Pret A Porter: Paras and Shalini of Geisha Designs have Designs on you

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An established brand name in the world of fashion in ready to wear category, the brainchild of Paras and Shalini, two brilliant designers with global vision and local appeal, they are known for their very delicate and feminine embroideries By Fareeha Qayoom, Photographs courtesy of Geisha Designs

An established brand name in the world of fashion in ready to wear category, the brainchild of Paras and Shalini, two brilliant designers with global vision and local appeal, they are known for their very delicate and feminine embroideries

By Fareeha Qayoom, Photographs courtesy of Geisha Designs

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here has been a growing realization in India that huge profits may not necessarily come from well-lined pockets looking for elaborate trousseaus – that there is a teeming market out there getting completely ignored. That fashion is also about selling numbers. Until recently, leading Indian designers mainly focused on couture lines and wedding trousseaus but this trend is slowly changing. A steadily growing number of dress designers, textile designers, models, make-up artists, hairstylists, stylists, photographers have joined the designer/fashion industry in the past five years the target customer base has remained stagnant in the mean time. Prêt a porter indeed is the answer to this particular problem. There is a need for affordable ready to wear clothing, not only in India but in Pakistan as well.

Geisha Designs is one such label leading the march – an established brand name in the world of fashion in ready to wear category, the brainchild of Paras and Shalini, two brilliant designers with global vision and local appeal, they are known for their very delicate and feminine embroideries. Their brand name is synonymous with style and craftsmanship, comfort and sophistication, renowned for their innovative use of color and exotic fibers bringing in a harmonious blend of the old and new.

Geisha Designs are not new to Pakistan. Paras and Shalini showcased their special fall/winter collection 2005 under their label Geisha designs at the ‘India in Pakistan week”. (August 17-21, 2005). The Sheraton

Towers, Karachi in association with designers lounge, Dubai, organized this event. Geisha Designs has been featured on the highly acclaimed Kingfisher swimsuit calendar 2005. This designer duo also took part in the Lakme India Fashion Week 2005, showcasing its collections for the fourth time.

They are tagged as the “Fresh, young and trendy” designers by the press of India –

SHALINI JAIKARIA

Even loyal fans probably don’t know that Shalini Jaikaria is a qualified medical doctor. Her parents wanted her to study medicine, so like a dutiful daughter, she did but her heart wasn’t in it. She did her MBBS from Mumbai and then moved to the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi. “When we realized that she was still unhappy about not taking up designing, we let her do what she wanted,” says her mother Shakunt Singh. She went on to do her associate diploma in fashion from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York, on a NIFT scholarship program.

While at FIT she interned with the Armani Exchange fashion house and on returning to India ended up working with designer Suneet Varma. In 2001, she started Geisha Designs in partnership with Paras.

Her distinctions and accolades include an award from NIFT graduating ceremony – Confluence ’98, in appreciation of her use of traditional techniques; she was additionally awarded the Fashionova ’98.

She was also the national finalist in 1996 for SMIRNOFF INTERNATIONAL DESIGN COMPETITION. For 150th anniversary of Omega, Switzerland, she designed and presented an ensemble for Cindy Crawford. She has also the good fortune to represent India for the visual display of the Indian Ambience Hall and India International Theme Pavilion at HEMTEXTIL Fair, Germany.

PARAS BAIROLIYA

A graduate of fashion from NIFT, New Delhi, he has also won various awards and distinctions on his graduation like the topper of the institute, the best designer of the year at NIFT (Confluence’98) and the

Omega award for excellence at the graduation ceremony courtesy, Omega watches, Switzerland. He also received the Ritu Kumar award for THE BEST DESIGN COLLECTION OF THE YEAR at the Fashionova’98-an annual NIFT event and Uma Nath award for the Best Academic Performance for the batch of 95-98 at NIFT. On graduation he interned for the fashion house of Ranna Gill from 1998-

2000 and under her tutelage designed for international and domestic exhibitions and fashion shows including the Lakme India Fashion Week.

SPECIALTY

Geisha Designs’ specialty is designer clothes in affordable prices. “Price points are very essential part of our design. We ensure quality and decrease production costs by optimal fabric utilization, making our garments affordable. Our philosophy has always been to give value to our customers,” says Shalini and Paras. They specialize in clean basic cuts with surface embellishments and finishes.

They design for a city-bred girl with sophisticated tastes, producing occasion and daywear ensembles for her. Western pattern making in traditional silhouettes is combined with eastern crafts to create a very contemporary line. Their focus continues to be on creative and unconventional use of traditional materials like beads, sequins and thread, creating a three-dimensional form, full of textures, vibrant colors and audacious designs.

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READY TO WEAR COLLECTION 2005

The 18th and 19th century costumes and the British Raj inspire their 2005 fall/winter collection – it is an attempt to recreate and set the mood of the era of the aristocracy and bohemian excesses, which were ruthlessly destroyed by modernization, and practicality of the twentieth century. There is an emphasis on fine detailing, delicate embroidery and exotic yet regal silhouettes which is the signature style of Paras and Shalini.

The look is modern yet elegant, graceful and regal for today’s woman. Explaining their design philosophy, the duo comments, “There is something superficial and volatile about the seasonal and elusive whims of fashion which offends our sense of beauty. Therefore we persevere to sustain a feeling of enchantment in this world of fashion that never tires, never changes, and never dies. Our ultimate aim is to amaze ourselves. The anticipation of discovering new possibilities becomes our greatest joy.”

