/ Designer Profile: Pakistan's Queen of Couture

Designer Profile: Pakistan’s Queen of Couture

Jul 29, 2013

Nilofer Shahid Doesn’t Believe In Short Cuts

She’s the founder of one of the leading fashion houses in Pakistan, has shared runways with couture kings and dressed the likes of Princess Diana and pop sensation, Madonna. What’s more, Nilofer Shahid has accomplished this without ever having been formally trained.

When we ask the esteemed designer to let us in on the secret to her success, she replies, “I’m a fatalist. I’m not a planner. It was destiny that put me on this journey.” Fair enough. But for those of us who ingest fate with a grain of salt, it’s comforting to know there’s more to her story. “It’s not always about being formally trained, it’s about technique, experience, creativity and development.”

Shahid also reflects on what it takes to survive in the undenyably challangeing world of fashion, “I don’t believe in shortcuts, I believe in growing with your work.” Shahid didn’t just grow onto the fashion scene, she exploded.

Coming from a family of poets, writers and painters, it seems natural for Shahid to have an affinity for finer things. And she does. It began in 1978 when a young Shahid, with an already developing style for hand painting and block printing deriving from Islamic art, was inspired by couture and decided to start a fashion workshop. “There were hardly any designers around at the time in Pakistan and label awareness didn’t exist so it was in a sense that no one understood the value of designing authentic.” Shahid sees Pakistani fashion as being unique. “The exotic link we have always resonates in our clothes and this gives us an edge over other designers.”

Blindly following bliss, Shahid delved into fashion textiles and hand paintings. Her designs were noticed in Lahore when she introduced exclusive block printing techniques inspired by Mughal carpets and miniature paintings. From there, the stars aligned and in 1991, Meeras opened its doors with a variety of collections from bridal, formal, casual stern wear, accessories and a men’s line.The “Runway Empress,” as she is regarded on her home turf in Lahore, is known worldwide for her dedication to promoting the grandeur of Islamic culture through the artistic merit in her designs. Even the nameMeeras, meaning legacy, is telling of her philosophy. Popular for profound themes and extensive research, Shahid reveals the strategy behind the magic of a Meeras creation, “I select my subject of inspiration and then have several brainstorming sessions with my team to interpret that message.”

Just one conversation with Shahid will reveal her breadth of knowledge and passion about history, architecture and the arts. Shahid uses her love of her culture and her spirituality as a platform to launch each classical ensemble. A demonstration of this claim is her Khalil Gibran collection, dedicated to the Lebanese poet who believed in the essential goodness of people. Gibran preached that we are born pure and deep like the oceans, but become seduced by worldly desires. Shahid honours Gibran’s narration with a series of saris named after each worldly desire: seduction, temptation, passion and intoxication, and jewel-embellished garments represent “the hour which is treasured by eternity.”

In her Chughtai collection, Shahid pays homage to painter Abdur Rahman Chughtai, an artist known also known as the Matisse of Pakistan. One painting by Matisse in particular, depicts a lotus floating on water, but not in control. Just like nature, it surrenders to balance. Using the painting’s message, the Meera's team selected black and white colours to represent balance for this collection. Though it was created in 1997, the Chughtai collection is still receiving orders today. Whether it’s in her sartorial interpretation of the Rubaiyats of Omar Khayyam, her Central Asian line or grand Mughal recreations, Shahid’s spirituality comes to life with each new creation, paying tribute to both the past and present. “People tell me that my clothes have a soul and I think this is great because it comes from my heart.”

Steadfast in her vision and delivery, Shahid is a known perfectionist, always drawn to craftsmanship using jewels, gold wire and semi-precious stones to embellish her garments. “I don’t ever want to be part of the herd. I’m finicky and I always set high standards for my collections to be unique. Continually growing and surpassing is not easy.” Nevertheless, Shahid’s impressive repertoire makes it look so. Shahid has exhibited at several venues around the world, from Prague to Zurich, Hollywood to the Middle East and India to Central Asia. She is the only Pakistani designer to be invited to showcase her collection on the Paris runway during Haute Couture Week in January 2007. “It has been a long and tough journey.This is an art form and a love for our culture. I’m here to bring forth the message that says, ‘This is who I am and this is what we are all about.’ ”

Putting Pakistan on the fashion map is an honour Shahid does not take lightly. But what’s to come for the country’s fashion ambassadress? Even she does not know. “I’m not a business woman, I’m an artist. I’m peaceful when I let fate lead me.”



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