By Kamran Rehmat
Sana Salman is a woman who means business, but that does not mean it’s about rolling the cash counters alone. She is out on a limb so that expatriates in Qatar can feel at home with fashion labels — from home — in a multicultural milieu.
As someone who embraces diversity in more than passing terms, the Director of Designer Fashion Lounge is also at work to introduce a special fabric in designing wear for Qatari women.
Sana’s candidness is refreshing. She says her ambition to create a veritable wardrobe in Doha is more out of frustration at not finding a store to set store by, than say, inspiration!
In a freewheeling interview with Community, she talks about her fashion inspiration; why Pakistani fashion industry is the one to beat; and how seamlessly eastern chic can marry western glamour as a style statement.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I was born and brought up in Islamabad and am a bachelor in commerce from the Punjab University. Shortly after marriage, I moved to Doha. Apart from an obvious passion for fashion, I’m also part of the learning support staff in American School Doha. I have been in the fashion industry for the last half a decade and currently, taking my brand, Designer Fashion Lounge, forward.
What is your philosophy of fashion? Who and what was your inspiration?
They say music has a universal language. So does fashion, I believe, which women, in particular, relate to regardless of which part of the world they come from. It has the power to transform an image and make a social statement. Having said that, fashion is not just about wearing trendy clothes, but essentially having a personality, which can only come with confidence in how you carry yourself.
As for inspiration, it all began at home with my mother, whose elegance rubbed off on me. (Former prime minister) Benazir Bhutto was also a great signature in terms of carrying herself.
Insofar as designers are concerned, Rani Emman and Khadija Shah inspire me. If I were to choose models, I would pick the elegant Mahnoor Baloch and Nadya Hussain, both of whom have carried themselves through the years with great élan.
What are your fashion goals?
The modern woman wants it all: home, family and a successful career. Multi-tasking with household chores and meeting pressing deadlines at work has become the norm for the modern woman. My goal is to give women a wardrobe which is stylish yet practical —urban eastern chic marrying western glamour, if you will! Stylish cuts with unfussy details where we fuse femininity with strength — seamlessly — is my idea of making a statement.
Tell us about your experiences in the fashion industry?
I have had the privilege of working with the top designers of the Pakistani industry, which has grown remarkably over time. We are blessed with talented and hardworking designers, who churn out the best Lawn/cotton in the world. I can proudly claim that we have introduced Asian fashion brands in Doha and we did the first ever Asian Brands exhibition recently, which was a great success. We are also collaborating with a famous fashion house in Dubai, Zahir Rahimtoola’s Labels.
In the Fashion Fiesta held last week, we introduced top designers like Lakhany, JV Couture, Sanam Chaudry, Nida Azwar, Khadija Kareem and Élan by Khadija Shah, Origins, Farah Zubair and Sania Maskatiya.
Where does the Pakistani fashion industry figure viz-a-viz the region, and the world?
Pakistan itself has evolved and a neat reflection of this is the fashion industry, which has seen enormous growth in the last few years. They are competing with other world class designers; they have crossed a threshold in introducing a new fusion of clothing lines. There is now a noticeable round-the-clock activity in Pakistan with even the once laidback (federal capital) Islamabad setting the stage alight in trying to nudge fashion metros like Karachi and Lahore. Pakistani fashion designers have also made their mark in next-door India.
Who are your favourite designers?
The list is long. I personally like Élan by Khadija Shah, and it caters to the woman with a taste of individuality. Sana Safinaz is also doing a great job; they are dominating the industry over the decades due to the timeless elegance and grace of their designs.
What are your favourite patterns to work with and why?
I personally prefer to work with chiffons and silk because they give a really classy and elegant look to any design. I like to stick with simple and flowy cuts. My favourite prints are Block Prints and I fancy working in detail with black colour. I am a huge fan of handmade block prints. Also, I like to experiment with colours — deep red, black, blue, turquoise, emerald and so on.
What is the scope of marketing Pakistani designer wear in Doha?
Doha has the potential to match Dubai, which is an established hub in the region. I’m confident because there is a great South Asian mix in Doha and the demand for quality never ceases. As a resident who mills around the city and meets clients on a regular basis, I can tell you that there is actually a preference for Pakistani designer wear, but not enough to meet the demand. Hence, the idea to do my bit and set up a multi-layered store. We are also working on a unique design option for Qatari women under the DFL banner. The fabric used will be one of its kind!
When did you form DFL? What was the inspiration?
Basically, I started my brand with the name of Saanaz in 2010. This is a name many people still relate to. To be frank, I would say rather than inspiration it was frustration at not being able to find a single decent store to shop for Pakistani and South Asian wear or even couture!
Saanaz gained the attention of customers from our part of the world rapidly, but since the idea was to provide a permanent platform to designers to stock their collections we decided to name our fashion house as Designer Fashion Lounge, where top local and international designers can stock their collection for the Qatari market.
What was the idea behind Fashion Fiesta and how did it fare?
Fashion Fiesta was our most successful event of the year, which was organised in collaboration with fashion designers from Pakistan along with many local sponsors, who participated and encouraged our vision to promote South Asian fashion in Qatar.
The concept of Fashion Fiesta was to allow enthusiasts to have a decent outing; shop with their families in a relaxed environment of a five-star hotel.
DFL is thankful to the sponsors who helped us go a step forward in the industry. We collaborated with Apex Events, who were the organisers for Fashion Fiesta, Abode fashion magazine was our social media partner, Bombay Silk Centre and Oriental Carpets company gold sponsors, and Gul Ahmed and Zarri international vendors.
From the DFL platform, we collaborate with Labels Pakistan, the first and premier fashion store, along with the top designers that fall under “Labels” umbrella; and Sonar, our jewellery sponsors, whose work DFL introduced for the first time in Doha.
The response was beyond my imagination. DFL attained ground breaking success in terms of publicity and sales.
What kind of jewellery do you sell? What other ornaments do you market?
DFL is introducing jewellery brands from Pakistan known for their outstanding handmade products and precious metal. Sonar is the brand we introduced in Fashion Fiesta, they are well known for the nickel and lead-free jewellery around the world. They use semi-precious stones with American zircons and gold plating. In future, we are also planning to introduce the finest jewellery by Sherezad, whose expertise is 24K gold and uncut diamond jewellery luxury line as well as watches. We are also planning to pull the finest leather products and handicrafts from Pakistan.
Where and when are you setting up a store?
DFL plans to open a fashion house early next year but we will have more exhibitions for handmade jewellery and handicraft. I would prefer to set up the store in an area, which is easily accessible.
For now, those of your readers, who need more information, can join our official Facebook page which is working as Saanaz but will soon switch to DFL. www.facebook.com/brands.saanaz