Interview with Fashion Designer Khawer Iqbal
The Pakistani-born, London-based designer Khawer Iqbal, 30, who presented his first collection in 2004, has dressed many A-list celebrities, and recently designed Blue Armena's collection of dresses.
How did you get into fashion design?
I've been surrounded by art my whole life. I would even do clothing designs on paper without realising what I was doing. In high school, I started making my own clothes--mostly altering or adding on to other things because I never liked anything the way it was when I bought it.
What inspired you to get into fashion design?
It was something that started when I was really young. I always had a strong desire to look a certain way and dress a certain way and stand out somehow. One theory I have is that since I have always been an extremely shy person---extremely--clothing was something that drew attention to me and made people talk to me so I wouldn't have to start conversations. This helped me a lot.
Describe your philosophy about the art of fashion.
Fashion design is a functional art. Not that all art isn't functional in some way, but it's art you can actually touch and feel and interact with and not be afraid to wear. In a way, it's sort of like music--it's a part of our daily life, something we can't live without, something we all interact with and so should be something we really love. I mean, our bodies are the most interesting elements, everyone does art about themselves. With clothing, mine anyway, it's the same thing but you get to wear it and interact with it on a daily basis and get all this feedback and reactions out of people and their thoughts on what you're doing. Which, of course, at times can be tiring but for the most part, you accept it and it's interesting. Above all, I just really believe that the right clothing and colour can make you feel better about yourself and can give you more confidence. I think we dress in a very boring manner in this country--sometimes even ugly--and I just don't get it. We like to be surrounded by beautiful things so why wouldn't we want our clothing to be beautiful as well?
What about fashion as a business?
I started making clothing because I had to; I had to satisfy something that I couldn't in any other way. Even if I had no clothing line or never sold another thing in my life, I would have to make clothes. I just want to make my art and show it in the way I want to. It's not always that easy though. I think it is important for young artists and designers to know this: everyone gets so much crap these days for "selling out" or whatever, but sometimes you have to do certain things, compromise, in order to keep doing to real thing that makes you happy. I started making clothing to sell because I needed money, not because that was my goal. I started with the idea that everything would be hand-made and one-of-a-kind, I wanted to do costume and custom orders only. I would love that, but right now it's just not possible for me. I have to start producing more of one thing because that's the only way I can survive, reach my goals and keep doing what I love.
Khawer with his wife Sumairah
What skills do you need to be a fashion designer?
Well, I guess that depends on what exactly you're doing. If you love all aspects of fashion design and you really want to be successful, I would hope that you know how to sew, draft patterns, drape, sketch. The one thing that has always been curious to me is the number of designers who don't even wear their own clothing. What's even more curious to me is the ones who think it's weird to wear their own clothing--which is most of the people I went to school with, for example. But I guess everyone has their own motives for what they're doing. I know I have convinced some friends of mine that are designers that they should wear their own clothing and I think it's helped them. I know it's helped me tremendously.
What do you do during the day?
Right now, during the days, I'm designing a clothing line for a store in UK, (name to be confidential). It's a small company that also owns a film production studio and indie record label. I'm doing menswear, women's! When I'm done with this for the day, I work on any other projects I have. Right now, I'm trying to get my collection together for fall and planning a show for March, 2008.
What inspires your designs?
Other people--their needs and desires. Most of all, my own personal experiences. I'm a really emotional person so all the daily frustrating emotional things that I go through pretty much go straight into my work. Clothing that will keep you safe from emotions, hurt, all that stuff. I like to find the humour in things, or find a way to join the sad things with the beautiful, in some strange way. I mean there is clothing that does physically protect, which I would say is what inspires the aesthetic of my work... The real protective clothing, for astronauts, fire-fighters, doctors, super heroes, anything you can think of. So of course along with this I'm also inspired by the elements: rain, wind, sun, nature and colour of course.
If you could do anything else, what would it be?
Oh man! That's hard! I've always had a secret desire to be a singer (not so secret anymore I guess). I have musical talent, so of course I admire those who do. I'm also jealous of all the travelling, being in a different city every night and meeting so many new people all the time.
What advice do you have for a young people who wants to be a fashion designer?
Start making your own clothes! Or at least start sewing. You have to start learning on your own, that's how you're going to develop something that's all yours and unlike anyone else's. If you want to have your own clothing line the best thing to do is start wearing your clothes and having your friends wear your clothes. At the beginning, you have to promote yourself because most likely no one else is going to do it. Whether you're in school or not, you do need to get the basic skills down, which, will help you tremendously along the way. Sketching, pattern making, draping, sewing. Even if you end up doing only one of these things or you're only good at one them, it's really important to understand all aspects of design in order to make quality garments.
If I weren't talking to you right now I'd be...
Working. I just moved into a new studio and I am in the middle of working on exciting new projects for next year.
The most surprising thing that happened to me was...
Finding a brilliant team in Pakistan. I was so excited that there were people who were prepared to go into challenging job with me - that is so rare these days and something that gives me incredible inspiration for the future.
A common misconception of me is...
That I go out all the time - I actually have a pretty quiet life and am normally at home or out for quiet dinners with my friends and family.
I am not a politician but...
I am not just a fashion designer!
I wish people would take more notice of...
Shopping ethically to support initiatives - my recent collaboration with BA was an example of something I love. A woman can buy a great fashionable dress and at the same time help raise funds through BA - helping change people's lives for the better.
I'm good at...
I'm very bad at...
Resting in my bed - Some work on my table and I forget everything.
The ideal night out is...
With great friends around a dinner table - laughing and not taking life too seriously.
In moments of weakness...
I try to be objective so I can be stronger the next time.
You know me as a fashion designer but in truer life I'd have been a...
Fashion designer - I love what I do and think I am really lucky to do it.
The best age to be is...
Now. I think age is irrelevant. I know this sounds like a cliché but, really, who cares how old you are? The best age to be is the age you are today and to think how lucky you are when there are plenty of people in the world who aren't. Don't anticipate something in the future. Don't dwell on the past.
In a nutshell, my philosophy is this:
Live for today, love what tomorrow might bring and be grateful for yesterday.