On a quick shopping trip to Karachi? Karachi has some of Pakistan’s best designers and it’s possible to put a serious dent in your wallet and snag some fabulous Pakistani fashion here in K-town.
There was a time when all top designers in Karachi operated on an appointment-only basis from studios at their home. A few like Bunto Kazmi and Shehla Chatoor still work that way but the rest of the fashion scene has moved on. Iconic Karachi designers like Sania Maskatiya, Rizwan Beyg, Misha Lakhani, Faiza Samee, Shamaeel Ansari and Nida Azwer all have stores or walk-in studios. Lahori designers like Zara Shahjahan and Elan have flagship stores. If you’re looking for a bridal, you can still book a personal appointment but otherwise, you can just walk in and shop to your heart’s content.
This was supposed to be just one post but there are so many stores to cover that we’re doing this definitive guide to designer shopping in Karachi in three parts. This first focuses on Designer shopping around E street in Karachi. The second will focus o Zamzama, Bukhari Commercial and the rest of Defence. The final part will focus on Old Clifton and those designers that are further afield in KDA or off the beaten track.
Designer shopping around E-street in Karachi
Start off around E-street – Karachi’s answer to 5th Avenue or Bond Street … with the addition of the odd pothole and dust cloud. On and around E-street you’ll find the likes of Misha Lakhani, Sania Maskatiya, Farah Talib Aziz, Shamsha Hashwani and Menahel and Mehreen along with labels such Muse, Yasmeen Jiwa and Sonya Battla. Ensemble, arguably the best multi-brand store in town is also a must-visit.
Sania Maskatiya pioneered retail designer shopping in Pakistan and she’s still one of the market leaders with great designs at a variety of price points and plenty of stock. She’s top of my list for another reason – no one beats Sania and her team for customer service!
You’ll find casual pret, semi formals, silk tunics, luxury pret, formals and wedding wear at her new flagship store that opened earlier this year. I don’t think anyone in town has such a wide range of stock. If you’re looking for pure fabrics, heritage craftsmanship and a contemporary twist on the classic, this is where you head. Her silhouettes range from traditional to contemporary Eastern and she is one of the best in town for fusion wear. She is equally brilliant with print and embroidery and although she has one of the best websites, it’s worth heading in store because that’s where you’ll find the latest pieces even before they are shot for the website. The team is brilliant with alterations and open to customisation (within reason), and not just for their old clientele which I love.
Her Flagship store is just down the road from Cafe Flo and is three floors of designer luxury. Casuals and menswear are in the basement, semi formals and luxury pret are on the ground floor while formals and wedding wear are in a dedicated bridal studio upstairs – with a private consultation area and a lovely bridal trial room.
A few doors further towards Cafe Flo, you’ll find Shamsha Hashwani. She excels at delicate handwork and has two main categories of silhouettes – breezy, loose ones that are flattering whatever your shape and cool, contemporary fusions with exquisite traditional embroidery. Shamsha is another who only uses pure fabrics and much of her embroidery is hand-crafted.
Pret stock levels can vary but there are plenty of samples to order from. Shamsha does some of the best trousers and shalwars in town and it’s worth investing in some that you can mix and match with any of the kurtas and tunics in your wardrobe.
You may want to book her appointment to order one of her heritage shawls. Delicately embroidered with the most exquisite craftsmanship, the shawls are heirloom pieces – with prices to match.
Menahel and Mehreen
Menahel and Mehreen are a must-visit because they don’t sell online at all and only have a store in Karachi. They are among the priciest in town for luxury pret, but their outfits and beautiful and versatile. You can dress them up or down and the finishing is exquisite.
Their collections are among the best contemporary Eastern outfits in town. You may have seen Menahel and Mehreen on my Instagram feed – they are favourites for Eastern wear among many of Karachi’s most stylish women and stars like Mahira Khan wear their outfits frequently. The outfits are never overdone and use embellishment and detailing with restraint and panache.
Almost all of the embroidery on wedding wear at Menahel and Mehreen is done by hand. Their formals and semi-formals can be either machine-worked or hand-worked but the fabrics are always pure. Their outfits are full of delicious details like hand-made buttons and pleating. They generally have a good choice of available stock depending on the time of year but you may need to order many items and delivery times can vary.
