Designer lawn: So what’s all the fuss about anyway?

(Published in Instep, The News on March 13th, 2013)

Lawn is funny business. In a country where ready to wear and luxury prêt still holds a very niche market share, bridals and lawn is what sets the cash registers ticking. Lawn has always been the go to fabric for the sweltering summers of Pakistan for women where un-stitched fabrics is still preferred over a stitched, designed ready to wear product. Some may say that it’s more economical but that really not true when it comes to designer lawn which begins at somewhere around three and shoots up all the way to well over five thousand rupees. Throw in another grand or two for the stitching and you are nearing the 10,000 rupee mark. You may as well buy prêt!

   Alas there is something about going to the darzi and getting your jora made yourself that has captured the imagination of hordes and hordes of Pakistani women. And so the lawn industry has grown to become a million dollar (scratch that, it’s definitely more) playing field; every year, designer lawn propels such mass hysteria in the months of February, March, April that it was unheard of before in the retail sector. Scores of women throng lawn exhibitions and the stock is reported to vanish in matter of hours not days at some of these exhibitions.

    While it was all about textile mills producing their own prints and retailing them, more and more mills are now collaborating with fashion designers who design the prints and patterns and the trend is catching on fast. Even so, the concept of designer lawn remains a tricky one. It makes one wonder what it is about designer lawn that sets it apart from all the (non-designer) brands out there. Naturally, a designer’s prowess lies in construction of the fabric, designing and composing a look; so what is it that a designer does to a few yards of unstitched, unconstructed fabric that makes it so special?

   Yes, Sana Safinaz may have come up with the concept of add-ons and interesting style savvy contrasts that all designers are following now, but that was a long time
ago.   It was new then, but now that every Tom, Dick and Harry is getting into it,  a cursory look at all designer lawns and you can’t tell one apart from the other. Cropped trousers, long cotton shirt with a blossoming floral print and a chiffon dupatta in a verdant, minty hue; the similarities are so many that you can’t tell the difference between a designer X’s lawn from designer Y’s brand or even from a non-designer brand for that matter. Drawing inspiration from what the fashion industry is doing, the textile designers at lawn factories are also catching up.

    As fashion is all about design philosophy and a unique aesthetic, conventional sense dictates that designer lawn be an extension of a designer’s ready to wear design point of view, a visual play on his/her very unique signature aesthetic, one that should set it apart from a flurry of brands and names and be instantly recognizable and traceable back to the designers’  design sensibility and not just a populist take on same old, tiered out conventional prints with a price tag higher than the ones that don’t come with a designer tag.

    No matter how much designers eulogize about their unconventional prints or bringing new, innovative cuts, the truth is that lawn remains a mass retail commodity that has little to do with the art or business of fashion. This is the very same reason that people with a true penchant for style who follow fashion based on design and not the designer disregard lawn for its habitual designs and a lack of whim and innovation in the product.

     A dedicated follower of fashion, blogger and a style enthusiast Amara Javed terms the lawn hysteria overrated, “I’ve never been a die-hard enthusiast of designer lawn; I haven’t really taken part in the frenzy since it started a few year back. For me, it is much easier to head over to Khaadi and pick up some ready to wear pieces – affordable, stylish and great quality. I think the level of hysteria surrounding lawn is kind of ridiculous and totally overrated. With about six months of summer in the year, I understand that women wear lawn religiously, but the hype is insane – so are some of the prices. For the past couple of years no lawn prints have wowed me.”

    And then there’s the mass availability factor that is in stark contrast to fashion’s essential trait: exclusivity, “I also hate that some prints become so commonplace that you can’t cross the street without seeing someone else wearing it,” added Amara. That’s a concern many ladies share, the danger of walking into a place and wearing the same jora as someone else or horror, horror – a couple of people. It happens a lot after lawn season.

     While from a design and fashion perspective, lawn is really not the most interesting phenomenon, there’s no denying its overwhelming popularity and it makes for great numbers. It might be flavourless from a perspective of fashion forwardness, the truth is designer lawn is what has women beating down doors the way fashion retail should. And so it has to be taken seriously.

     Now that lawn has established itself as such a profitable and established venture, one would like to see the designers involved step away from the usual, stereotypical take on lawn. Ditch the overly pretty florals, play with the prints, and vary the hemlines and the shapes of the garment. There is some hope on those horizons – new players like Sania Maskatiya for Sapphire is one example; featuring ancient elephant rides, geometric patterns and her very famous birds print from her Uraan collection and figurines from her Matyala collection, her lawn seems to have that unique Sania Maskatiya touch. Apart from that, Zara Shahjahan for Kamal Lawn and Sania Maskatiya for Sapphire Lawn have gone one step ahead and are offering stitched ready to wear pieces as well.

     Fashion as always is about what you are doing that no one else is doing. Can designers figure out a way to make that happen in the very lucrative lawn trade? Here’s hoping, because it’s the only thing that can possibly make our fashionably yawn-inducing lawn season exciting.

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