Using surface embellishment techniques like chikan, kalamkari, kantha and block printing, teaming it with vibrant Indian colors like burgundy, brocade red and gold, and creating silhouettes that combine east and west – Saris and skirts teamed with corsets, tunics with pants, using fabrics like georgettes, brocades, silk, khaddi and cotton, Geisha designs presented their fall/winter 2005 collection in Karachi in August 2005. “We were contacted by the store, Designer’s Lounge in Dubai which organized this event with the Sheraton Towers in Karachi. We have been stocking at the store for the last three years; we have a good business relationship with Nader and Raziya, the owners of the Designer’s Lounge…this event was actually India week in Karachi and very different from Lakme Fashion Week (LIFW).”

For Lakme fashion week, (April 20-26, 2005), they presented a collection called ‘heat and sand’ – mainly beiges and off white, it had a very soft and subtle feel. Long sleeved semi transparent t-shirts were teamed with an embroidered backless choli and Lengha style skirts, over which a long spaghetti top was worn. Layering was key. Embroidery had a very regal effect with one lone sleeved having jadau necklace resembling embellishment around the neck. Despite this all the clothes had a very western feel and the reference to European history was obvious. Bustle like skirts were worn with short capri with kanta and a Mosquito embellishment on the corner of the trouser leg. From this, the duo moved into a fairly more dramatic line called “African Queen”. Not what you normally expect from Geisha; this collection had an Indian folk like feel as blacks were teamed with vibrant rusts and corals, and the tribal beading added to the very rural feel of this sequence. Motifs from Gujarat and Rajasthan added to the effect. All models wore faux fur tied around the necks, which added a sense of luxury. The final sequence again had references to European History, light aqua blues and white gave this collection a very young lady appeal. Reverse appliqué in Marie Antoinette floral added an English Garden feel. The embroideries looked very much like they came from a delicate garden gazebo. Though there was touch of India in this collection: a straight skirt opened at the front to reveal pleats adding a sari like quality.

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DESIGN INSPIRATION: THE WORLD AND INDIAN ARTS AND CRAFTS

“As a designer based in India it is of prime importance for us to flaunt something which is truly us,” says Shalini and Paras. “India is probably the only country where so many cultures and crafts co-exist. The crafts which have been handed down generations are so rich in their appeal that we think we should absolutely use its beauty and colors to enhance our collections. We do not particularly develop our collections from the yarn stage …we buy fabrics from various parts of India, adding on exclusive embellishments and extensive hand work. We have approximately 200 hand embroiders based in Delhi who embroider our designs using traditional techniques like ari and zardosi. Besides these we have select collections being developed in Lucknow (for badla and chikaan work), in Kanyakumari (hand crocheted laces), in Kutch with Sewa (cross stich embroidery from the gracia jaat embroiderers) and in Jammu Kashmir (ari and sozni work). These various crafts add uniqueness to our collection and hence it is of prime importance in our collection,” they add.

Expressing their thoughts on the future crafts of India, Shalini and Paras are optimistic and upbeat “With the quota system gone the market is going to be very very competitive. However craft based product will continue to be sold in specialty boutiques and remain unaffected as they cater to a niche market which will always exist as long as craftsmen keep handing down their crafts through generations and are open to experimentation with new fabrics, motifs and color ways it will be the strength of India and its uniqueness. A number of leading designers world over turn to India for their muse, be it mirror work from Kutch or chikkan or chain stitch from Kashmir, or brocades from Benaras or tie dye from Rajasthan. The options available in our country are innumerable, that’s why, as many times a person travels one keeps coming across something new and different.”

Comparing Pakistan and Indian markets, Shalini says, “I think both the countries are very similar and have common potential markets. All the states in Pakistan and India are unique in their culture and tradition and the same reflects in their clothes and lifestyle. The rich heritage combined with the current day exposure to both print and electronic media besides travel help in deriving interesting adaptation of our past history to create contemporary ensembles which have a market both within the countries and abroad.”

A GLOBAL BRAND

Geisha designs is truly an international label – selling globally – spanning Asia, Africa, Europe and America, they sell in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Hong Kong, Singapore, UK (London, Birmingham), and Spain, (LA), USA, South Africa and Kenya. They are also planning to collaborate with Pakistani boutiques to sell their label locally. “Both Karachi and Lahore have established boutiques, quite like Delhi and Mumbai. We would be looking into tying up with some stores so that we can build a supply chain. Also, Designers lounge intends to open a fashion boutique in Karachi soon,” comments Shalini and Paras. ■

This article was originally published in the print edition of the “The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review,” Tkfr issue 13, January 2006

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Fareeha Qayoom
Fareeha Qayoom
Publisher and editor-in-chief of Tkfr.com and former print editions of The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review (tkfr), a trade newsletter for the textile and apparel industry of Pakistan. In short, Publisher, editor, and a blogger. In addition, she has served as Managing Editor of MIT Technology Review Pakistan, print and web editions (2015-16). Total of 7 editions were published under her leadership by ITU, Punjab's first public technology university under the license of MIT Technology Review (USA). She has also managed Value Mag in the same capacity, a real estate and lifestyle magazine for Value TV - 2008-9. Published freelancer for The News on Sunday 1994-96. Fareeha has over 21 years of solid management experience – of managing brands (like Harley Davidson, Munsingwear, Chaps, Chaps Ralph Lauren etc.,), Retailers (like Target, Mervyns, Kohl's, Marks and Spencer etc.,), customers (VPs, Product Managers, Unit Managers, and Buyers), and products (apparel - woven, knits, men's, women's, children's, Print and online publishing units), projects, teams, and processes, information, content, and data, staff, vendors, and time. Versatile and adaptable with international exposure, communication and language skills (oral and written), and a consistent track record of achieving company targets and objectives, plus a MA in Political Science from Punjab University, a MSc in Economics from La Salle University, Louisiana, USA, and a BA in Economics from Kinnaird College for Women.

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