The pandemic, albeit terrifying, has given us a lot to reflect on. It will, however, inevitably leave a permanent mark on how we function, and how businesses are operated around the world. The fashion industry is no exception; but with fashion experts from across the globe discussing the future of fashion, there are positives that some say can come out of this.
Aydha Mehnaz -- a Bangladeshi creative currently working for Mugler in the fashion capital, Paris -- is known for her twist on modest fashion and out-of-the-box photoshoots on Instagram. We sat down with Aydha for a (virtual) tête-à-tête, to talk about her journey, the fashion industry, and adaptability.
First and foremost, tell us about your line of work. How would you describe what you do?
I currently work as a communications coordinator for a French luxury fashion brand headquartered in Paris called Mugler. From a broader perspective, my job entails monitoring and controlling brand image and communications in terms of public relations. Our team does a myriad of activities -- from collaborating with Vogue for their next editorial, celebrity and talent partnerships, organizing fashion shows, to working with Cardi B’s team for her custom red carpet look at the Grammys. I have the amazing opportunity to work on so many cool projects at the same time, so there's never a dull moment. I like to think of myself as “the comms girl”, thus it’s hard to have a one-liner that describes everything.
Having studied Biochemistry and Biotechnology, when and how did you decide to shift your focus to this field? What was the process like?
My interest in fashion was always there, but it peaked when I launched my blog back in 2014 as a hobby. Simultaneously, I was a full-time second-year student at NSU studying Biochemistry, and also working as a marketing executive for a local brand that was just about to launch, called Sailor. This part was not easy -- juggling 3 things at the same time. At times, my only source of rest was the naps in my car during traffic going from one place to another. A year into blogging, as I was expanding my network, I started receiving invitations to go to modest fashion weeks around the world and speak on various panels representing Bangladesh. I could feel my goals changing. By the end of 2016, I knew biochem was no longer what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The thought of sitting in a lab for hours was giving me anxiety. Since I had acquired some level of practical experience in fashion marketing by then, I wanted to pursue that for grad school instead. In May of 2017, I graduated from NSU and by September I was in Paris enrolled at ESMOD to do a double master's in Luxury Brand Management. I had to do a lot of grovelling to the parents to let me come; my elder brother did most of the convincing. I still clearly remember him telling my mom on FaceTime: “She is going to be a terrible doctor later if you don’t let her do this now.” In short, the process was quite the adventure, but completely worth it.
Being in the fashion capital, how would you say your views on fashion have evolved?
My views on fashion itself have gotten a lot deeper than what they used to be. It is serious business here, where aesthetics, brand DNA, and individuality are highly recognized and valued. Back home in Dhaka, some people from my parents' generation for example, still have this notion that if kids can’t succeed in anything else, they choose to study fashion; that is not the case at all. Some of the people I work with regularly have such diverse backgrounds from architecture, healthcare to tech, it’s fascinating to see the unique ideas they bring to the table each season. Fashion in its way transcends the boundaries of art, culture, science, business -- pretty much every industry you can think of.
What, in your opinion, should be done to take Bangladeshi fashion to newer heights?
The fashion industry in Bangladesh is very young when compared to other parts of the world. If suggestions were to be given, it still requires a great deal of structuring, and there is a lot of room to do so. What would be very cool is to collectively work on how we can evolve the image of Bangladesh as a style hub on all fronts, instead of just being “the manufacturer”.
Considering the current circumstances, the world has come to a halt. How is this impacting the fashion industry in particular?
There is a lot of uncertainty across the world right now. Fashion weeks are getting cancelled due to health concerns and travel restrictions. Brands are in a very tight spot with a time limit to figure out how to showcase and sell the next collections. All the award shows and events are getting cancelled or postponed, so even if there is scope to work with great artists, we’ll have to wait until the lockdowns are over to resume activity as usual. Like all industries, we are no exception. However, this situation gives us time to brainstorm how we can cleverly adapt, yet still deliver.
Have you noticed a transformation in how we create content?
Content consumption has increased to an alarming level. When talking about content itself, it seems a selfie shot on an iPhone performs 100x better than a highly polished high budget picture from a campaign shoot. This indicates “realness” is valued more than curated content. TikTok is the quarantine social platform of choice, garnering millions of views with cringy videos we are all secretly addicted to.
What are your thoughts on people's adaptability, from what we've seen so far this year?
Since most of us right now are at almost day 50 of self-isolation, we have all learned to realize that this is the new normal. There is nothing we can do about it until the vaccines are developed. What I am concerned about now is how we are going to rehabilitate post-Covid, after being home for almost 2 months.
How do you think people's perspectives on fashion will change, post-pandemic?
I, personally, am looking forward to more active discussions on sustainability and radical transparency as mandatory pillars for fashion businesses to survive for the decades to come. From a consumer standpoint, more conscious shopping behaviour to buy less but buy better. The athleisure trend will still be very popular post-pandemic, followed by the concept of wellness and healthy living.
Finally, in these difficult times, what are you doing to remain positive and sane?
Video calls/calls with close friends and the family have been very helpful to stay positive. Work-wise, I am working from home since mid-March, but daily work calls have been super helpful to set a routine.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
The calmness of The Row with an edge of strong suiting from Mugler.
What has been your go-to quarantine outfit?
Oversized sweatshirts, knitwear trousers, and jersey scarves.
A colour you'd never wear?
Most likely lavender. I love that color on others, but hate it on myself.
Name 3 fashion bloggers you follow.
● Leena Al Ghouti -- a dear friend with an amazing sense of style.
● Leandra Medine Cohen -- no one can beat her in fashion humour.
● Caroline Daur -- super sweet blogger, with killer ab workout videos.
Which would you prefer: Adapting to fast fashion, or sticking to your style?
Sticking to your style 100%. No one can take that away from you.
What is one thing you'll take away from this time away from the world?
Not missing out on a social events ever again to “just stay home and chill”.
If your life were a movie, what would be your catchphrase?
"Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game."
What have you been binge-watching?
Currently watching Gilmore girls for the two millionth time (one of the oldies I will never get tired of). I like to have it playing in the background while I work on something else.
Name your favorite indie band.
It keeps changing all the time. I need to make a Spotify playlist for this.
First thing you plan on doing once it's safe to go out again?
● Go home to see loved ones, especially my Nani.
● Go back to work and hug my desk for five solid minutes.