Mahgul Rashid, creative director of MAHGUL spearheads one of the subcontinent’s most exciting and critically-acclaimed fashion brands, renowned for its edgy and avant-garde interpretation of Pakistani design, juxtaposing elements of fine art with high-end fashion in each of its creations. Three-time nominee at the prestigious Lux Style Awards (2015, 2016 and 2017) here Mahgul talks about her artistic background and influences; dispels her brand’s ‘skinny girl’ image; her celebrity wish-list and finally her exponential approach to growing her brand.

MYFASHIONFIX: Your educational background was buoyed by prestigious stints at Central St Martins in London; graduation in Fine Art with distinction from the Beaconhouse National University in Pakistan and work with celebrated artist Rashid Rana. So how come Fashion and not an Art career? Or do you not see a distinction?

MAHGUL RASHID: I always wanted to be a fashion designer, but decided to [direct] everything else towards it. During my stint at Central Saint Martins, I took a course in pattern-cutting alongside my regular classes to garner a better understanding and approach to fashion. Art came and found me and I realized creativity has no boundaries. I still come from the premise of an artist and not a designer and that is why I think my work is distinctive. I have been a part of some group shows and have sold art work. I am also currently in the middle of making a series of new paintings.  Art feeds fashion and vice versa for me.

MFF: How much of an influence has your grandmother Nisreen Shaikh had on your Fashion career? What are the inherent skills or style advice you picked up from her?

MR: Oh everything is from her! The respect for craft; the attention to detail and finesse and her main piece of advice to me “that reputation is everything!”

MFF: What was your experience with internationally-recognized artist Rashid Rana like?

MR: Fantastic!  I've learnt to be a perfectionist and to not limit myself! 

MFF: How would you describe MAHGUL the brand's signature style and ethos?

MR: Modern simplicity.

MFF: Your brand is known for its unique and varied approach to embroidery and use of fabric. Can you briefly describe the process of how you come up with any particular type of embellishment?

MR: I get certain ideas that I need to materialize so I start experimenting with the kaarigar. It's very difficult to translate a visual to another person, so it takes a while. We usually get something fantastic that we can take as a starting point.

MFF: What are the backgrounds of your kaarigars? How do you convince traditionalists to experiment with 3-D for example? Do you ever outsource from indigenous artisans like village women?

MR: They are all mostly hand-workers who have been in the field for at least seven years or more. The greatest driving force for me to continue in this field has been them. They actually love working with me as they are enthused about trying out something new and interesting. I've been talking about some projects with indigenous artisans but nothing has materialized yet as I am a conceptual planner and these things take time.

MFF: Your brand was becoming known as 'a skinny girl' label. Why do you think that was?

MR: I'm a skinny girl, so I visualize that way. Unfortunately, experimental cuts are easier for a small size. But I challenged that notion and can proudly say MAHGUL designs for all sizes! 

MFF: Where does the inspiration come from for your quirky and individualistic silhouettes?

MR: The attempt to push the envelope for any silhouette urges us to come up with fresh new shapes.

MFF: Your studio has an industrial feel to it. What was the impetus behind its stark decor and how is it set up? What all is stocked there?

MR: The studio has a rawness that allows the ornate work to speak without there being a similar tone in the interior space. We stock our Bridals and Luxury Prêt there.

MFF: Tell us about the evolution and impetus of your ORO Prêt line? How is it distinct from MAHGUL and where is it available?

MR: Our ORO line includes all of our Luxury Prêt and Prêt. It is distinct from MAHGUL in that MAHGUL is our Bridal/Couture line. ORO is available online and at the abovementioned stores.

MFF: What are your plans for the expansion of your brand? Is a flagship store anywhere in the horizon and how would you envision its look and operations?

MR: We plan to grow slowly and organically, as we have done from day one. If/when we launch a flagship store, it will be when we have a product range that is affordable to the masses.

MFF: How hands-on are you with your regular clients apart from your brides?

MR: I'm mostly sitting in the studio and am open to meet clients  who come and go, I usually only meet Bridal clients but am happy to suggest cuts and colours to any other client as well. 

MFF: When designing Bridal-wear what are the most important aspects you consider? And how distinct are your Bridals from other design houses?

MR: The most important aspects are the woman who has to wear the bridal ensemble and secondly what I am trying to evoke. I've attempted to give the industry something fresh which might have been lacking. The big guns have already provided the market with a beautiful aesthetic and unfortunately they have a set of copycats. At MAHGUL we strive to establish our own identity away from all of that. 

MFF: Do you have a particular woman in mind when you design or are you one of those artistic designers who just follow their own natural impulses?

MR: It's usually about boundaries, I set myself boundaries and then design. 

MFF: Which local or international celebrities inspire you and who would you love to dress?

MR: I would love to dress Mahira Khan and Zhalay Sarhadi and internationally Deepika Padukone. And if we are talking Hollywood, let's include and bring in Angelina Jolie!

MFF: Have you ever been offered to design for Film or TV? Does creating "costumes"
 appeal to you at all?

MR: Producers have sent feelers, I would love to create costumes but in due time. We are not ready for it right now.

MFF: How would you describe your own personal style and how does that translate into your designs?

MR: It's very instinctual; like the way I design!

MFF: Who are your favourite local and international fashion designers? 

MR: These days it's Raf Simons I'm also excited to see what Paul Andrew will do (as Design Director of Women's Footwear at Salvatore Ferragamo)

MFF: There seems to be an exponential appreciation of your brand.  How important have the LSA nominations been for you? (Best Emerging Talent in 2015, for Achievement in Fashion Design, Luxury Prêt in 2016 and in 2017 for both Achievement in Fashion Design, Luxury Prêt and Bridals)?

MR: It’s all been pretty humbling especially when being nominated alongside the industry’s game-changers!   

MFF: Do you enjoy creating collections for Fashion Weeks and which has been the most fun to work on? How has participation in Fashion Weeks affected your brand?

MR: I love the conception part of creating a collection I'm usually on a serious high and very charged. After the shows I go into a serious low! It's a great exercise to be able to partake in Fashion Weeks. The brand gets to heat up and go into overdrive. Fashion Weeks are a great platform to be a part of. 

MFF: What are the most challenging aspects of being a fashion designer working in Pakistan? How would you describe your business model and how do you decide your price points?

MR: The most challenging aspect is time issues and individual’s lack of respect for time. Our business model/price points are really quite simple and straightforward: something for everyone!

MFF: How do you manage to strike the right balance between being creative and commercial?

MR:  I lean more towards being creative and luckily people tend to appreciate that. 

What are some future plans for MAHGUL the brand?

MR: More learning.

MFF: You recently ventured into and joined the Lawn bandwagon. What has the journey and response been like?

MR: It's been quite a journey as a designer to tame this monster called Lawn. In dealing with its design, elements and buyer expectations, we have tried to simplify it and tried to infuse it with the right kind of attitude, making the MAHGUL woman feel fresh, light and full of life! The response has been unbelievable and I'm quite overwhelmed!

MFF: What were the chief reasons for you to agree to stock at MyFashionFix? And what are you stocking there initially?

MR: Our chief reason for stocking there is Andleeb (COO of MyFashionFix) and her vision. She knows and understands the fashion industry through and through, and we wholeheartedly believe in her venture. Initially, we are stocking a limited edition Luxury Prêt line.