Character is part of style. For high fashion modest clothing designer Barjis Chohan, it is perceived in a rooted manner of eloquence of the self. Balance requires being tactful and for U.K based brand Barjis Fashion Label, it is a mastered skill between high fashion modesty, quality and the world of main stream fashion; a precise harmony between faith and state.
When the time is right, destiny allocates itself justly without a force to stop it. Barjis initial recalled moments upon entering the world of fashion were but accidental after an advise given to her per seeing her sister's wedding gown. Since that moment it has been a rise for Barjis who has been honored several awards such as 'Entrepreneur of the Year in London' by Shell LiveWIRE and whose formal design training at the prestigious school Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London wins her the title of the '1st high fashion modest clothing designer with formal training' Her work has been honored in places such as BBC, MSN, Emel and more. Barjis has showcased during London Fashion Week in the past and is now set to showcase during Paris Fashion Week this coming season of Autumn/Winter 2014.
Barjis work from the beginning has been an ambiance of simplicity and quality embossed in high ranked modesty. Her initial collections consisted of refined abayas fitted for the western mindset; simple, versatile and a touch of identity. Her later collections introduced color as a beautiful sunset does upon leaving us. In her last collection Spring/Summer 2014 she bolted with color in an artful effect; a true celebration of diversity and simplicity. She is now set to present her Autumn/Winter 2014 collection and our senses only but wonder in the wilderness of our intuition and the exchanges of our words with her in our interview to a glimpse of it.
I'm really delighted to see your brand thrived since your launched and our last interview. Looking back at that moment when you first begin to now, how do you feel?
"Thanks Sadeel! You have always been extremely kind and supportive. I feel very humbled and I am very excited how the brand is evolving."
You refer to yourself as the “first trained modest fashion designer who specializes in high fashion”. What has been one of the biggest obstacles you have had to go up against in the world of high fashion?
"Personally it’s the hijab. People just don't quite see anything beyond my hijab. I am tired of being interviewed because I am a Muslim. I would like to be taken seriously as a business woman and Fashion Designer. I have turned down high profile BBC 1 television interviews because I don’t want unnecessary exposure just because I am a Muslim."
Of course I have to ask, tell us about your meeting with Jimmy Choo?
"I was invited to an event hosted by Jimmy Choo. He was very sweet and personally gifted a scarf to all his guests. I rarely go to parties or events but as I am thinking of penetrating into the Far East I thought it would be a good idea to attend the event."
Your Spring/Summer Collection 2014 was a brilliant display of color in an art format. Very different from your previous subtle collections. How is part of you a reflection of it?
"My signature style of contemporary elegance with a quirky twist has always been evident in all my collections. However my theme was Rajasthan for spring/ summer, I am Rajasthani by origin, I speak Rajasthani but I am Pakistani. My ancestors moved to Karachi 180 years for work, we still have our small rajasthani community in Karachi. Hence sooner or later colour and vibrancy would come to the surface. I love colour but wanted to use it at the right time. Having said this, my clothes will always be understated. Even though my prints and colour for SS14 were full of colour and energy yet the silhouettes were still simple and clean. Our new SS14 collection can be bought from our website from late March 2014."
You have become known not just for your eloquent modest style, but for the strength you put in your personal standards. This has made you a great example for the modern woman of today. How do you keep your balance as a daughter, mother and wife? And where do you get your strength from?
"This is nice to hear. As mentioned in my previous interviews, I am family oriented and work has always come 2nd for me. My life is not revolved around making money or grabbing the next opportunity. I have turned down 4 television interviews and 2 radio interviews in the space of 2 months. Either its family commitments or I don’t want to be miss represented. I think taking every opportunity that comes your way is not good. You need to assess what is good for you, your business, your family and most importantly your faith. Just last year some investors wanted to meet me. One of them turned up late due to traffic and it was time to pick up my kids from school. I had to politely tell them that I had to leave. I didn’t think twice that this could be a lucrative meeting. For me getting to school was my priority. What is written in my destiny will come to me. It’s no point to having millions with messed up kids. It all depends on what you want from life. For me, money and status has never meant anything and they still don’t’, even though Allah has blessed me with so much. If I lose everything today, I’ll just start from scratch again. These days’ people give too much importance in being successful. It depends how you define success. Mothers are more interested in making their kids into successful people but not successful human beings. There is a difference between the two. To be a successful human being you definitely need a good mother to guide you and be present in your life at all times."
