Once a designer, always a designer! Even as a child, when Maheen Karim was as young as six years old, she knew exactly what she wanted to wear. “Mum and I had different ideas when it came to dressing me. She wanted to choose what I wore when going out while I knew exactly what I wanted. I had a mind of my own and could never be convinced to wear something I didn’t want,” says this unyielding Virgo.
Childhood for Maheen was replete with paper dolls, playing with Barbie dolls, hand-sewing doll apparel. In fact, one can say that Maheen made her bones as a designer while playing with her dolls. And you don’t have to look far to see where she gets it from. “My mother is an artist. She used to draw and paint before she got married. However, post-marriage she gave it up, although we keep on pushing her to paint again. My mother’s also a good designer although she doesn’t do it professionally,” shares the gorgeous couturier.
Maheen spent her childhood in Karachi. A student at Karachi Grammar School, she has fond memories of her early days with her older sister. “Oh, those were the days when we were always arguing and fighting. But as we grew older and she left for college, I realised she is my best friend.” And now her sister’s daughter, Zwena adulates her aunt and wants to be a designer just like Maheen. “Zwena is six years old and whenever she comes to Pakistan, she interns with me. She calls me Bibi and has now decided that she wants to be like Bibi,” Maheen laughingly reveals. “She loves velvet, she is obsessed with it,” says the designer who is known for her penchant for the fabric. Not just in her creations, but even the upholstery on the chairs in Maheen’s studio is velvet! It sure seems like there’s another designer in the making.
As time went by and Maheen became a teenager, she continued designing her outfits for social occasions, even wedding clothes. “At that time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a fashion designer or a jewellery designer. But one thing I did know was that I did not want to be in the front. Staying backstage, I wanted to create glamour.” The word ‘glamour’ defines Maheen and her designs best. “I had always wanted to design and that, too, women's evening wear. I love to create glamorous looks for women. I always knew I wanted to work in the world of glamour.” For Maheen, that seems to be the buzzword. “If you feel glamourous, your entire day goes well.” Glamourous for Maheen is classic, elegant, well-groomed and well dressed. “People should wear what they know they can carry. You don’t need to follow trends blindly, only adopt the ones that suit you best,” she shares.
During A-Levels Maheen opted for Arts, as she was sure she would be going to an art school. “If I was to go to an art school, it would have been to Rhode Island School of Design. I’d heard others do it, so I, too, applied there and got in. At that time I hadn’t heard of Central St. Martin’s College of Art & Design, but once I did, I wanted in. St. Martin’s is my holy grail. It was fantastic. If I was to do it again, I would opt for St. Martin’s over and over again,” says Maheen passionately. “The university itself is very artistic. From students to the tutors, everyone has a personality. It’s fun to work with such people. They say about its students that ‘St. Martin’s graduates don’t get jobs, they become designers.’ Those were the best years of my life,” she fondly reminisces.
After graduation, Maheen interned and worked with Hussein Chalayan Design Studio, Julien Macdonald and later, Giorgio Armani. “At Hussein Chalayan, I worked on the preparations of London Fashion Week and dealing with buyers. At Julien Macdonald’s, I was working at the press office, handling the press and dealing with celebrities like Billy Zane and Naomi Campbell. And at Armani, I was again working in the PR department. If you’ve seen the movie Devil Wears Prada, and seen the coffee girl [in it], well, I was that coffee girl, the photocopy girl, and being that person, I learnt a lot from the experience. It all added immensely to my knowledge,” says the talented designer.
After interning with the top notch, she now wanted to learn how the business of fashion worked, so she applied to Escada USA in the PR department and got in. “At Escada, I was dealing with Vogue, Cosmopolitan; how to get celebrities on the red carpet; how to make celebrities and press wear your choice of outfits. Escada taught me how to get your design out there, how to get noticed!” All these experiences put together make Maheen Karim brilliant at what she is today.
Once geared with the needed knowledge, Maheen now felt confident that she could start her own business. “I had a dream of starting my business. I wanted to be a designer, to set up my studio and create. I was a hopeless artiste because my plan did not include making money. I did not care about the returns, how I would earn, none of that mattered. My father questioned my decision to start a business that wouldn’t make me money. [But] I would have it no other way. And, so, my biggest and only investors, my family, helped me immensely in setting up my brand.” She continues, “I was lucky in that, when I returned to Pakistan, fashion trends were changing. I was the first one to introduce jumpsuits, spaghetti straps and dresses here and I was pleasantly surprised at the response. My school buddy Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Mahjabeen were my first clients and they still are.” The beautiful designer further enthuses, “Zahir and Sheharzade Rahimtoola encouraged me to work on my western line and I started getting noticed. Within two years, I had bagged the Lux Style Awards. I was over the moon, it all seemed too early to me.”
A people’s person through and through, Maheen loves to socialise. “A trait my husband complains about sometimes,” she smiles. She had known Ali since school days. “We had common friends [and] became good friends [ourselves]. He is a lot calmer than I am, he’s very patient, sweet and an understanding person. We were still in a getting-to-know-one-another phase then. I get very nervous and irritable before a show. We were having an argument right before the show when he said to me let’s pause this argument right here and forget all about it. We will continue after the show, and that’s when I realised he understood me so well. I knew then that he was the one for me.”
The pretty and pert designer loves to eat, especially desi cuisine. “I’m a total junk food person. Give me burgers, pizzas anytime of the day. But nothing can beat nihari and other spicy desi stuff.” However, as much as she would like to work out, she finds it quite boring which is quite surprising for someone who’s been an athlete in her school years. Here’s wishing this pretty young lass the best in life! •
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