boat Basin and sell from multi-label studios. I have no interest in mass retail. We have paid a very heavy price for industrialisation, so far as designing is concerned. Machines have increased production capacity, but the tradition of craftsmanship, of working with indigenous kaarigars is slowly dying out. I like keeping it small, but doing it well. Sometimes, it takes months to get a particular embellishment right. But I believe in giving my kaarigars that time. It’s not to say that I don’t use machines and do everything by hand, but I am particularly concerned about fashion being ethical and non-exploitative.
You have been involved with ethical fashion for a fair amount of time now. Do you see more consciousness among designers now?
It’s difficult to say, but yes, there’s an awareness about fair business practices now. For my own collections, I have always tried to generate livelihoods for traditional craftsmen and women. I never use child labour. Recently, I have been invited by Sheikha Jawahir of the royal family in Sharjah to form a global fashion forum to promote ethical fashion and focus on their indigenous crafts. I have been drawing up a charter for the forum that will invite promising young designers from Southeast Asia, Middle East and North Africa to work with us.
You were among the first designers to start working with lawn (the fabric). But now that lawn has become so popular, you don’t seem to be working with it much. Is there a reason for it?
Well, you know, lawn is this lightweight fabric that is meant for summerwear. But now, it’s become a free for all. Every Pakistani designer is using lawn and unfortunately, not to the best effect. Lawn’s now masquerading as eveningwear, with heavy embroidery and panels and it’s leading to death by design, besides making it hugely overpriced. The consumer is also at fault here because why should you buy a sub-standard product that is also greatly overpriced. So I have decided that I am going to revisit lawn when the hype dies out and when it’s back to being what it used to be — easy, breezy and the perfect summerwear fabric.