Recognised as a pioneer in women's fashion, Nickie Nina no doubt is one of the most popular and influential dress labels in Pakistan. Having no formal training in fashion, both sisters remarkably built a fashion empire that has been soaring high ever since their onset. Stylish and immensely gifted, they learnt the tricks of the trade at home when their mother and aunt taught them how to knit and stitch. Today, the secret behind their success is innovation and specialising in their strengths, which are luxury prêt and bridal wear.
Always growing, they find new ways to present timeless looks and continue to shine with their readily available, feminine silhouettes. This 15th anniversary issue of Brides & You, we bring for you an insight into a label that is synonymous with quality, creativity and elegance.
When and how did you two decide to venture into fashion designing?
Nina: It was back in 1990 when we did our first show. We were always fond of dressing up and making clothes for friends and family. So, it was then that we decided to take out our first ever collection. In that show, we had two models who became very famous- Vinny and ZQ. It was Vinny's first ever show.
Nickie: We did it at our mother's place; it was a small show; it was a total sell out. That was the turning point in our career and that is when we started taking it more seriously. There was no turning back after that and we started making collections.
Do you both have formal training in fashion and is it necessary to have a fashion degree to get into this field?
Nina: We do not have formal training in fashion but at that time, young girls were taught how to cut, sew, knit and embroider. In school we used to have classes but it was basically in the family that my mother and aunt taught us how to stitch. I used to stitch one suit daily when I was in my teens.
Nickie: We understand the basic cut and fabric. We also had inborn aesthetic sense. Our mother was very particular about what we wore and how we dressed up. So this helped when we started making clothes commercially.
Nina: We have been doing it for so long that we are technically sound at the craft. We know a lot more than the students who are new in the field and come from fashion schools.
Do you both divide your work into specific lines/collections and what type of designing do you both enjoy doing?
Nina: We do divide our work; we have our own targets, our own responsibilities in designing at the brand but when we are doing a collection we always do a joint thing. We come up with a theme, a concept, an idea and we sometimes end up having a conflict of opinion. But once the concept is developed, we design the collection together.
Nickie: We take each other's input. So every outfit becomes a joint effort.
Nina: A lot of time, effort and work is required for a bridal outfit. Once that outfit is made, that is when the real creativity starts. We enjoy making lighter versions of that outfit. A lot of concepts are put together in one outfit. I find that much more fun.
Tell us about the creative process- where does the inspiration come from?
Nickie: Inspiration can be from anywhere. There was a time when we used to get a lot of inspiration from nature. We did a collection that was inspired by the different aspects of the sea. We combined hues of sky in it. When we did our first fashion week- that was when we took our inspiration by the women of Swat and how Swat was under turmoil. Women were suppressed, they were not allowed to work but they were still working in their houses. They went through different transition periods and our collection started with boots, conservative silhouettes and moving on to loose flowy fabrics. We did our own prints, motifs and embroidery for that collection. Then we did a collection inspired by the women of Sindh- how they love wearing bright colours in the dessert. Life is very tough, it is so hot but they still like to wear bright clothes, dress up and they do not mind showing their skin.
Nina: Now we are focusing more on women and womanhood. The liberties that a woman can enjoy, inspiring women of the past and how strong they can be. We being women understand the problems that a woman goes through when she comes out to work. How she has to look after her house, her kids and much more. We like to encourage the women who work. Most of the staff at our office are women.
In a short span of time, Nickie Nina has become one of the leading brands in the industry. What sets it apart from other design labels?
Nina: I think it is our design aesthetic. What we design is for all age groups. The same outfit can be worn by a teenager as well as her mother. It is made in a way that it is both trendy and conservative as well as graceful. The same outfit can be taken out after 10 years and be worn.
Nickie: Our clothes have a conventional touch matched with modern fashion. We like to combine a lot of different fabrics, textures, colours and we put thread embroideries in our outfits. You can tell a Nickie Nina outfit from a mile away. It is also very difficult to copy a Nickie Nina outfit.
