Her couture collections garner rave reviews for their opulence and effortless glamour; her exquisite luxury pret is favoured by the country’s top divas for red carpet appearances; while her lawn, which translates her luxurious aesthetic into affordable pieces, consistently sells out. Shehla Chatoor exudes an edgy sophistication not just in her personal style but also in her design philosophy. A business graduate from the University of Houston, the Karachi resident formally introduced her eponymous label in 1995 and has since established herself as one of the country’s leading couturiers. In an exclusive conversation with DESTINATIONS, she talks about her journey, her inspirations and her latest bridal collection.
A business graduate turning her eye towards fashion – how did that move come about? Tell us about your journey to becoming one of the most coveted luxury labels in the country.
While it may seem like an unconventional choice for a business graduate, my interest in design was not one that was sparked later in life. It was one that has always been an innate part of me. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are designing my clothes for special occasions. I drove my darzi mad trying to achieve the look I wanted! I would definitely say that when I stepped into this business, it was at a very humble scale. I never imagined that it would grow to this scale nor did I intend for it to. This journey has been one of a lot of love, passion, hard work and luck for me. However, business school has definitely allowed me to understand key skills when it comes to brand creation, which has been an integral part of this journey for me.
What or who has been a source of inspiration to you over the years?
My inspiration has shifted throughout the years depending on my personal experiences related to travel, seasons, particular trends that I’m following etc. However, core elements of my design palette have always been strong influences from flora and fauna, such as peacocks, butterflies and florals. I also like to play with silhouette and materials in my attempt to create a piece that is unconventional yet fitting, for example leather ghararas or structured embellishments such as wings or 3-D butterflies and flowers.
As someone who’s been an integral part of the fashion fraternity for two decades now, how do you feel the industry has evolved over the years?
I started my brand over two decades ago and since then the industry has come a long way. Back in the day, there was no concept of fashion weeks or media campaigns – fashion was very restricted to a handful of clients. I appreciate the steps taken by fashion councils in creating platforms to encourage talent. I also like the fact that there is less brand saturation and more consumer choice, especially since there is a very distinct high street, ready-to-wear market which didn’t exist two decades ago. I think the biggest change in the industry is the growing role of digital and print media, which has been the fundamental factor in allowing brands to create their own distinct identities and has made high-end fashion accessible to mass audiences all over the world.
Tell us about your latest collection Nur-e-Alaleh. What sort of a woman do you envision wearing it on her wedding day?
Keeping in mind that a Shehla bride is modern, elegant and someone who’s particular about intricately luxe details; desires effortless glamour and yearns to make an enduring impression, juxtaposing timeless elegance with contemporary romance and femininity in her bridal choice, I designed Nur-e-Alaleh specifically in a manner that’s ideal for both a cool, relaxed destination wedding to Marbella, the Maldives or Santorini or to a traditional and majestic family affair.
Your aesthetic is defined as luxe glamour; is that a quality that you embody in your personal life and style as well?
Well “luxe glamour” is not the most fitting style when you are working in the sweltering heat in a workshop for up to 5 hours a day! I would say my everyday style is very basic – dominated by sportswear. But when I dress up, it’s oozing glamour all the way. I enjoy wearing rich materials and innovative structures – smoky eyes are my go-to! I also believe that glamour comes from within – it is key to be strong in your beliefs, bold in your decisions and remain sophisticated. I always try to embody these characteristics in my personal style.
Lastly, what is your favourite travel destination and why?
Italy – there’s so much history and culture; I am left in awe each time I visit. What is special for me is that despite being part of one country, there are so many clear differences in each city, especially between the north and the south, which makes it interesting to explore. The amazing food and weather are an added bonus!