Ten years is a long time in fashion but as Farah Khan shows, some things never go out of style, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup
WHEREVER you go, fashion shows never seem to start on time. Rather predictably, they start fashionably late. It was no different when Malaysian label Farah Khan showed its 10th anniversary collection at Pavilion KL during Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week 2017 Ready-to-Wear in August.
But despite the late start, the audience’s restlessness was tempered when out walked four darling children in miniature Farah Khan outfits. Several other girls followed behind, and you can spot the ones who were shy and unsure, and the ones who enjoyed the spotlight. The crowd loved them all the same.
In an interview at her office, creative director Datuk Seri Dr Farah Khan says, “I did not want to have anyone think we’re making children’s clothes. We altered old dresses and made little tutus to go with them, and they were so cute. That’s us trying to express that there’s nothing from Farah Khan that you can’t use and reuse forever.”
When Farah started her eponymous label a decade ago, she was looking for something to wear for her various social engagements, either in Kuala Lumpur or abroad.
“I’d be invited to five parties a month where I would need evening dresses, sometimes even 10,” she tells me.
But over the years, Farah Khan has evolved to offer more than ready-to-wear evening gowns. It has a beachwear collection with colourful geometric prints by British artist Bridget Riley.
The athleisure line features booty shorts and sporty mini dresses — although in true Farah Khan DNA, these are covered in sequins, making any athletic endeavours somewhat questionable.
There are also colourful bomber jackets paired with full-length tutu skirts, in a range dubbed Pop Princess.
The sporty jacket is naturally targeted towards a younger crowd yet it’s versatile enough to attract older clients like Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who’s worn it on a couple of occasions.
This echoes closely with Farah’s fashion philosophy, where dressing isn’t about age but rather your attitude. She is after all, a 60-yearold grandmother with a granddaughter who would rather raid her closet than her mother’s.
“I’ve always wanted to do something small and precious,” she says on the Farah Khan label. “Small enough that you can move and change around because when it’s big it has be taken terribly seriously. We take it seriously, but without the pressure that comes with a big brand.”
A recent venture is couture and examples of these made-to-measure dresses were shown at KLFW. The Victoriana collection has a traditional evening dress feel, with beaded and feathered embellishments, while 20th Century Masters featured cocktail dresses with sequinned patterns inspired by the artworks of Picasso, Matisse, Klimt and Kandinsky.
“I happen to know some of the people who own the artworks and I picked artists from the period because it is my area of interest. All the artworks would transfer very well (to the dress) but it also depends on how we are able to translate it because it is an impression, not a copy. So it’s very intelligent work.”
She reckons that Farah Khan probably had used a tonne of sequins over the past decade. The brand started with two ready to- wear collections a year, before expanding to four collections. It pared back to two collections annually now, along with the couture business.
“Our signature is embellishment so we will continue with that. There are critics who say, ‘Farah, aren’t you sick and tired of it?’ And I’ll say, if I just made anything like anyone else, I could be anyone. We’re here to do a branding of a product that is very narrow, but nevertheless, it is what it is,” she continues.
“I have fun when we turn something around from nothing. With Farah Khan, it came from nowhere and nothing. In 10 years people have asked me, are you happy with it? And I’m as happy as I could possibly be. It was never started with a business plan, but because I couldn’t find evening clothes.”
Meanwhile, a new endeavour for Farah Khan is online commerce, with the website www.shopfarahkhan.com going live not too long ago. Here you can find the jackets, skirts, dresses and statement sweaters. Prices range from RM395 for the sweater to RM6,550 for a full-length sequinned dress.
FASHION FOR ALL
In addition to being the creative director of Farah Khan, Farah is also president of the Melium Group. The company is responsible for bringing in over 100 high-end international brands to Malaysia, including Givenchy, Lanvin, Max Mara and Tod’s. It also operates a multi-brand store called M in Pavilion KL.
“I’ve been in the industry for nearly 30 years,” says Farah. “I think people know that I’m committed to it. We brought brands that we believe in even though sometimes we get criticised for it. But there are reasons for everything.”
However, luxury fashion isn’t quite what it was in the 1990’s. In the past decade it has to contend with the proliferation of fast fashion brands, the expansion of discount outlet stores and a preference for online retail instead of physical shops.
Farah Khan has a website where shoppers can purchase their wares, but Melium’s page doesn’t cater for online shopping. This could change by early next year.
“We’re embracing it slowly” says Farah. “The digital change will be so strong and the implementation will cover all the systems from back of house to front of house. (We may not be the first) but we won’t be last.”
That said, Farah finds that although her customers like to go online for a bit of homework on style choices and price range, there’s nothing like coming to a store for a more personal experience. So physical stores could still have the last word, at least for the time being.
Meanwhile, runway shows used to be closed events only for fashion buyers and editors, but the internet has opened up the process for everyone to witness.
Such openness helped spark our desire to own these beautiful things, which are unaffordable to many.
So we have copies from fast fashion brands to fill in the gaps.
“I don’t like people who copy and I don’t like copying,” says Farah. “Nevertheless I’m also very democratic. Is the beauty of something only for one rich person? Or could other people have a piece of that? So I’m quite happy that people are able to enjoy it at different price points. It’s not the same product, at the end of the day.”
But for authentic designer goods at lower prices, there are discount outlets. Melium operates several outlet stores, in Genting Highlands, Mitsui KLIA and Johor Bahru. It’s become a significant portion of the business, and a perfectly valid shopping experience.
“The clothes are sold for a season in the store,” says Farah. “Afterwards, it goes on sale in the store. So where does the rest of the clothes go? These are quality clothing so this is where outlets are important because the clothes have to go somewhere.
“I love shopping in outlets and finding a bargain. I love getting a dress that is off season that nobody else has. So you buy your key pieces in season, and find bargains in outlets for your everyday clothes. There’s no shame in going to an outlet to do your shopping. I really promote it as a means of people buying quality things at good prices.”