Going back to the statement about being the first trained modest fashion designer, how relevant is it to be a trained fashion designer? Elie Saab didn’t formally receive training.
"Elie Saab did not have formal college training but he trained under another designer. He mastered his craft before setting up his label. What makes my blood boil is that people still don’t take this modest fashion industry seriously. Our people think that they can hire a tailor, whip up some designs by copying another designers work and make some money. Or worst they can become celebrities on YouTube by uploading videos of themselves and then launch a fashion line. My concern is that we are teaching the youth of tomorrow a very bad example. My daughter said that is it ok for her to upload a video on you tube? I said you wear the hijab which is sacred thing that should be respected. You are modest and then you will make yourself exposed to millions of people with male fan followers. This is the bad example that some Muslim girls/guys are setting. I am totally against the you tube fashionista revolution. It is a short cut to self destruction and loss of iman for so many people. Coming back to training, this is why it’s important to have training and education so that women have a back up and something useful to do with their lives and don’t have to resort to uploading videos to pay their rent. I think we are all responsible and should take this very seriously."
Modest fashion is really picking up worldwide, why do you think this is happening?
"Currently there are two revolutions happening in this world. The one is the western woman revolution. After years of looking sexy to please men some women have realized that they still feel pretty empty. They are looking internally and have started empowering themselves to take stock of their lives and how they want to dress. They don’t want to conform to how men want them to dress. These women are buying my clothes and majority of my clients are non Muslim women. Then you have the Eastern revolution where women have felt pressured into covering up for their men so they, due to education and exposure through satellite have started rebelling against their culture and religion. One Arab lady said that she takes off the abaya the minute she steps on the plane. One boutique in Dubai rejected my clothes because they were too modest. Her clients are affluent Pakistanis who want sleeveless dresses and sexy clothes. They think that to progress in life is to follow the lifestyle of the west. While the west are going back to their roots. It’s an interesting time as I thought my clients were going to be all Muslim ladies. But most of my clients are Non Muslim women. They love my clothes and respect the work and time put into making the clothes. While Muslim women, copy my designs and take it to their local tailors. We need to change our mentalities or this modest industry will fall flat on it’s face. We need to support talent and value art. Finally modesty for me is not just about wearing the headscarf. It’s about how you carry yourself, how you talk and how you live your life. This applies to both men and women, irrespective of what religion they come from. Modesty is about you not your religion. It’s about how much you value yourself and how you choose to live your life.
What is your best advice for a thriving modest fashion designer who wants to establish themselves in high fashion?
"I always say this and will say it again. To be in high fashion you need to lead not follow. So stop copying what others are doing and do something different. To be successful in fashion you need to understand the body form, cut and understand design at a deeper level. Having some form of training will help, or you will be a one season wannabe designer with no signature or identity."
You are about to present your Fall 2014 collection during Paris Fashion Week, may we have a sneak peek of the concept behind it?
"I am very excited about my new AW 14 collection. It was inspired by space. Last season the Barjis woman went to Rajasthan now she is going on an intergalactic surreal journey to space. The fear, excitement and contentment are encapsulated in this collection. For the 2nd season running I held a competition with my old primary school to inspire young kids from working class routes to gain an insight into art and design. The two lucky winners recently attended my AW14 photo shoot. I like collaborating with schools and giving something special back to the community. If I can inspire one child to follow their dreams irrespective of what background they come from and to be the best they can be, then I feel I have accomplished something in life. Thank you Sweet Modesty for your time and I hope we can catch up next season. I am planning to do something special at New York Fashion Week."
Barjis is set to showcase her Autumn/ Winter 2014 collection at Zip zone, Paris Fashion week from 28th Feb – 2nd March 2014. All her work is “Made in Britain”. There will be 100 goody bags given to buyers who would like to preview the Barjis Fashion Label collection at the event. There will also have some free giveaways by their kind sponsors. This season, Cadenzza is offering a free jewellery giveaway. Cadenzza is part of Swarovski who were Barjis Fashion Label main sponsors for their London Fashion Week catwalk show last season. Visit Barjis Fashion Label at www.barjis.co.uk
‘Lower your head with humility and let Allah take you to your destination’, Barjis Chohan, Founder of BARJIS
Interview by M. Sadeel Allam