When you think bridal wear, and imagine classic aesthetics infused with modern cuts, you instantly think: Sarah Karim. The Sarah Karim outfit is the ultimate image of royalty, glamour and sensuality. There's nothing quite understated about her designs - it's not about making a statement - it's about being the statement. With only seven years since she began her journey, she's quickly made her mark as the most sought after designer of evening wear and bridal couture in Bangladesh.
Interestingly, Sarah's foray into the designing world actually began as a hobby she pursued as she helped her grandmother-in-law's brand Al Ehsan that specialised in detailed zardosi, aari work, gotapatti and embroidery dating back to the Mughal Era. "My grandmother-in-law has been in the designing business for 35 years. She worked with a group of artisans, giving them design work for sarees that were sold under her brand. It was entirely a charity back in the day, as the work supported the embroidery artists that worked for her. When my grandmother fell ill, I had to take over. It actually started as a responsibility as there were all these workers that couldn't go unemployed," she shared. For her, it seemed to be a "natural progression" as she stepped into her grandmother's shoes and slowly but surely built the brand to make it what it is today. "Initially, we used to design sarees, but soon we progressed from not just doing sarees to doing jackets, tops, fusion kameezes and also customised bridal wear."
For someone who's raced through the tiers of designing success in what is, undoubtedly, a fairly competitive industry, Sarah never knew this is where she'd stand today. Possessing a Master's degree in English, her love affair with the arts was rooted in her love for literature. Teaching Shakespeare at high school and later University, if it weren't for the overwhelming demands for her designs, and her "not being a morning person," she'd probably still be a Professor. During the birth of her third child, around seven years ago, she decided to call her teaching career quits, fully committing her time to her family and her designs.
Soon enough, with her client base growing and excited whispers about her designs taking centrefold, her success knew no bounds. When asked about the secret to her success, she attributes it to her being a perfectionist: "I am very particular about my designs, colours and my fabric. I will only make something that I truly like. Sometimes I've spent weeks making something that didn't turn out the way I wanted. In that case, I never put it on the rack. My attitude isn't that, 'Oh, somebody might just like this.. .' For me, I only display those outfits that I love myself."
As far as her designs are concerned, it wasn't advertisement or social media that took her to the forefront of the fashion scene. In fact, it was word-of-mouth and a select, exclusive client base that stuck to the brand over the years. Barely investing in any advertisement, marketing or even a Facebook page, her clients came as references from older clients and could only meet after making appointments. "For the longest time my clients could only come with an appointment but now, I no longer have that luxury and must allow walk-in clients to make way for demand," she added.
All Sarah's designs have one recurring theme, a central idea - they've all got classic, regal designs and work, but with modern cuts. Any Sarah Karim outfit goes through a rigorous and detailed process as it goes from sketches that finally take the shape of real designs. "I look into a lot of classic, old, Mughal designs/motifs.. so whereas the fabric is modern the work is always very classic."
With Sarah Karim gracing the fashion shows such as The Lustrous Runway (TLR) for the past five years, her designs have been worn by the likes of Malaika Arora Khan and Lisa Ray, both showstoppers at TLR. One of the proudest moments for her came when Khan complimented Sarah on her designs. "She visited right after celebrating her sister-in-law's big Bollywood wedding. She said, 'If only I had seen this outfit two weeks ago, I would have definitely worn this instead.' She was very sweet." While that, to Sarah, has been the greatest compliment, she also takes immense pride in every outfit she makes. "In fact, for me every client is a celebrity. I feel especially satisfied when a bride is delighted with her outfit. That really fills my heart," she added with a genuine smile.
As we came to the end of our interview she shared her infectious excitement and love for design. "I wake up in the morning and I'm so excited to come to work. I'm always looking forward to seeing how my sketches are turning out." With her growing client base and steady encouragement from her husband, Sarah is considering offers of retailing at prestigious stores in Delhi, London and New York. As for the immediate future, she's excited about the overwhelming response to her bridal line. However as a private person who likes to keep a healthy balance between work and home, she's content to not rush into too many new ventures. “I really think it's very important to find the right balance between work and home. Sometimes when I get really busy I don’t like it because you have to have some free time to enjoy your success and savour what you’ve achieved. I really am very content with where I am right now, I feel quite happy."
Rapid fire with Sarah Karim
• Any two fashion icons you'd like to have coffee with.
A lot of my designs are inspired by Indian royalty. Especially the period when local crafts of karchop and zardozi got fused with European chiffons and georgette fabrics. That was a very interesting period and I think an icon of that period would be Maharani Gayatri Devi. Don't know about coffee but I'd definitely like to look into her wardrobe.
• Now that you’re a full time designer, if you could have chosen an alternate career what would it be?
I'd be teaching Shakespeare with a passion.
• A trend that should die?
Actually no trend should die. Over time, you grow to embrace different styles and fashion. I was really dreading the fact that kameez lengths are getting short but now I really like it. Fashion is something that grows on you, there's nothing that I would discount and say I hate.
• If you could switch lives with any person for a day who would that be?
Not anyone, really. I am really quite content being who I am, and I'm not a very ambitious person so I certainly don't want to switch lives with somebody who's famous.
• If you’re really stressed out what's a go to way to de-stress?
I say my obligatory five prayers daily. It's the perfect way to de-stress.
• What are your biggest phobias?
A zipper not working in the last minute - I'm paranoid about that!
• Three things no one knows about you?
First, I have three children, with my eldest son who's 16 and much taller than me. Second, I'm actually a very private person, I shun the limelight and it's a difficult field to be in. Third is probably that I was trained to be an English professor.
• What are you most excited about?
I'm very excited about the bridal lines I've worked on for the past two years, lines that have generated a lot of interest. I like the fact that brides can wear something that is locally produced and manufactured...which in turn provides sustainable employment to our artisans. This is a source of immense satisfaction for me!