Born with the passion for fashion, Arsalan Iqbal daydreamed through his childhood about designing clothes for internationally renowned celebrities. However, he went on to study finance just to come back to designing for this is what he is best at.

Arsalan collaborated with Yahseer Javaed in 2010 and they came up with their label Arsalan & Yahseer. Dissatisfied with this collaboration Arsalan Iqbal called it off, revamped his brand and came up with the new label House of Arsalan Iqbal. The designer has the philosophy of reinterpreting the traditions of men’s and women’s wear to bring out the clothes that have both trendy and classy appeal. Sunday Plus had a conversation with the young fashionista about his work, aspirations and design philosophy. Have a look!

When did you discover that this was the field for you?

I realized fashion was my calling back in 8th grade.As a teenager I used to visualize international celebrities wearing clothes I had made for them and imagined how I could offer them a “complete look.” I have always hankered after and enjoyed the entertainment and fashion industries.

You studied finance and worked as an Assistant Finance Director. How did the designer inside you come out?

It’s all about having and following your passion. And deciding you want to go for it 100%!  You can’t do anything half-baked. Everyone should have a goal and should chase it with full dedication and commitment. I realized my goals and dreams and there has never been any looking back!

You have made your way to the top. What struggles did you experience to reach this level?

There have been many struggles! Not having a solid fashion education from a fashion school is a huge setback. One has to learn from scratch at an age when all natural learning capabilities have been lost. It’s tough going. I even worked/trained at a local tailor’s shop for very little money just to learn basic cutting and pattern-making techniques. After that I undertook a spurt of online courses, read books and an unerring dedication got me where I am. And! I’m still learning

What’s been the most defining point of your career?

My recent transition from out of Karachi to Lahore with the opening of my flagship store on Lahore’s MM Alam Rd. It’s truly amazing there. The market, the diverse clients and their buying power are encouraging. They understand and appreciate my talent and trust me 100%. Most importantly, they understand the art involved in a making an outfit.

Has your finance degree helped you in your business?

 Of course my finance degree has helped me immeasurably BIG TIME! I had the advantage of having a business background. It has helped me usher in a business sensibility into fashion. Most artists don’t have a good business sense which often handicaps them almost completely and prevents them from reaching their full potential. I have a sound business sense and use to the best advantage!

What has your experience been like working in a team? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in a team?

I never believed working as a team could be as fruitful as I’m experiencing right now. The synergetic effects are quite visible to me now. We all look after each other’s backs. Brainstorming and garnering fresh new ideas offer one a wider and diverse perspective when putting up a collection together. It’s easier to focus when you know that whatever risks you take artistically, your sales and marketing team will do their best to make it work. It’s a wonderful process. Bonding between team members is important as everyone has 100% faith in whatever they are doing.

When and why did you part ways with YahseerJavaed?

 I was and I remain very ambitious and he simply wasn’t

What has been your experience of working solo? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working alone?

Parting ways and working alone actually hasn’t made much of a difference. I used to do the creative work before and I continue to do so. Having a team has enabled me to be more focused towards design and quality.

Tell us something about your brand? What makes it stand out among other labels?

 The House of Arsalan Iqbal is working to inspire individuals; it is a brand buoyed by aspirations and dreams. We are not just selling clothes. Our passion and dedication towards Art inspires us to offer something novel and edgy with every new collection. Be it at the stores or on the catwalk, my philosophy has been to be multi-dimensional, versatile and artistic in whatever I do.

What is your design philosophy?

My design philosophy involves maintaining a balance between the avantgarde and the practical aspect of fashion; being both edgy and bold yet remaining elegant.

What parameters do you keep in mind during designing?

Creative individuals can’t work restrained by parameters and limitations. Art can’t be limited. You can’t stop the overflow of artistic expression entering your mind. I always tone down an outré design element by cutting corners so as to create ready -to-wear garments.

Where are your retail outlets located?

We currently have two stores in Karachi, both on Tariq Rd, and one flagship store in Lahore. We are only displaying menswear in Karachi for now. We are getting ready to stock at the PFDC Lounge in Karachi (Dolmen City) for women’s wear. We display a complete range of menswear and women’s wear including Bridals, footwear, bags and jewellery at our Lahore Store on MM Alam Rd. opposite Café Zouk, in the lane of Shoe Planet.

 

How has been response in Lahore now after the launch of new studio? Which are the next destinations?

The response has been overwhelming. Mash’a’Allah! The House of Arsalan Iqbal was welcomed very warmly by Lahore. I’m very grateful about that! The next stop is a larger flagship store in Karachi. After that I’m eyeing international markets like Bangladesh and India.

What difference do you find between clients in Lahore and Karachi?

Lahore is more obsessed with fashion, image and labels and in their own way more fashion savvy. Lahorites understand Art more and are ready to invest in it. Other than that not much else is different. Both cities’ customers are now my favorites!