Their wedding wear and bridals are difficult to order. They make collections and then take orders when these are semi-finished, stitching them to order. My experience is that unless you know them or are a regular customer or are very persistent, bagging formal or wedding wear can be a case of being in the right place at the right time. [I’m not deleting what I originally wrote because this was my experience, though admittedly over a year ago. We had some clarification from the brand: Bridals are in production all year round and you don’t have to be a regular or a friend to purchase these. Bridal appointments are not difficult to obtain at all depending on if you call and book a couple of weeks in advance – we just need clarity in terms of budget and style preferences to be able to send for unstitched bridals or formals from head office in the correct price range and style for clients so that the meeting can be fruitful. }
Farah Talib Aziz
Farah Talib Aziz’s store is one street away and on E-street itself, next door to Mews. She stocks her luxury pret which is all semi-formal or formal. You still need an appointment at her studio for her bridals and wedding wear. There’s always plenty of stock at the store, and Farah has a very strong signature; feminine and elegant. Expect lace, pearls, florals and pastel colours in a wide range of tunics, angharkas and kurtas in silks and silk nets. Her printed, embellished tunics are a great addition to any wardrobe and she has a range of luxury pret from the elaborate to the more stream-lined.
Farah also stocks trousers, dupattas and pants that you can mix and match with her kurtas and tunics and some outfits have matching dupattas. The staff are helpful but don’t follow you around the store, which makes for a pleasanter shopping experience than at some other storea.
As you head down the street you will hit Yasmin Jiwa, known for her super delicate embroidery and her saris. She uses the most intricate handwork with french knots, tiny beads and sequins. I also love her chunri and chikankari and her store is a great place to find something that little bit different. Her style is old school (in a good way), traditional and very beautiful.
Next to Yasmeen Jiwa, you will find Misha Lakhani. Her casual, semi-formal and formal lines are downstairs and her bridal and wedding wear is upstairs, though that is by appointment only. (oh and her bridal trial room is seriously LOVELY)
The casual and semi-formal outfits from her Miraka range are deceptively simple. Focusing on luxury cottons, linens and silks with traditional handicraft embroidery such as mirror-work and ari-work, the outfits are understated. If you want bang for your buck in terms of lots of embroidery, Misha may not be for you. If you want elegant sophistication, head on over. Misha’s cuts are flattering on all body-types; loose bosy-skimming kurtas, sari-dresses and capes and kaftans that focus on drape and fall. Her style has a slightly Indian vibe but with the delicacy of embroidery and crafstamanshio that you would expect from a Pakistani designer.
Her luxury pret is perfect to wear to other people’s weddings but, as with her Miraka line, you may find very little stock in store. Misha makes each design in such limited quantities that finding stock can be difficult – though the positive side to this is that the outfits stay exclusive. If you are in town near Eid or December, you may find more stock – which is great because the Eid and festive collections are always seriously covetable.
Further down E-street you will find Sonya Battla. Into textile and natural dyes, Sonya’s work has a distinctly minimalist, bohemian aesthetic with a focus on timeless silhouettes. She works a lot with solid colours and earthy tones, making pieces that can be dressed up or down or styled multiple ways.
2020 will mark her being in the industry 20 years and she plans introducing capsules that are an ode to her previous work, reviving a lot of classic pieces. You will find everything from casuals to formals at Sonya Battla. Worth checking out at the moment are her velvet collection, silk kurtas, free size jackets and ponchos.
The stock is very one of a kind and you won’t find mass production here. The best part is that Sonya is usually around in the evenings to help you style your piece or to find that one piece that suits your body best.
House of Ensemble
And finally, anchoring the E-street shopping experience is top multi-brand store Ensemble. Ensemble stocks a host of designers ranging from the relatively unknown to award-winning designers like Sania Maskatiya. They also host exhibitions all year round including bridal fashion trunk shows by top Lahore designers like Kamiar Rokni and Elan. Their periodic fashion souks provide an opportunity to check out the work of home-based designers and seasonal part-time designers.
Some Ensemble regulars to look out for all year round include Sanam Chaudry, Farida Hasan and their in-house label Shehrnaz. Ensemble don’t accept just anyone as a regular stockist so, at any point in time, you will find a strongly curated collection of designers with a range of trendy casual, semi-formal and formal outfits.