Arsalan Iqbal set off last month to compete in Woolmark Prize’s Regionals in India. This being his first time we talk to him about his brand, the philosophy behind his design entry and obviously the daunting experience of representing Pakistan at such a stage!
- When did you start your label?
AI:I launched ‘House of Arsalan Iqbal’ in January 2013, before that I was a part of design duo Arsalan & Yahseer which started in 2011.
- How did this Woolmark competition entry did come into being? Did you nominate/apply yourself or they selected you?
AI:Woolmark Prize nominees are recommended by PFDC in Pakistan and then shortlisted and selected by Woolmark Prize International Australia. I must mention that Woolmark which started in 1954, provides extraordinary opportunities for nominees and its winners. Iconic designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent were introduced through this platform.
- What’s exactly at stake? What do you win if you get selected from the regionals?
AI:Every designer around the world is selected to produce a capsule collection comprising of 6 garments to showcase beauty and versatility of Merino wool. Winner of the regionals then go on to take part in finals that take place in either London, Paris or Florence.
Moreover, Winner of the regional round gets a prize of AUD 50,000/- to support the business and they also get to connect with a lot of international buyers on Woolmark’s panel who usually place initial orders and provide great networking opportunities. Whereas, the winner of the finals gets AUD 100,000/- and their ‘winning collection’ is stocked all around the world in high-end retail stores.
- Tell us more about the look you presented and why did you choose to showcase Shalwar Kameez in your entry?
AI:My entry comprised of an evening jacket with mandarin collar in jacquard hand-woven merino wool with a shirt (kurta) underneath and pleated trousers (shalwar) below both made out of handwoven cotton and merino wool blend textile. Then I also made some customized jacquard weaved duffle bag and shoes to go with the look.
As for why ‘Shalwar Kameez’, I wanted my entry to reflect the design and cultural sensibilities of Pakistan, and if you notice the fluid silhouettes from Indian-subcontinent are a raging trend in European fashion since last season and most importantly I am a Pakistani catering to Pakistani market, I have to make sure whatever I make is commercially feasible in both global and domestic markets.
- What was the thought process behind choosing Houbara bustard bird as your key source of inspiration?
AI: I chose this desert bird because I wanted to raise awareness to its declining population. Houbara Bustard ‘tiloor’ is one of our national birds being hunted by Arabs every year by hundreds, so much so that this bird is nearing extinction in the wild. The Pakistani laws did ban the hunting of this particular bird in 2014 but Supreme Court lifted the ban soon after citing diplomatic reasons. I guess through my work I could raise awareness and if not save it but alteast get people to talk about it.
- You made some really cool accessories as well, tell us more about them?
AI:Thank you, yes we made a few duffle bags, Peshawar sandals and loafers all using 100% hand-woven/custom patterned merino jacquard wool. They were well received in India and the greatest compliments was when Manish Malhotra (one of the judges) himself asked me to make him one!
- Talking about wool itself, why do you think natural fibers have fallen out of favour? Is the choice about economics or just because synthetic textiles are easy?
AI:I think it’s a bit of both. In a world where ready-to-wear garments are so price-competitive, it’s nearly impossible to make clothes using such ‘luxurious’ fibers. But I think it’s also about awareness, a lot of people don’t know how natural fibers are just better. They possess qualities which synthetic fibers never can.
I developed a 50% Merino Wool and 50% Egyptian Cotton blend for Shalwar Kameez this past Ramadan and not surprisingly many people liked. Merino wool for one has unique qualities as it anti-wrinkle, soft, elastic, machine-washable, odour-resistant and even stain-resistant. It would come as a shock to many wool can be equally summer and winter friendly! Synthetic blends just don’t cut it.
- Do you plan to retail any version of those designs anytime soon?
AI:Yes but I am just taking custom orders for these pieces at my stores for now ,as I am also preparing to go for Pitti Uomo in Italy early next year for an exhibition. It’s a platform where all menswear designers and buyers across the world gather for menswear fashions and trends. I will be the first Pakistani to take part there. It’s an honor.
- Now that you have gone through the whole experience of participating in the competition, what do you think has been your biggest learning as a designer?
AI:I feel we (I atleast) as designers tend to get lost within the domestic market so much that it gets impossible to see the bigger picture and generally broader prospects in international markets.
Personally the experience of Woolmark was majorly fulfilling and a great learning experience as a designer. The exposure and the grueling preparations to cope up with international standards itself was a big stepping stone. At the end of it I think I came out as a better designer with an improved skillset and loads in terms of business acumen to share with my peers.