x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Pakistani designer Khadijah Shah of Élan on her upcoming Dubai trunk show with Boulevard One

What sets Elan apart from other Pakistani labels was the fact that it broke from the traditional moulds that had dictated South Asian bridal wear for centuries

Elan fuses a formal Eastern aesthetic with cocktail wear, and intricate embroidery with pastel shades. Courtesy Elan
Elan fuses a formal Eastern aesthetic with cocktail wear, and intricate embroidery with pastel shades. Courtesy Elan

In Pakistan, luxury bridal wear is a booming industry, with brides-to-be often dishing out tens of thousands of dirhams on an outfit for their big day. Traditionally, the fashion houses producing these hand-worked, couture ensembles are family-owned businesses, run from ateliers within their own homes. Many have also diversified into casual wear to offer printed “lawn” – a soft cotton fabric ideal for the hotter summer months.

Elan not only exemplifies this business model, it is a leading label in Pakistan, with both its bridal wear and casual, unstitched lawn proving equally covetable. The brand launched about a decade ago when creative director Khadijah Shah graduated from university in London and returned to Pakistan. “I stumbled into this profession by chance,” says Shah.

“My mother had a small clothing label and, back in the day, while she was travelling, she asked me to look after her clients’ orders and ensure her business was running smoothly. It was my first foray into fashion, which I absolutely loved, and I decided to pursue it full time,” she explains.

What quickly set Elan apart from other Pakistani labels was the fact that it broke from the traditional moulds that had dictated South Asian bridal wear for centuries. While deep reds and gaudy golds are generally the shades of choice, Shah’s preferred colours include lilacs, light blues and pastel pinks with ivory accents.

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“I introduced French embroidery patterns and used materials that were unlike those that were on the market,” she says. “It’s what I am naturally drawn towards. I always wanted to create a different look for brides – something different from the traditional bridal aesthetic.”

While her colour palette may stray from the norm, Shah’s silhouettes are classic and timeless, ranging from anarkali wrap-front dress styles to lenghas and floor-sweeping gowns. Featuring countless metres of intricate embroidery, often bedazzled with pearls, beads and other embellishments, and crafted purely by hand, bridal outfits must be ordered months in advance. “Each dress usually takes 400 to 500 man-hours to make; it’s an extremely elaborate process,” says Shah. Elan’s prices reflect the labour that goes into each garment, with prices starting at Dh21,000 per outfit.

The label launched its unstitched lawn collection in 2012. This fine cotton fabric often causes a frenzy in stores, because in Pakistan, designer lawn is the equivalent of an H&M collaboration with a luxury fashion house. Long queues and even cat-fights can ensue over the last piece in a collection.

Although Elan’s trademark formal wear features soft and muted tones, its lawn fabrics flaunt bold, floral patterns, and because it is all unstitched, it can be tailored to a customer’s liking.

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The brand also has two other lines – Elan Vital and Elan Pret, which offer smart-casual and formal attire for women attracted to the label’s French-inspired aesthetic, but who may not be able to afford the bridal wear. Designs from these collections will be available in Dubai this weekend, at the seasonal Boulevard One Trunk Show at the Palace Downtown Dubai. Right in time for Diwali and the winter wedding season, the two-day exhibition will also feature other Pakistani brands like Nina Neri, Delphi and Farah Talib Aziz.

Pakistani style trends are largely reflected by the hemline of the kurta, or long tunic. The traditional knee-length garment went through a period of long, tent-like lengths in the early 2000s and over the past decade has been reinterpreted in shorter, more fitted cuts, paired with tailored, cigarette-style trousers. But Shah says that there may soon be a return to longer lengths.

“This season, the trend is going back towards longer hemlines, leaning towards more classic and timeless looks,” she says. “In Pakistan, I see a lot of fusion evening wear; a blend of Eastern formal and cocktail wear – so a lot of capes, kaftans and other versatile silhouettes.”

Although her designs are technically categorised as South Asian ethnic wear or fusion wear, Shah says that the brand has acquired a Middle Eastern clientele that’s both “loyal” and “steady”, largely due to the fact that Arab and Pakistani cultures share many similarities. “In fact, their culture has greatly influenced ours in terms of aesthetic and parameters. Since our silhouettes tend to be more modern than Eastern, they resonate well with the cosmopolitan Arab clientele.”