Back in 2013, I remember reviewing a collection called ‘Tughra’ by Shamaeel Ansari. The veteran designer, well-known for her elaborate couture, was making a debut into luxe ready-to-wear. The prices were relatively lower but this was hardly your generic, everyday apparel. Generic, after all, is not a word that can be associated with Shamaeel, a designer who has always reveled in artistic details and statement-wear. The collection stood out, with its statement collars, oversized sleeves, balloon hemlines, belted shirts and a gorgeous canvas of prints clearly inspired by Turkey.
Some years later – in 2017 – I attended a solo presentation by Shamaeel, kicking off the winter edition of that year’s Fashion Pakistan Week. The Ottoman influences, once again, stood out. In a sea of turquoise, salmon pink, sea green and crimson, Shamaeel had etched out artistic odes to the rich historic and modern amalgamations that form the framework of Turkey: blue tulips, bright red pomegranates, the colors and patterns of Iznik tiles, golden latticed threadwork reminiscent of Suzani patterns and even gilded seagulls, soaring above the Bosporus! The silhouettes were regal: huge ruffled collars, chughas spread-eagled onto mannequins, jackets, shirts and elaborate kaftans.
Long before Ertugrul Ghazi swished his sword about and Pakistan got smitten with Turkey, Shamaeel had been entranced by the country’s melting pot of cultures. She recalls, “I remember first falling love with Turkey when I showcased my designs there in 1998,” recalls Shamaeel. “I took part in three shows – two in Istanbul and one in Ankara. They were organized by the Pakistani ambassador in Turkey, with Tariq Amin as stylist, Amin Gulgee as jewelry designer and myself.”
“What particularly inspires me is the layers of beauty, sensuality, spirituality, history and culture that have been maintained so well within the country. My export business has kept me connected with the country but there is so much more to it, a depth of culture and poetry and the fact that many other countries don’t celebrate their beauty and culture so vividly but in Turkey, it is evident in everything from the food to the buildings and the natural landscape.”
Shamaeel’s successive lineups, dedicated to Turkey, have all been carefully curated based on her personal research and interest in the country. “Ask me anything and I would have read up on it,” she laughs, “from Osman Hamdi Bey’s paintings to the history of the Ottoman Empire to the works of Rumi.”
“’What you seek is seeking you,’” she quotes her favorite quote of Rumi to me. “Whenever I visit Konya, I visit Rumi’s tomb.”
‘The Blue Tulip’, the collection showcased in 2017’s FPW solo presentation, induced the Turkish General Consul to connect her with Turkish Airlines and sponsor a fashion shoot in Turkey. “I don’t just really like a certain part of a culture and replicate it in my designs. I take inspiration from it and incorporate it into my designs, in my own way. It’s my way of paying homage to a culture that I love.”
Turkey, of course, has won over many fans in Pakistan thanks to the Dirilis: Ertugrul series. But setting aside the heroic stories of good vs. evil, the larger than life landscapes and the traditional costumes, there is so much more that can be experienced from the country: ornate architecture, a distinctive palette of colors, unique flora and fauna. A lot of it is lovingly entrenched in Shamaeel Ansari’s designs.