Interview: Time Out with Shehla Chatoor

by Secret Closet on September 03, 2012 in Interviews

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One of our fashion industry’s greatest treasures, Shehla Chatoor talks to Secret Closet about everything from how it all started seventeen years ago, to her future plans for her label and all the joys in between. She takes us on a stroll through her life including her recent summer hiatus with her family in her favourite cities; London and Paris, and reveals how she unwinds and balances the multiple roles in her life. The original designer, Shehla is a goldmine of raw talent, obsessed with vintage crafts and adamantly unwilling to settle for anything less than perfection in all aspects. We asked Shehla to share her words of wisdom from the consumer’s perspective as well as tell us about some of her own holiday shopping, after all we’re all shopaholics here!  Get a dose of Shehla’s own tasteful personal style and favourite accessories out and about on the breathtaking streets of London and Paris!

Onboard “Pride of Burgudy” enroute Calais’ France, Sabriyah and me

Q) Shehla we all know how you unexpectedly landed into the world of fashion at a time when there were only a handful of designers out there. Back in the early days do you remember where you found your inspiration given the lack of quality we have today? What were some of the obstacles you faced?

Absolutely, I did land into the world of fashion unexpectedly. I started out designing my own bridal trousseau due to the lack of appealing options. My inspiration throughout has been consistent. I have always been infatuated with timeless and age old techniques, wanting to revive and innovate them in my own way. With more research and experience, I now have a deeper understanding and respect for the dying art forms. One of the obstacles I faced seventeen years ago was the limited variety available in terms of material, be it fabrics, embroidery tools and research material. Also, it was extremely difficult to find skilled workers who could do intricate work. I had to do a great deal of research and consequently train them.

Finally some sunshine! Avenue De Montaigne

Q) Shehla you describe yourself as a bridal and luxury prêt designer at large. We absolutely adore your own understated personal style. Have you considered launching a prêt label, like so many other luxury designers these days, that would allow a wider audience to access your designs?

Thank you! :) I would like my label to be more accessible to the masses sure, but since I specialize in high end luxury prêt and bridals, I have to place great importance on quality and finishing. The label “Shehla” is synonymous with impeccable craftsmanship and I would like to keep it that way. It is not possible to increase my volume overnight. Over the years I have increased my production and now my collections are available at many multi-label stores. Internationally my label is available in Dubai, Delhi, Mumbai, Singapore, Houston and London. I want my prêt to have the same qualities as my signature, so I will venture into it with the right infrastructure when I do.

Can’t get enough of Laduree macaroons yum!

Q) Yours is an innate talent molded with years of experience in the field, given the plethora of designers attending fashion schools such as Central Saint Martins and Indus Valley today do you ever feel you missed out or that it would have been an easier path to success had you gone to fashion school?

I believe the recipe for success in this field is your innate design and style sense, hard work and education. Yes, I do agree I had to work extremely hard and do a lot of research to educate myself. But I took the challenge and spent countless hours in the workshop to master this field. What you learn in a “Karkhana” and your own practical experience cannot be taught in a school. The learning process never stops as everyday I learn something new. I strongly believe if you do not have an eye for beauty and perfection along with the determination to work hard, you cannot make it in this field.

Place de la concorde

Q) You design exquisite bridals, glamorous silk prints, and stunning accessories, tell us what do you enjoy designing the most?

Believe it or not I love doing all of the above! I must admit with western wear you can be more creative and edgy. Then again it depends on the season, my mood and what inspires me. For instance, I have had loads of fun designing my own signature prints, or at times even a single piece of accessory, like a necklace or a shoe gets me all excited!

Champs elysees

Q) You have described your work as “timeless” tell us a bit about the timeless elements in your creations. What is one thing that you believe will never be out of style?

When I say ‘timeless’ my emphasis is on craftsmanship, be it resham work, Zardozi or Mukesh. I pride myself to be known as the designer with the best Gara technique and the most intricate Zardozi. It took years of research and study of historical techniques and collections from bygone eras to attain this. Even today I am trying to keep the tradition alive and avoid getting sucked into the flow of mediocrity and commercialism. The Kashmiri coats and aezars I designed more than a decade ago are still very much in style, infact, they have this unique vintage feel that will last forever and can be passed on as heirlooms.

 Q) Shehla tell us your honest opinion of the myriad young new designers springing up from all corners today, it is overwhelming for the consumer who has possibly never had so many choices. How do you propose they choose the right label for themselves?

I do agree there is a sudden and overwhelming influx of new designers, but the consumers are very smart and intelligent. They may browse everywhere, but are selective when buying. My suggestion to the consumer is to go for a label that designs according to their lifestyle and personality. Not to buy a label, just because it is “in.” Invest in articles of clothing that set you apart and not those that blend you into the crowd!


Q) Tell us a bit about your summer travels. Where did you go? We know you’re an arts and culture enthusiast, tell us about some of the experiences you had or any inspiring pieces you saw.

