This week,the state of Kashmir gets its first designer storea menswear retail destination in Srinagar to be launched by designer Zubair Kirmani. The reticent 34-year-old Zubair,who now lives in Delhi has intrigued me both as a person and as a designer since 2006. One of the first fashion shoots that I was a part of,shot on the streets of Paris (which also doubled up as training for us fashion editors,stylists,art directors),included a Zubair Kirmani outfit. The beautifully-crafted applique tunic-dress in black and white (see photograph), became a hot favourite of the fashion director of that shoot. He gave it to a tall,Parisian model to wear with a pair of black high street trousers and impossibly high Dior heels. The result,was what I call extreme chic that takes only two minutes to create. Zubair’s applique dress was made from soft,Indian cotton textile,and its finishing was extraordinary. Who is the designer? we all asked and what does it cost (everyone wanted to buy the piece including the model). The label is Bounipun by some new designer from India, said an Indian stylist who had sourced the tunic. Rs 12,500 she added.
When I met Zubair for the first time,a few months after that,he was almost trying to disappear behind a small but sophisticated selection of garments that hung at a stall in a fashion week. His signature was clear and strong: a grim pallete,dexterous use of cotton and silk and extraordinary patternmaking. The designer had a restless passivity about him,he looked like an idealistsomeone whispered he hailed from Kashmir–but there was no agenda on his sleeve.
Last year when I visited Zubair at his studio in Noida,among the many things he talked about,one sentence stood out: I do not belong here, he said. Bounipun,his label,means a chinar leaf in his mother tongue. Much like that leaf that needs a certain climate to flourish,Zubair’s career had been through the flowering of spring and the dullness of autumn. It isn’t easy to survive in any fashion industry unless a designer tries a bouquet of strategies (find a sponsor,make unapologetic commercial wedding wear,accept the dictatorial deals of fashion retailers who are unfair to young designers,invest huge money to sustain multiple collections,play minor or major politics with fashion week bodies).
Zubair did none of this. He even stopped mounting shows for a while. He would put up a stall at some fashion weeks,but sometimes not even that. In those days,he looked distracted,a trifle anxious and terribly out of place. Last year,when he did show an Autumn/ Winter line at Will Lifestyle India Fashion Week in Delhi,it was apparent that his talent at creating beautiful garments was intact,despite the ups and downs. Zubair has the potential to become one of India’s outstanding menswear designers and like others who’ve been watching him,I too hope he exploits that possibility.
This week,as he launches his first ever store,in his homeland Srinagar,(which has always left him with a heaviness in his heart),there is ample reason to stand by and applaud him. For us,distant spectators of the valley’s tryst with tragedy,a designer store in Kashmir is chirpy news. But for Zubair,it is is no big deal as he told my colleague Somya Lakhani for an Express story. It is about catering to a market where retail needs are in transit. http://www.indianexpress.com/news/home-to-the-chinars/950189/0
I instinctively feel that Zubair has finally begun to fit into the Indian fashion industry by finding a way out of it. He has found a purpose,an emotional connect,a commercially promising plan and one that is going to keep him (and us) more interested in his work than dressing up celebrities or fighting for a sponsor slot in the next fashion week.