The concept of designer clothes used to be that each client would have a customized dress especially made for him by the designer but this has changed now. What do you think about that?

That system still exists. We do offer couture, demi-couture and haute couture to grooms and brides. Other than that only a few selected clientele invests in couture. Ready-to-wear has given the client a wider choice to select from. Prêt is more comfortable, more accessible and promotes high street fashion.

How do you customize clothes for your clients?

A client can always ask us to make minute alterations in an outfit and we make them in their size. There is always a junior designer available at the store to guide the client and advise him or her how to style the look. Apart from that, I fly in for appointments from Karachi to Lahore if required.

What’s the price tag of your range of clothing? Is it affordable or only for a niche class?

My brand is highly affordable for any single individual who is willing to spend as less as Rs. 2,350/ on a pair of slippers. Everything is priced at the lowest possible range to promote high street fashion. I want to inspire people and offer aspiration-driven fashion yet I want people to also afford fashion.

Your collection iat PFDC was called ‘Cargwar’. What was the inspiration behind your designs?

The inspiration came from Myth of Odysseus the master of disguise. It is a unisex line offering equal power to both the sexes. We just redefined and modernized the dated silhouette of a shalwarand made it look like it can be used in multifaceted ways with myriad silhouette and juxtaposed some pieces with cargo pants. It’s such a beautiful shape and lots can be done with it. I’m gearing up for A/W’14 collection which is an extension to this collection.  There will be lots of playing with fabric involved.

Which has been your personal favorite collection?

All my collections have been special but.’ Spectacle Blanc’ S/S’13 shown at Fashion Pakistan Week was my personal all-time favourite.

Are you discouraged or de-motivated by anything?

 I’m extremely focused towards my goals and ambitions. Nothing throws me off apart from lies, deceit and fashion politics. So I keep myself away from all of that and just focus on work

How do you face criticism when you are at the receiving end?

I encourage constructive criticism. It’s always good to admit your mistakes with individuals, especially learned journalists pointing them out in a nurturing manner. But the criticism has to be logical and it has to make sense.

 

If you were not a designer what would you have been?

I’m born to be a designer. I’m a disaster at everything else!

It is said that designing is God-gifted quality. Do you agree?

Good designing abilities and aesthetics are indeed God-gifted qualities. A fashion education is important to understand fashion and its history; how it evolved. Individuals often don’t take education seriously because they don’t understand and respect how much effort was put into creating a truly wonderful garment. It’s a pain and a half! Having a fashion education does make it easy for you to understand the technicalities involved in creating a garment. If one is not educated, it takes time to learn and train oneself with lots and lots of hard work and struggles.

How do you see the Pakistani Fashion Industry? Has it become stagnant in recent times or do you see it flourishing?

Everything takes time to evolve and fashion in Pakistan is gradually moving forward. We will get there eventually!

You have represented Pakistan on all forums and you present a very opposite image to what is shown in mainstream media. How has been the response internationally?

I get acknowledged favourably by many international clients. We have an effective and running online business via E-mails, our website and through Facebook.

Fashion shows have become very popular in recent times. However, along with applause, there comes criticism too. Many think that it has resulted in monopoly of a few on Pakistani Fashion Industry. What is your take on this?

I believe this is a misconception. It’s very wrong to blame one group for any type of monopoly. It’s very simple in Pakistan: You make superlative clothes and showcase beautiful Art with talent and you will get duly acknowledged.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?

 My target is to showcase and stock in Paris by 2020.

For which celebrity would you really like to design a dress?

Sadly, there is no one in particular in Pakistan. As a menswear designer I would like put together a look for George Clooney for the Oscar Awards.

Any fashion faux pas that you have done so far?

 I have done nothing that I regret.

 

Rapid Fire

Arsalan Iqbal in one line?

- Crazy

Your day starts with?

- A kiss for my son.

Latest purchase?

- A 3D printer.

Your Muse?

- Fashion Journalist Zurain Imam, I won’t name the other until he or she is onboard.

The things which inspire you?

- Everything inspires me!

The best thing that ever happened to you?

- My wife Sarrah.

A good mood changer?

-Great weather!

What puts you off?

- Lies

Favorite fragrance?

- These days it’s Dior Homme.

Favorite color?

- Red.

One dream that lays unfulfilled?

- A store in Paris.

Biggest regret so far?

- None

Musts for Bridal wear?

- Staying on-trend and being totally comfortable and satisfied with her choice of bridal wear.

Don’ts for a bride?

- Not staying on-trend and feeling uncomfortable and dissatisfied with her choice of bridal wear

Musts for summer wardrobe?

- Whites and earthy tones. A pair of Cargwar trousers and complimenting jackets are must-haves!

Don’ts in summer?

- Wearing black

Reigning trends of 2014?

- Steampunk!

Biggest competitor in the industry?

- None

Your favorite fashion brands?

- Valentino, Fendi and Giorgio Armani.