The Mad Hatter would have a field day in Pakistan between mid-February and mid-April. It is the mad lawn season. When the once humble malmal now commands every society auntie and her wannabe’s attention. Where hijabs and hijinks find common ground.
If I were to strain my memory, lawn was the cloth mums bought to wear in the house during the hot summer days. It was light and airy, perfect for the heat but prone to wrinkles and so confined to the house. And it was cheap and cheerful. For most women cotton was what you wore to work or out to lunch or on evening visits to friends and family.
The quality of lawn improved and more importantly so did the designs. Matched by an increase in temperatures and loadshedding, cottons were slowly relegated to occasions which commanded smart-casual attire. Well tailored lawn became acceptable to wear to work, to pick up the kids from school or pop across to a friend’s for a cup of tea. It was still cheap and cheerful.
Lawn has now evolved to become the fashion statement de rigeur of the summer. There are hundreds of manufacturers. New ones popping up every year. The prints range from the requisite florals to geometrics to paisleys and the homage to the animal kingdom. Most are still cheerful. Not so cheap.
And despite the miffed sniffs of the quality going down, the shalwar fabric being so totally see-through, the designs rehashed from last year, lawn continues to sell. The exhibitions are cash only payments with wads being doled out at the till for hurriedly grabbed suits. Who cares whether it’s any good. Many a fist fight has been witnessed, ‘that Junaid Jamshed no. 5A is mine you #@#&’. With prices averaging Rs 4000 and going up to Rs 9000 at sold out lawn exhibitions you would think we have the most robust economy in the region.
As for the advertising, Khaadi did their usual campaign. This is a brand that follows the same design narrative every year and is confident enough to do just a basic outdoor campaign where there is more Khaadi than kapra – and with the over exposed Amna Ilyas that might have been a good idea. They know their market and keep it at a very reasonable
Rs 2000 to 4000 bracket. However, if wearing a three-piece match is not your deal but lawn is, the same prints are available in peasant shirts and tunics. Or stitched shirts if you can’t be bothered with a tailor or a dupatta.
Crescent, true to form brought out Kareena Kapoor. But with Indian celebrities gracing our screens big and small in movies, TV shows and ads, the sight of a celebrity in one of oh so many lawn advertisements is hardly memorable. Despite the persistence with Bollywood beauties Crescent is still a Punjab brand and the ladies don’t flaunt it like the biggies Al-Karam, Gul Ahmed, Junaid Jamshed, Khaadi, Nishat and Sana Safinaz do.
Junaid Jamshed started off as a Khaadi me-too. Same colours and similar patterns. Good quality cloth. JJ’s tableeghi antecedents dictate advertising devoid of the human element. In an odd way, this helps the brand produce distinctive advertising. The TVC is an abstract mix of calligraphy, rich designs with a voiceover by Zia Mohyeddin to add to the mystery. And like Khaadi, the designs are versatile and appeal to a broad section.
Nishat Linen was the first out with an advertising campaign. A full-fledged one that is. The TVC with billowing cloth merging with water was refreshing. But it wasn’t terribly youthful. Perhaps the intent was not so. The designs seemed to speak to a more mature audience.
Al-Karam came across as chirpy, youthful and with a spring in its step. The clever use of print merged with origami birds gave the brand a distinctive edge much like JJ. And unlike some of the others, this brand did not take itself too seriously. No preening models or intellectual designs for a simple, unpretentious fabric. One just wished that the prints were as cheerful and young as the advertising.
Sana Safinaz were class personified, in the prints which sold like hot cakes as well as the advertising for the brand. The TVC was serene, extolling the feminine sprit, and was given the 3D treatment in cinemas.
A beautifully designed book with a shockingly bold cover – a plain emerald green, no visuals, just the brand name emblazoned in gold. This is a brand that has been consistent with the product as well as the marketing. Sophisticated, elegant and very expensive, catering to a sophisticated target market.
Gul Ahmed is sensibly persisting with the equity of being the original lawn. And are perhaps the only ones who can answer the question: why is this fabric called lawn in the first place? Is it because it was created as the perfect fabric to be worn at summer lawn parties? Who knows? The requisite TVCs showed a young girl living the beautiful life, carefree and joyful. Gul Ahmed was the only brand apart from Al-Karam that tried to speak to a younger audience.
Asim Jofa was surprisingly quiet after the provocative campaigns of the last few years.
There are the Wardas and the Yasirs and the Kayserias and perhaps a hundred or so more. Looking and sounding the same. The category at this moment in time is showing no signs of maturing or evolving. But one can always hope.
What made the lawn season different this year was the marketing. Gone is the reliance on exhibitions. Of course exhibitions still matter but brand teams seem to be united in the push on television and an extended focus on the catalogues (many of which are still distributed free of charge), and where there were once three catalogues a year, there are now six. Where each lawn brand marketed dozens of designs, now there are hundreds.
What is ironic is that the catalogues were initially a cost-effective substitute for conventional advertising. Why spend millions on TVCs when you can reach your target directly with half that spend? But TV is in with a bang – and without dislodging the catalogue. Dealers are courted with incentives, special dealer catalogues and even a say in the designs featured. Which is why the cheetah prints, the ghastly net and embroidery combos and schizophrenic abstracts will always retain pride of place!
Digital is finally being used but not to full potential. Clients have realised that it’s a great way to connect directly with their customer, to make sure that they know about the launches and the sales, whether through texting or social media. What they need to figure out is the how to use social media more effectively. How to keep current in between those ubiquitous catalogues. And how to create a better defined brand.
The proliferation and never ending fascination with lawn is a telling comment on our fashion industry. Where unstitched fabric trumps couture in bragging rights. And where prêt is still a pipe dream. Sure, ready-to-wear shirts and trousers are increasingly common but fabric still commands attention and controls wallets. Although there is not much difference between brands. Many of the designs are rehashed from previous years, ape competitors or appear to have no thought behind them at all. The designers attach their names to these brands but their talent (if one can call it that) is nowhere to be seen.
Spend Rs 6000 on a lawn suit, which will have to be discarded in a few months or a smart jacket from Mango which will last you a few years? Which would you rather have?
S. Hyder works for an advertising agency in Pakistan.