“Since I was a child I wanted to be a part of the world of glamour, not at the forefront but behind the scenes. I wanted to create glamour, make people feel beautiful.”
This was the career goal of Pakistani designer Maheen Karim, who has successfully carved out a name for herself in the field of formal wear, traditional and non-traditional.
The Karachi designer trained at Central Saint Martins in London, England, before interning with fashion houses that included Julien Macdonald, Hussein Chalayan and Giorgio Armani. After a two-year stint working in London, she returned to Pakistan to start her own label.
Whether a result of international experience or her vision to bring something new to Pakistani fashion, Karim’s aesthetic reflects a larger shift in the fashion industry – particularly in South Asian formalwear, which is increasingly influenced by western style trends.
Case in point: of the 3,500-plus Instagram posts with the hashtag #MaheenKarim, more than half of the images appear to show evening wear reflecting contemporary western notions of fashion, rather then eastern ethnic wear.
When Karim launched her eponymous label in 2006, she had no plans to create traditional Pakistani clothing.
“I started with purely western evening wear,” she says.
“I loved to play with silhouettes and enjoyed creating the glamour. I had to make my own ethnic weddingwear though, and when friends and family saw me, they liked it and ordered it for themselves – so I thought, why not start with Pakistani silhouettes as well?”
Karim won’t be lumped together with other Pakistani fashion designers – she says women’s evening wear is her forte, and reveals that her signature design is, in fact, a jumpsuit with embroidered and crystal-studded necklaces.
Furthermore, she has no qualms about incorporating international trends into more traditional attire. Many of her ethnic, shalwar kameez (tunic-and-trouser) designs are heavily influenced by western elements, such as off-shoulder necklines.
Mention this and Karim is defensive. This is not surprising – many of Pakistan’s more conservative retailers are resistant to styles that show more skin than traditionally deemed acceptable.
It is not uncommon for Karim’s pieces to incorporate strapless, off-shoulder and one-shoulder necklines, high slits and exposed navels.
“Why not? Pakistani women are trendy and modern,” she says. “If done tastefully, I feel it looks fabulous, and the traditional shalwar kameez should develop and modernise with time.”
The designer says one of her favourite ready-to-wear trends for the season is not elaborate draping or over-embellished bodices, but rather, simple jogging trousers.
“I love the causal chic look. One can’t be in heels all the time,” she says.
Karim will display her luxury prêt designs, along with traditional Eid pieces, at the Boulevard One exhibition in Dubai on Saturday and Sunday, which features fashion, lifestyle and accessories brands.
“I want to showcase a variety because I feel Dubai is a global melting pot with different genres all in one hub,” she says. “I want to showcase something for everyone.”
For some, that might be a slinky gold gown from Karim’s Tales of Vienna Collection. For others, it could be an off-the-shoulder embroidered tunic with emerald-green accents from her recent wedding collection, which was showcased by Pakistani model Sadaf Kanwal.
• Boulevard One takes place Saturday, March 4 – Sunday, March 5 at The Royal Ballroom, The Palace Downtown Dubai from 10am-7pm.