Nina: Even from our own workers, if you ask them to make a piece previously made, they will not be able to produce a replica because a lot of things are combined in one outfit. So this I would say is our distinct style- embroidery and different works combined in the ensembles.
What does your current collection entail? Any specific trends in bridals/formal wear to look out for?
Nina: Right now we are working on our bridal collection . We have taken out our Volume1 and each and every outfit is inspired and named after a strong woman in the past. That woman's personality traits, how bold she was, how outspoken she was and more- we have tried to incorporate those into the outfit.
Nickie: Since our clothes never really go out of fashion, we try to keep the conventional touch, no matter how modern or westernized the outfit is. We are doing all kinds of cuts this season. We are doing ghararas, cut outs in the back, shoulders and waist. Last time we did sexy backs and this time we are doing organza cutouts all around. Then we are doing peplums, crisscrosses and a lot of peek-a-boos on the sides.
Nina: We are also doing 5-Dimensional work this time. That is something very different from our old collections. The cut and work placement is modern but the work and fabric is very subcontinent. We have done an Eastern/Western fusion.
What types of colours and materials do you prefer?
Nina: Hand made jamawars; we love using velvets and we love combining velvets with organza and silk. Most of the fabrics are local as we encourage using Pakistani fabrics. My favourite colour is red and I love using contrast hymns and linings in my outfits.
Nickie: I love using shades of gold and solid colours. This time around, the colour palette is very bright. It is a colourful collection and we would like to change the thinking of the bride that she has to wear red on her baraat and gold on the walima. We are doing those typical colours but we are introducing some new colour concepts in this collection.
Designer prices have become ridiculously high. What is your take on this as a brand and do you adjust within a client's budget?
Nickie: Firstly, it is the demand of the customer that designers are making heavier and more expensive clothes. They feel that the more work laden and expensive an outfit, the better it will look. Secondly, we do make those but if any one wants to adjust an outfit within their own budget, we do that. We never impose our own budgets, we never refuse a client and whoever comes to Nickie Nina , we feel that we owe this kind of commitment to them.
With so many designers coming out with lawn collections and the demand for lawn ever increasing, Nickie Nina remains one of the very few labels that has not entered into this market. Why so?
Nina: Nickie Nina will never go into a rat race. We do what we want to do, what our heart tells us to do and what we can manage easily. Whenever we are ready, whenever the time comes, we will come out with a lawn collection but right now we are happy with what we are doing.
Nickie: We are right now one of the best luxury Prêt brand in Lahore. We have over 100 designs in our store of luxury prêt and they are available in all sizes. That is what we specialize in and you can come pick up an outfit for any occasion from our luxury prêt line. I can say proudly that this is what we are known for. We show a collection, we show it on the ramp and within a month we make it available for our client and in all price ranges.
Advice you would give to a newcomer in the industry?
Nina: There is no shortcut to experience. You have to constantly keep working hard. You cannot let go even for a minute; you have to be on top of things and nothing can stop you then. You need to be constantly working for it. You cannot take it for granted at any point in time.
Nickie: Never leave things to the last minute. Always work ahead of time. Whenever we have big projects like delivery of a big order or a fashion week, we get things done beforehand. Always give yourself a prior deadline and be ahead of your targets and goals.
Who are some of your favourite designers locally and internationally?
Nina: Sana Safinaz, sometimes Élan and Dolce and Gabbana our all time favourites.
What do you like doing when you both are not working? Any hobbies?
Nina: I love going to the gym and play golf once in a while. I like to keep myself busy and love to go out with friends.
Nickie: We have a big family, common circle of friends and generally I like to spend my spare time with relatives and friends.
Nickie: Our brand is very big in the US and we aim to expand our clientele further over there.
We wish this immensely talented duo best of luck and tons of success for future endeavours!