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Munib Nawaz – Pakistani fashion’s new prodigy

When Lux Style announced it’s contenders for the best men’s wear designer award in 2004, one just had to stop for a second and wonder who in good god’s name Munib Nawaz was. You could swear you’d never heard his name before and you definitely couldn’t recall an outlet, and still, there he stood, all 22 years of him, abutting Deepak Parwani and Yahsir Saeed at the exalted event of the year, self-assured and in his own words, ‘elated, but also quite moved.’
And why wouldn’t he be? A little research proved that the young Armani-esque prodigy had launched his label only 19 months earlier; already hooking a decent clientele onto his designs, he’d touched down and made it home.
Of course Munib had his precious internship and then a permanent placement with the designing giant Amir Adnan to thank which had conveniently secured him a coveted edge over a plethora of young and hopeful local designers who would have given just about anything to be in his shoes, but as it usually turns out in the world of all good, having friends in all the right places does not always a successful designer make—Munib Nawaz truly did have something significant to offer to the then rapidly evolving image-conscious male population of Pakistan.
His collection has since the beginning retained its reputation for being sexy, modern and full of masculine silhouettes that epitome style and individuality quite tastefully. The feel and look remains reasonably local but it wouldn’t take one much to identify contemporary style in his traditional and fusion wear. His clothes are quintessentially very lean and streamlined instep with the existing trend internationally; an attribute that’s sure to pay off munificently in the future.
I met up with the pulsating créateur at his small but intimate in a clothes-on-the-futon, clothes-on-the-floor, clothes-everywhere kind of way studio and found him to be a very civil young man who inspite of being famous for his limelight-shirking capabilities and horrendously busy schedules agreed to spend a little time with me so I could lust over and get the insider’s scoop on the few remains of his latest collection while talking about his three year journey into the avant garde.

You started off with Amir Adnan who gave you your big break and you were actually doing quite well with him. When did you decide that creating fashion was your scene?

I’d always had a thing about making money. Even in grade four, I would go around looking for opportunities to score 20 bucks for the day. I started designing way back in school when I borrowed some fabric from an exporter friend and keeping in mind what the men around me liked, designed fourteen shirts and pulled off a small exhibition. At that time, I had absolutely no idea I could have a future in designing because I don’t exactly come from a family that would’ve encouraged my becoming a professional designer. Then we moved to Karachi from Lahore and I continued designing shirts for myself which were liked by a lot of friends who asked me to make some for them aswell, and that’s how it all started…
My days with Amir Adnan are obviously the more noticeable part though. One of my friends was wearing a kurta I’d designed for him at a religious gathering and that’s where Amir Adnan ‘discovered’ me and asked me to intern with him.
After the internship ended, I was called back to attend one of the shops and then within two years I was managing around 7 departments in all. From sales person I got promoted to shop manager to shops manager for Karachi to raw material and inventory manager to distribution manager to the national shops manager, and obviously there was a lot of designing going on too. It just kept getting better and better…

Then why did you make a decision to go solo?

When you’re an artist and you’ve spent four years of your life studying art, you automatically have a problem with an uneducated person coming up and sitting and working next to you, and that’s exactly what happened with me. I had no designing background and that prompted a lot of work politics and politics is the one thing in my life I truly hate.
I got my inspiration from Adnan bhai—he was an MBA and I’d always wanted to be an MBA, so I joined CBM for evening classes and after that I was basically working at the factory till six, going to the shop after that and then attending classes at 9. It wasn’t working out and I decided it was time for me to move on.

Do you think you’ve created yourself a satisfactory niche in the local market in the three years you’ve been around?

My market is not Amir Adnan’s market. He’s selling his sherwani’s for 40 thou plus whereas I aim a little lower than that. I have defined myself and don’t intend to get into price wars with anyone and since I’m a marketing major myself, I could see the huge gap when I was starting off—there was this very cheap stuff and then there was the high end. I wanted to cater to the buyers in the middle and now I’m selling sherwani’s left, right and centre.
There’s a market out there for anything and there’s a buyer in everyone. You just need to pinpoint that buyer and sell.

You make everything from slick Italianesque suits and shirts to heavily embellished sherwani’s and kurtas. When you’re catering to a community that literally has two national dresses, you need a design philosophy to maintain focus. What’s yours?

My design philosophy is very simple. I try to keep my product wearable yet visible. There should be something, some small element in my garment that’s unique and something no one else has.
My inspiration would be coming from the likes of Giorgio Armani for instance—class meets funk. I’m a little conservative in my own dressing and I like that to show even in my more funky outfits. I’m a lively person and I like being colorful-but appropriately.

You’ve styled a few prominent music videos that are renowned as image over haulers for the singers. I’m sure playing the God of fashion and style for otherwise fashionable incorrect people is a lot of fun?

I’ve styled about 20 music videos. I started with Sajjad Ali’s Koi Nahin, which also happens to be one of my favorites because Sajjad’s probably one of the most proper singers out there who’s outgrown his ‘just another pop singer’ image and I personally thought he needed to be styled in a very classy, grown-up way. What I decided on was a very wintry look which also complemented the song a lot.
Other than that I’ve done Meekal Hassan, Mizrab, Aaroh, Ahmed Jahanzeb, Jal, Aatif, and Rahim Shah’s Ishq which has turned into quite a classic along with Jawad Ahmed and Abrar-Ul-Haq for his Nachan Main Oday Naal video.
I think I’ve pretty much done everyone except Ali Azmat!