I really look forward to my summer sojourns. It’s the time when I recover, rejuvenate and get inspired. I spend most summers in London and this year was no exception. The city never fails to inspire, excite and amaze me. I love rummaging through markets, like Portobello and spending time at museums.

Looking forward  to spending a day at V&A.

This year at the Victoria and Albert museum I was lucky enough to run into an exhibition on “BALL GOWNS: BRITISH GLAMOUR SINCE 50’S” including evening wear by Zandra Rhodes and Norman Hartnell alongside fresh off the runway pieces by Alexander McQueen, Erdem and Jenny Peckham. The glorious exhibition also had a selection of Royal Ball Gowns including Princess Diana’s famous “ELVIS” dress, as well as dresses worn by celebrities and actresses including Elizabeth Hurley, Sandra Bullock and Beyonce!

Exhibition of ball gowns and evening dresses at the V&A. Loving the gold McQueen displayed. Drool…

Lost in art and design at V&A

We then took a road trip to Paris, another one of my favourite destinations. I guess you can never have enough of “Louvre,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Chateau De Versailles,” or even macaroons at Laduree :) Not to forget the eccentric French fashion! Je’taime Paris.

Shopping with Shazareah in Paris

Q) What are your favourite cities to visit, if you didn’t live in Karachi where would you most like to settle?

My favourite cities are London, Paris, and Rome. But no matter where I go, home is Karachi, can’t imagine living anywhere else!

Can never get enough of London!

Q) We love your taste in accessories; do share with use some of the pieces you picked up on your latest trip. 

Got smitten by the crimson sole and indulged in a few killer heels whilst in Paris. A girl can never have enough shoes!! Also, got some amazing oversized rings at a local flea market which was quite a steal! Was lucky enough to finally get my hands on the object of my desire; Feu Birkin, which I truly adore.

Retail therapy, AHHH!!!

Q) Your last fashion week collection, ‘Spring Equinox’ deservedly won you the most inspiring designer award, can you give us some clues about what you have in mind for the next one?

“Spring Equinox” was a labour of hard work. I am so happy it was well received by the press and public. Will have to get back to you on the next collection, haven’t had time to contemplate yet! Too busy trying to catch up with the upcoming bridal season.

Q) Lets talk about some favourites now: Cuisine? Designers? Movies? Actors?

Cuisine would have to be Asian Fusion and Italian. Designers; love Alexander Mc Queen and Alber Elbaaz at Lanvin. All time fav movies are Casablanca and Top Gun. Actors: Fond of Hugh Grant, Danniel Craig, and Robert Patterson.

Q) Can you describe a day in the life of Shehla for us?

Its really not all that exciting! Lets see, I am an early riser; I wake up at the same time every day. After packing my kids off to school, I have a light breakfast and skim through newspapers. Its good stay informed with what’s happening in the world.  I do workout four days a week and then I’m ready to embrace the madness of the day.

Old Bond Street spree with the girls

I believe exercise helps to keep me in shape, but it’s great for the state of my mind. I Start work at around 10, my mornings are spent in production and designing issues, later I check my mails and answer a few. I take a short lunch break once the kids are back from school and catch up with them. The latter half of the day is spent in meetings with clients followed by more meetings! In the evenings it’s more work, designing and worker issues. I usually keep my Ipad with me whenever I get a chance, I listen to music, a track or two are permanently on my play list as a backdrop when I am working. My favourites are Adele, Lana Del Rey, Lenny Kravitz, Maroon 5 and John Meyer.

Avenue des Champs -Élysées.

When I am not working or tending to kids and home chores, I’m youtubing to look for good music! Most week nights I prefer to stay home watching my shows, currently I’m following “Revenge” and “Smash.” A big fan of “Downton Abbey” as well! Otherwise I enjoy curling up with a fashion magazine. I usually take a long bath before I hit the bed…Its very meditative and helps me gather all my thoughts for the day! I end my day by saying a little prayer before I doze of.

Q) How do you manage stress?

I workout and meditate, love music as it helps me relax.

Q) Shehla please give our readers a few quick style do’s and don’ts that you follow.

DO always have your own personal style, getting inspired is alright, but don’t emulate anyone completely.
DON’T follow fashion blindly, keeping age, figure and lifestyle in mind, choose what suits you best. For instance, if chooridaars are in fashion and you have chunky legs, opt for straight pants instead.
DO invest in a few good pieces. For instance, a great pair of jeans will last you in all seasons, a beautiful vintage shawl or an amazing pair of heels.

Q) What do you think of ‘Secret Closet’?

I think it is one of the hottest local fashion portals. Very up to date, gives a wholesome insight into latest trends and fashion events and I particularly love the classy presentation. A great place to find designers and view their work. Way to go Secret Closet! Thank you for making me a part of your portal:)

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