Munib Nawaz, the designer for the musicians and the bonafide rebel of the fashion industry talks candidly about his association with music, fashion and his latest venture as a restaurateur.
He is the designer who could be a model and his reputation as the musicians’ designer makes one wonder whether he secretly aspires to be a musician himself. The story of Munib Nawaz’s journey into fashion design is a simple one, how he chose to establish his label is a road-less-travelled by most designers in the local industry: by dressing all of the musicians. With ‘wardrobe by Munib Nawaz’ gracing the credits for every other music video, people were bound to take note.
He started off with an internship at Amir Adnan, a designer Munib has a very high regard and mentions now and then during the course of his interview. It was there when he discovered his inherent love for fabric and design. “I couldn’t sketch for my life. I just knew I wanted to design,” he says about his initial days at Amir Adnan’s, “I talk to the fabric. That’s how retarded I am.” He spent two years learning and honing his skills on everything that he’d need as a designer as well as going to college in the day time. One wonders whether Munib found balancing work and study difficult. “It was kind of difficult because I didn’t have a car, money, social life, friends or anything like that. It was difficult but fun. Going back to school was like taking a vacation for me because I knew what the practical world was about.”
After spending two years at Amir Adnan, Munib launched himself as an independent designer sometime in the winter of 2003. “In the beginning, it was just the models who began to wear my clothes; like Ali Kazmi, Faisal and Bilal Khan right after the first show. That is how I got publicity, by word-of-mouth.” And the musicians followed the models. Explaining his inclination towards clothing musicians Munib says that “they get the attention of the media; they talk about who did their wardrobe and so the media indirectly gets to know about me. That’s how the whole hype was created.”
Talk about music and it becomes evident that that is something that Munib doesn’t just restrict to designing for, but music also holds a very important place in his heart. “I think if I did not have music when I was growing up I probably would have killed myself or I would have died of depression. So music has always been there for me. When I get to hear music I instantly relate it into something or the other,” he said, “I used to write a lot. Now I’ve toned that down but I’m still writing, once or twice a week.” What’s more is that his little journal of poems might just make it into print. Munib revealed that there is an individual interested in publishing but he isn’t sure whether he’s ready to open up ‘that’ side of his personality for public viewing yet.
Musicians in general, tend to hold designers in disdain, however that isn’t the case where Munib is concerned whose been accepted in the music industry as a part of itself. “Because they don’t treat me like a designer. And you know that, you’ve seen me working with them. I don’t act like a designer with them, I interpret what they like about themselves or where their potential is,” going on he says that “I’ve worked with people like Khalid Khan (the bassist) whose never wanted to wear good clothes in their life and he ends up looking very nice because he knows I know music, what he plays and that I respect him as a musician. So I will not make him look like an idiot. For me music is so important that I would never want the music to look bad. Music sounds better with you baby, music looks better with me.
“It’s one of those things where I wouldn’t want a rock musician to look like a pop musician. So I know the genre that they’re working in and I make sure I work in the same genre and that’s why I think I can relate to them.”
Munib Nawaz has also been considered somewhat of a rebel in the industry, what does he have to say about that? “I never really thought about becoming a rebel. I probably have my own way of thinking which has not been accepted as yet,” he responds, “a lot of people also tell me that I’m a little ahead of my time. which is something I’m fine with, maybe because I started working at the age of 17 and I had friends at the age of 25 so that eight-year-gap I’m still trying to cover up but I’ve never thought of myself as a rebel,” he responded, “I have something to say and it should be heard. And if I have a forum to express it in one way or another, I should. It has probably not been accepted as yet but that doesn’t make me a rebel.”
Talking about the designer brand he says that “eventually the motto and the philosophy of the brand is something completely diverse and it is going to be something that is going to make a social impact in Pakistan, that’s what I wanted to go to. I have all these musicians working with me because these are the people who have a lot of influence on people. We work together and we form a basic sense of humanity.”
Talking about social responsibility he also mentioned that right after the South Asian earthquake his brand did a fashion show where the proceeds were donated to the relief fund. “We sold all the pieces there and I gave all of the money for the Earthquake Relief and we did make a political statement but you see, it’s not just the musicians who carry the responsibility of forwarding a message. We also have to do it, everybody has to do it. If there are two people you can influence, tell them to do the right thing”
His television show Cell 422 was a massive hit amongst audiences which saw Munib grill some of the whose who in the entertainment industry, asking them provocative questions and covering all of the ‘loopholes’ that had been left unanswered and unaccounted for previously in their careers. However the show is no more since Munib decided to ended it after it ran successfully on air for two years. “I just thought that I should leave when I won the world cup, figuratively speaking. Let it not become a Begum Nawazish Ali show where everyone’s been on that show.” It’s better to burn out than to fade away (Kurt Cobain)? “It’s not just better to burn out than to fade away, it’s better to leave when you’re on your peak than just get thrown away.
“You should come in, make a statement, which I did and now people are following that route. This is a direction that people are taking; why not ask Saqib Malik where is that film that you’ve been talking about for two years? I just wanted to clarify things, it wasn’t like I was drilling them. I invited people to come out with all guns blazing, say what you want to say with no censor policies, nothing like that. That was a great show, and the television network is running it every day just to get me back. But I’m not going back.”
Other than fusing music and fashion together, Munib has decided to go into another alternative venture: he’s opening up his own eatery. Talking about it he says “it’s my tribute to the Pakistani society of the younger generation. It’s not a restaurant, it’s a hangout joint. It’s like Subway meets Espresso meets Cafe Blue meets an underground bar in LA meets Munib Nawaz style. It’s based on graffiti, yet it has a very strong fashion and music influence in it.”
Is it underground? “It’s very underground, it’s very cliquish, its for people who get sick of meeting the same people. The only thing I’m scared of is that it’ll end up becoming the same people that we end up meeting all the time but in a very different environment. We’re making compartments, you have privacy there and you have a nice pool table and foosball table as well,” he went on to say that “it’s going to launch in the first week of May. This is where people will come to perform and jam sessions like the old-school times that I miss. Because I grew up in a time when live music was in and underground bands were in, when Gumby and Aamir Zaki used to play live at Cafe Blue. I wanted to get that underground music scene going and also a little bit of the fashion scene and the art scene.”
With the designing cap tucked safely under his belt and after becoming increasingly recognisable via his television show with plans of launching an eatery of sorts, can one get too famous or too successful? “In Pakistan a fashion TV personality will never be as big as a music personality because a music personality is catering to the masses. One thing that you must understand is that fashion is for people who can afford it. It started out like that and it is still like that. It is not for the masses.
“Don’t complain about the designers, they’re doing their bit for whoever they want to do it for. It’s not my responsibility to make sure that I sell it to a rairri walla as well. We have to make sure that the 100,000 people who can wear my clothes should be wearing my clothes because those are the people who will be travelling abroad and taking your country’s brand abroad. A designer label will never be a designer label if it’s catering to the masses. Stop complaining about our prices, our target market and about us being elitist. The masses have their Zainab markets and their Tariq roads. Do we ever complain that Zainab Market buhat sasta hai, humari market kharab ho rahi hai?”
Talking about his aspirations for Munib Nawaz the design label, he says that “there has never been a fashion house from Pakistan that has been to the Milan fashion week or the Paris fashion week on menswear, I want to do that,” pausing for a moment he continued that, “I want to go into that market where we can cut down our costs and make that Made In Pakistan logo that big that people want that as a first option. You can design in Pakistan, get the outfits made in China and sell them internationally and bring them back to Pakistan and sell them here as an international brand.”
— Photography by Shamyl Khuhro