Lux Style has nominated you alongside Deepak Parwani and Yahsir Saeed and then again with Deepak and Amir Adnan. There has been a lot of negative criticism attached with the whole picture and to further your disquiet, you’ve remained on the losing end. What do you have to say about the whole scenario?

I think everything comes with time. If I started to rush things or if I’d already won, I don’t think it would’ve been the best thing for my career right now. Nomination was very important for me and it was a great facilitator. I’m hoping that 2007 may be the year I’d win because I need at least four-five years of time and experience around the industry to think myself worthy. I’m not a very socially visible person either and I like to take things slow; sit back and enjoy my work.

There has been talk about you and Deepak playing ‘I don’t like you’ with each other. Why the contention?

Deepak is a very senior designer, objectively speaking; he’s been around for ten-twelve years and I’ve been around for just three. I guess there might be some amount for professional jealousy present but I totally respect him on the work level. But then again, yes, there’s been a little friction because we’re both in the same business, catering to the same market, and creating a very similar product—clothes that are a little funky, not too conventional and not too out there-ish. I’ve been called a bridge between Amir Adnan who’s very proper and conventional and Deepak who’s a little too funky but I seriously don’t have any issues with him as such.
Personally, Deepak is always a good stepping-stone; he’s The Dude who’s made it. We might have had problems initially because of the seniority factor and some clients who would normally go to Deepak coming over to me because he was busy and I was more available to them, but it’s nothing serious and we’ve grown a lot more respectful of each other over the last few months.

Let’s talk about GQ?

How would you know about that?

I have my sources…well?

Well, I was planning to do something for the British GQ as we were going to send some stuff to London…I’m still looking into the possibilities and maybe within the next year we’ll be able to come up with a photo layout sort of thing.

Tell me about your Spring/Summer 2006 collection.

It’s going to be a little colorful. Summer colors will come in; the dull, boring shades will be replaced by happier tones. I’m using turquoise, purples, yellows, pinks and champagne colors for the fabrics aswell as for the jewelry inspired embroidery patterns. The whole look will be slightly funky- and when I say ‘slightly,’ I really mean ‘slightly.’

How particular are you with and about your models? How well do you pay them?

For a serious answer you’ll probably have to ask the models themselves!
One’s pay is never enough! I’m underpaid, I’m sure you’re underpaid and so they’re also underpaid…
And as far as how picky I am, I believe in simplicity. As long as the work is done effectively and efficiently, it’s all good. I don’t have severe preference although there are a few people I love working with more than the others.

Being a designer yourself, you obviously look at others in the profession with a harsher eye than most of us. Who would you buy if you went shopping?

Armani, Boss, maybe Prada, and Kennith Cole for his casual look. I love Tom Ford’s clothes. I think he’s one of the greatest designers of our time. Everything he touches just turns brilliant.
Locally I would prefer Zainab Market because I hardly ever ‘dress up.’ I would wear something I’d made myself if I had to though…I could wear Deepak and I would love to be able to buy something from Amir Adnan someday…he’s too expensive!

What’s your take on the local fashion scene right now?

The local men’s fashion scene is working its way towards becoming brilliant, I think. We still need a lot more happening and men’s fashion to be recognized generally. I still get a lot of ‘oh acha’s!’ when I tell people I do men’s wear because fashion is still a very women’s thing for most Pakistani’s. The media has helped a lot, but still there needs to be a lot more awareness.
Another problem might be the lack of street fashion designers. All designer’s—myself included—quickly move onto shadi wear and high fashion. The main reason for that I think is the confusion of street fashion consumers.

Do you think the problem lies with us not having any contemporary everyday clothing lines like H&M, BHS, JC Penny and Next, to name a few, that are quite cheap and yet maintain quality at it’s best?

You’re right, clothing lines help spread fashion awareness among common men. But there are very few people out there who have a precise vision of how they want to be seen and the one’s who do usually have a lot of money so they can fly to Dubai every season and shop from there.
We don’t have BHS and JC Penny but we have Zainab Market which in my opinion is one of the best places to buy your everyday casual wear. All you need is taste. Money doesn’t have anything to do with it.

What’s Munib Nawaz’s—the person’s and the label’s—future?

I’ve got a lot of plans. I’ve started doing a show for Hum TV on which we’ll be critically viewing fashion—sort of like Fashion Police on E! but not always so positive. We’ll be criticizing people on the streets as well as the high and mighty of our society. If a fashion designer is not giving us his best, we’ll be talking about it.
We’ve already talked about the possibilities with GQ and then there’s the next collection to look into. I’m also planning to open an outlet sometime soon.

You’ve also written a book. What’s it about and when can we read it?

I call it shit—I don’t know if you can print that—because shit is basically the excretion of waste materials from your body and what I’ve written is just that; an excretion of wastes and emotions.
The book has been compiled and I have talked to a couple of publishers about it, but I couldn’t say when I’ll be ready to make it public.