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(Instep Today, Aug 11)

Maheen, Saad and their daughter Arianna are the perfect model for Karma family

The last two years have been uneasy for brand Karma. Despite the steady business expansion and brand positioning between Lahore and Karachi, Karma’s design evolution has been limited. Apart from the eponymous starburst motif, the pearl and diamante embellishment and the satin streaming that became quintessential to Karma outfits when the label began, one does not recall any trend-setting design narrative that may have wowed or etched itself into the senses since. Critical appreciation has not come often and the litmus test, the Karma collection shown at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week earlier this year, left a whole lot to be desired. It’s a fact Karma’s designer Maheen Kardar Ali acknowledges very graciously.

This still doesn’t erase the impact Karma made when it launched around seven years ago. It took off as a very strong fashion force, a breath of refreshing air that helped carve a style identity for Lahore. That was when Maheen Kardar and Kamiar Rokni – two young and bright fashion graduates – stepped out of college and conceived a label that coined itself from the letters of their names. Those were the days when Lahore thrived in a style boom; it was when HSY, Nomi Ansari and many others carved a niche for themselves. As far as Lahore is concerned, those were the days.

Karma, however, could not sustain its position and its current state of weakness can be traced back to the split that occurred years later with former design partner Kamiar Rokni’s exit. It’s a split that jostled the brand’s foundation and was, as Karma’s CEO and Maheen’s husband Saad Ali says, “unexpected and shocking”.

While the general perception was that Rokni, without the infrastructure that Maheen and Saad managed, would be at complete loss, it was Maheen who visibly found herself at odds when he left. The brand suffered as Kami took with him his creative edge and Maheen, albeit no less qualified (she was valedictorian of her class at the Pakistan School of Fashion Design), couldn’t fill in the blank he had left her with. Personal commitments kept her occupied elsewhere as a result of which Karma became almost comatose. Despite the commercial expansion (which came from the concrete infrastructure), the brand lost its value as a high end, trend setting fashion label.

This vivid Alice In Wonderland shoot for Karma Princess will be Faisal Farooqui’s breakthrough into fashion’s feature photography.

Time for revival, 2010 may end with a promise of regeneration for brand Karma, Maheen enthused at the launch of her new label, Karma Princess, in Lahore. Admitting that Karma had drifted (as motherhood kept her preoccupied on a personal level) she confessed to plans of breathing life back into the fashion label.

“I didn’t want to show at fashion week (in February) as I had just had a baby,” she said, “but I wasn’t given a choice despite not being prepared. Karma will be showing at the next PSFD Sunsilk Fashion week in Karachi and you’ll be surprised and pleased to see an entirely new and refreshed collection.”

She does appear to be navigating herself back on track as Karma Princess, the new Karma line aimed for girls under 12, was impressive. It’s important for designers to realize their strengths and work on furthering them, which is why the first collection of Karma Princess’ embellished formals was a hit. Mini-me versions of the adult range, these tiny (and much more affordable) creations were every mother’s answer to traditional formal and wedding clothing for little girls. Their popularity was apparent in the way they were being whisked off the racks.

Maheen Kardar’s strength, as has been proven with time, lies with formal wear and it would be a good idea if the designer stuck to strengthening that as opposed to wandering off into unfamiliar terrain for more widespread appreciation. She does formal and wedding clothing very well and it is that domain that she needs to develop and evolve. Maheen has the training and she has the foundation to fly high. Her aesthetic may not be as creatively liberated as Kamiar Rokni’s but it certainly is not as limited as it appears to be of late.

One tiny step for Maheen Kardar, the one she has taken with Karma Princess, may just be that much needed leap back into creative civilization. Time and her next collection will surely tell.

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