Ali Xeeshan: The Avant Garde Way
With his usual brisk little steps, Ali Xeeshan enters the room and greets us warmly. He fidgets around in his throne-like massive chair, while someone quickly sews a button here and tucks a sleeve or collar there, giving the final touches to what he is famous for- the eccentric Ali Xeeshan look! Dressed in grey (yes surprisingly boring for Ali… but wait for the rest), his jacket is hand painted all over with calligraphy in white by a close friend. What it actually says, remains a mystery to me and Ali does not provide any answers either but it fulfills the promise that Ali Xeeshan will definitely give the public something to always gawk at.
But wait a minute… where are the round Jupiter-sized owl glasses? With a pang of sadness touching his voice Ali replies, “They broke!” and then adds, “Some people are very sad about it, but others like my mother are thrilled!” I am not worried because I know that he will always give us something new and more bewildering to talk about- just the way he loves it and about this he makes no apologies.
The annual issue of Brides & You brings you a heart to heart with Ali Xeeshan- a controversial figure in the fashion field, who has risen up in fame in a short span of time while surprising many of his critics. Let us have a look at his journey and see how the artist has actually ended up where he is today.
Q. Give us a brief introduction about yourself.
A. I want to begin with Government College, where I was the Vice President of the Fine Arts Society, which defined my future aspirations for me. I joined Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design (PIFD) where I received a distinction. I was selected to go to Paris and later Germany for training in 2005. After graduating in 2007, I started working for big designers including Nilofer Shahid- an unforgettable learning experience. In 2010, I did my debut with Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC), which defined my standing as a designer and helped refine my design philosophy and ideology.
Q. Your designs are often termed ‘eccentric’ and colours are called ‘unusual’, where do you draw the inspiration from for your designs? What made you go so unconventional and do something different from what was the ‘in’ thing at the time you entered the field?
A. The question was what was new that I could bring to the table. I chose to portray our own culture as my core ingredient, and then translate it into modern contemporary fashion. Punjabis are loud, we are eccentric and we like to celebrate; we enjoy life to the full and there is a happy wave about this region. All this festivity and being over-the-top in our clothes’ designs, is incorporated into my work. It is also because this it is the way I am. Anything random and dull bores me. Something unusual has to be there- something that’s ‘off’. It makes me edgy and bold. I was just being true to myself. God has given everyone something special, which no one else has. That is how I am- I would go to a boring class lecture wearing a huge interesting head gear upon my head! It is my viewpoint and it is just how it is.
Q.You design both Couture and Prêt lines, which do you enjoy more and why? What type of accessories do you offer for men and women?
A. Definitely couture! It gives more margin to play. More layers, bigger budgets and more room to play. My accessory line is taking off well. I design the complete look when designing an outfit. That is how I imagine it. Quoting Tariq Amin he said to me once that Ali you do not imagine just a dress, but the whole mood board- what will be the light, temperature and what will the entire look be presented as. This is the reason I landed big projects such as costumes for a serial called “Mor Mahal” being produced by Sarmad Khoosat for Geo TV. Meesha Shafi is the main lead. It is a royal and a tribal setting existing somewhere in the world.
A lot of brides are also opting for costume jewellery or no jewellery. I told a bride the other day not to prove your wealth through heavy jewellery. She listened to me and wore just a huge stone on her finger and nothing else. My gota jewellery is also very popular and some of my clients are going for it. It is not just economic but also bespoke, which makes the bride look beautiful.
Q.The ramp shows which you put up also stand apart from the crowd? Tell us how you come up with the conception of unique ideas for your shows?
A. I might design my clothes in a week but it will take me six months to decide how to put the show together. I do my research well for example if I am using the region of Sindh as inspiration, my show will have suitable lighting, music, choreography, down to the last detail as to the order in which the dresses are shown on the ramp. The entire mood comes together and takes the audience to a whole new world. It is the art of story telling. I am a good observer and connected to current art forms the world over. I will also know what Valentino designed last week, so I know what not to do and what everyone else is doing. That is why my work is standing out today.
Q. You received an award for the best couture collection from PFDC while you were still studying. Tell us about that collection and the reason for its success?
A. It was brave! It had a personality that was very powerful. My collection said ‘I have my own ideology’ and it was like a breath of fresh air. It was something new to look at. It put me on the cover of Khaleej Times with lots of chatter about it in international media. The silhouettes were statement art pieces. They had no boundaries.
Q. Do you believe that a Pakistani bride should opt for ‘less is more’ which is the philosophy of many designers here or should she go for the ethnic traditional heavily embroidered farshi lehngas and ghararas? Also tell us what the latest trend is for the coming season.
A. My clientele is of people who want a gaudy dress. But you must only wear what suits you according to your body type. I tell my clients to stop being a victim of fashion. Pick and choose your own trend out of the few that are the rage. One thing that is standing out these days is the replacement of tons of embellishment with layers of fabrics. Focus will be on embroidered, textured and painted surfaces. I have everything developed for me right here, stones and semi precious stones are good in our own country.
Q. You are also known to be into wall art. Tell us about that.
A. That is like my therapy. I design murals. I have done one even for Ather Shahzad Studio.
Q. How has the experience been working with the fashion councils here in Lahore and Karachi?
A. I think any council and authentic platform is amazing for business and artistic value. They bring designers and media under one roof. It gives you a sense of competition so you have to be good at your job. If I have to pull off that kind of an event on my own it would not be cost effective.
Q. What are some of the bigger problems and issues you have faced which you feel should have been done away with in Pakistan’s fashion industry.
A. I face a lot of issues for simply doing things out of the box. When I come up with some new idea, it is criticized and rejected at first. We are not fashion forward. We should make trends for the world to follow. We should lead. Some people here do not understand my work and keep putting me down as a designer. It really brings the morale down. My suggestion for them is to have more open mindedness.
Q. Who are some of your favourite people to work with?
A. Ather and Shahzad are amazing. Mehreen is gorgeous and Meesha Shafi is my muse. I get along really well with her. Then there are so many others- the list is long.
Q. What is your philosophy of life in a single line?
A. Never give up!
Q. How does it feel to be approached by the Grammy award winning singer Rihanna to design for her?
A. When I did my show in London, I got a call from Rihanna’s PR team that they wanted me to design a look for her. Of course it was thrilling. At the moment I cannot disclose more about it as the work in underway.
Q. You are often criticized as someone who believes in shock value of things; you do things differently; your get-up is unconventional, as are your shows. Why do you think you need to do this? As many believe that if your work is good then you do not need these tactics.
A. You will not believe that they are not tactics. It is the biggest misunderstanding. If you put a camera in my room, you will be more shocked than people are with my shows and my appearance. Tactics are when people try to forge it. When it comes from the heart, it is so natural that it makes me an instant hit.
Q. A word of advice for new entrants in this field?
A. For inspiration, look within. The rest of the world and its ideas are all taken, so you have to be your own self only.
Q. Future plans?
A. Karachi and Dubai are next on the list. My studios will be open there soon.