Faraz Manan opens first-ever international boutique in Dubai

Known for his lavish but delicate-looking wedding dresses and evening gowns, the ambitious Lahore-based designer is not afraid to challenge conventions.

Models presenting Faraz Manan's Imperial collection at the Four Season Resort in Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, in October. Courtesy: Faraz Manan
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It’s a sticky October evening in Dubai. Outside, women hand their cars over to the valet and scurry into the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel on Jumeirah Beach Road before the heat can flatten their blow-dries. Inside, lounge music sets the tone in the hotel’s ballroom, which is fitted with a stage and catwalk for the Imperial autumn/winter 2015 runway presentation by couturier Faraz Manan.

An intimate crowd of about 200 eagerly waits for the show to start. Guests reflect the diversity that the city is known for: a fashionable crowd of Lebanese, Turkish, Indian and Pakistani attendees, as well as a strong Emirati presence. The boxed invitation called for a formal dress code, and no mater what type of clothing they are wearing – ethnic or otherwise – many show their support of Manan’s signature pastel palette by dressing in pale and neutral hues. One woman sports a pink floral top with nude flared trousers; another wears a camel-coloured cape with cigarette trousers. There are salmon pink blazers, sparkly metallics and crisp white ensembles aplenty.

Once seated, women set their Birkins and Bvlgari clutches down on the white chairs next to them and indulge in a spot of gossip with those nearby – many discuss whether or not Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor will make a surprise appearance and walk the runway tonight, since she is the ambassador of Faraz Manan’s eponymous label. Some gather in small groups for front-row selfies, while others stand and pose studiously for the professional photographers hired for the event.

The lights dim and the show starts. Guests who are expecting classic Pakistani cuts and styles are in for a surprise; the opening look is an all-gold outfit featuring a halter top, cropped at the front and long at the back, with high-waisted gold trousers, sheer with embellished embroidery from the thigh down. Next up is a dress featuring a beautifully embellished bodice with sheer netting in the back, and a cream-coloured mid-length skirt. Garments with off-the-shoulder boat-necks, plunging V-necks, edgy cutouts and lengthy trains follow. While some of these looks may fit into what’s deemed socially acceptable at traditional Pakistani weddings, they do not, as a rule, conform to cultural dress codes.

The catwalk show at the Four Seasons is being held to showcase Manan’s latest collection, and also to celebrate the launch of his flagship boutique in Dubai – the brand’s first store outside of Lahore. “I want to push the boundaries and appeal to a wider market,” Manan says when we meet at his boutique in Jumeirah 3. The designer is dressed casually, in jeans and a black polo shirt, as he discusses the new direction that his brand is headed in. “The goal is to be a leading regional, and then global, designer and do things that are out of the box. I don’t want to be restricted,” he says.

It is worth noting that Manan has yet to open a store in Karachi – a city with a significant fashion following and fondness for designer wear. Though future plans do include a Karachi presence, his decision to open his second boutique in the UAE shows his greater ambitions – to break away from being a purely Pakistani clothing designer and become widely recognised in the Middle East. “We have a lot of clients in India, Turkey, the UAE and a following in Saudi also, so we thought Dubai was the best place,” he says of the new store. “Not everybody can fly out to Pakistan,” he adds.

While a Dubai flagship has been on his mind for some time, the actual decision was a whirlwind one – within six months, he had acquired the Jumeirah property, fit the store and opened for business, and is currently one of the only brands to have set up shop in the new boutique complex on Al Athar Street.

Originally from Pakistan, Manan was raised between Lahore and London. He belongs to a family of painters, while his mother, Memoona Manan, was a couturier. Though Manan studied economics at university, after graduating he joined forces with his mother, rather than working at a bank as intended. “For her it was more like a hobby, so I took it more forward, and took it on as a profession,” he says.

The fashion house was first launched in 2004, and in 2010 it was renamed Faraz Manan. Today, Manan is a leading designer in Pakistan, known mostly for his impressive bridal wear and innovative vision. In 2014, he did a couture shoot in Istanbul, which was eyebrow-raising for more traditional South Asians and went viral on social media. Campaign images were unconventional, depicting majestic couture in a risqué manner — a shirtless male model caresses the female model in one image, the couple are locked in a tight embrace in another, and in one the model has a Marilyn Monroe moment with her open-front gown billowing in the wind.

Manan’s designs are by no means ordinary within the realms of South Asian fashion, which, in recent years, has evolved to become more and more dramatic, with increased emphasis on bespoke and exclusive designs. There’s a certain gaudiness to stereotypical bridal outfits from the East, especially those of South Asia. Brides are often seen swathed in overwhelming shades of red and maroon, with faces overly powdered and painted, and necks and wrists covered in layers upon layers of gold and diamond jewellery.

The gowns from Manan’s Imperial collection are a far cry from this customary picture. Words cannot do justice to the intricacy of the embroidery and embellishment work that is put into each piece – but pick one up and its sheer weight speaks to the craftsmanship. They’re so bedazzled it’s intimidating – like gorgeous, glistening, metallic suits of armour, the gowns hang gracefully on shimmering gold racks at Manan’s Dubai boutique. Adorning the pastel pieces are layers of crystals and sequins, along with gold, silver and pearl beadwork and embroidery, worked into complex arrangements. It’s clear that these pieces belong in the class of couture — one can only imagine the painstaking effort put into every minute detail of the handiwork. Manan says that a bridal dress can take from three to six months to complete, with anywhere from 50 to 200 people working on it, depending on the scale of the design. Also intriguing is his use of sheer net, which introduces a delicate, slightly sultry tone to his gowns, especially when combined with the dreamy pastel palette.

“For wedding gowns, bright colours sort of take away from your face and from your personality. On the other hand, white can often be too bland. For me, the ultimate colour is a tea pink or champagne gold,” Manan says, adding that light pinks and nude shades complement most skin tones. “A nice dusty rose pink or an oyster beige shade can be really beautiful.”

Though his couture work is the epitome of lavish, Manan’s approach to styling is relatively minimalist when compared to others in his field, partly because of his choice of a more subdued colour range. He likes the focus to be on the outfit itself, lest it become cluttered with an overbearing amount of jewellery. “Tone it down with some nice stud earrings,” he advises a client while in store. “I design my pieces in such a way that a girl should be able to wear heavy jewellery and a veil on her head, and wear it to an Asian wedding, or without a veil, and more minimal jewellery, and wear it to the Oscars,” he says.

From his stately ivory dresses to his muted periwinkle gowns, Manan’s designs are all ethereal, the stuff that fairy tales and dream weddings are made of – but the garments from his Imperial collection can’t necessarily be pegged as Pakistani. For instance, while the lehenga choli – a flared floor-length skirt with a short top and wide scarf draped around it – is quite a trendy silhouette in South Asian fashion at the moment, Manan gives the ensemble added versatility. “I’m treating them as high-waisted skirts paired with cropped blouses,” he says, reimagining a style that will resonate with western customers, too, as pairing fitted skirts with cropped tops has been a visible trend at European fashion weeks for some seasons. “My forte is fusion – a little bit of the East mixed with some of the West,” he says.

Though Manan is no stranger to dressing celebrities, he names his ultimate target: Queen Rania. And with the launch of his first boutique in the Middle East, which is brimming with bespoke couture offerings and prices fit for royalty, it’s quite possible that he’ll achieve this goal sooner rather than later.

Read this and other fashion-, jewellery- and lifestyle-related stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, November 5.