One of the unique facets of Pakistani bridal fashion is the quality of craftsmanship, encompassing rich brocades and intricate embroideries based on a wealth of age-old techniques. Even the edgiest young designers build on this heritage in their creations, embellishing contemporary silhouettes with kora, dabka, gotaor resham. While this sort of artistry may be an inaccessible dream to amateur designers in the west, Pakistan’s bazaars teem with expertise. Karachi, a melting pot of cultures from all over the sub-continent, is particularly blessed with artisans and cloth vendors. If you know where to look, you can find the most incredible fabrics and embroidery, with something to suit almost any budget.
Karachi’s iconic bazaars are fabulous places to find bargains. The kamdani that will cost you a fortune at a designer will be significantly cheaper at a market in Clifton or Gizri. If, however, you venture to the Jama or Bolton markets, you can find the same kamdani at a fraction of the price.
Local knowledge is a must, as finding a reliable merchant or craftsman can be a hit and miss affair. If you don’t know how to recognize quality fabric, you may end up paying silk prices for polyester. In terms of embroidery, delivery will invariably be somewhat delayed but there’s nothing worse than finding your material ruined by the stains, poor execution or the wrong colours of thread. While it’s okay to take the occasional risk for a beautiful design, it’s generally better to stick with someone that has a reputation to uphold.
In terms of jamavar and brocade fabrics, you can’t go wrong with Banarsi by Al-Raheem Brothers or Hilal Silk on Zamzama. Both are frequented by top designers and are eminently reliable. Banarsi stocks a phenomenal array of brocades on many different bases including kimkhwab silk, kathan silk, chiffon and Maysuri amongst others. They have a good selection of colours and plenty of off-white brocade that you can dye according to your personal preference. Their brocades are fabulous for kurtas, lehngas, trousers and ghararas. They also stock a phenomenal selection of organzas, tissues and nets as well as plain chiffons, kamdani chiffons, chunri suits and khaddar nets. Many of the gold and silver nets and tissue fabrics that top designers have recently been using are available at Banarsi.
Hilal Silk is another Karachi favourite. Their brocades range from cottons and khaddars all the way up to fabulously rich kathan and kimkhwab silks. They have a spectacular array of colours, both pastels and deep shades, including a huge selection of bridal reds to suit almost any skin tone. It’s sometimes difficult to judge how a brocade will look when it’s dyed due to the gold, silver and silk threads in the weft so it’s great to be able to choose from a wide variety of ready-dyed material. Hilal also stocks brocade borders, silk-lined tasseled brocade chaddars and a limited selection of organzas and nets. Hilal is also notable for offering hand- embroidery, including marori work, kora and dabka. They will show you a sample and price it according to the placement of the embroidery.
If you’re looking for a wider variety of exquisite embroidery, head to Kekhashan market near the Caltex pump at Schon Circle. One of the most expensive embroidery markets in town, it attracts the best kaarigars and offers some of the most intricate and costly embroidery as well as all the latest techniques made popular by top designers. Zayn Boutique, situated at the very entrance to the market, is a long-time favourite of many.
They offer very delicate gota tukri and incredible single-resham Kashmiri embroidery. Further into the market you’ll find craftsmen offering all types of machine and hand- embroidery, embellished with crystals and beads. From trousseau kurtas to full-fledged bridal lehngas, the market offers both traditional and modern embellishment. However, it’s important to be aware that shoddier work sits side-by-side with more complex embroidery. Machine-embroidery that’s been touched up with beads andcrystals should not cost nearly as much as hand-embroidery but there will be shopkeepers who try to bamboozle you. Also, always ask to see some of the work that’s ready for delivery to gauge the true quality of the workmanship.
If it’s machine-embroidery that you’re after, Ghosia market in Gizri is a great bet. From gaara-type embroidery to ara-embroidery, Ghosia has it all. The market also has many lace shops, button and stone vendors and material shops. You can find all sorts of silk including chameurse, raw silk and crepe along with nets, organzas, cottons and mixed fabrics. The market also has several shops that stock digitally printed suits, kantha, chikankari and Multani suits with badla and kamdani. Ghosia is a super-trendy market; if designers start using a particular fabric or technique, Ghosia is the first bazaar where that fabric will become readily available. Other similar markets in Clifton include Gulf at Do Talwar and that whole line of markets leading down to Schon Circle.
Moving away from Clifton, Defence and Gizri, prices fall significantly. While there are superior markets all over town, especially within reach of the exclusive KDA area, there are also plenty of bazaars that cater to lower price points. Co-operative market in Saddar is one such example – rather than kaarigars with their addas, you’ll find shopkeepers with ready-to-stitch embroidered suits, saris and lehngas.
The stores also customize outfits according to your personal preference and budget. This is not a market where you’ll find single-resham Kashmiri embroidery but there’s plenty of traditional kora dabka in a fantastic range of colours and cuts. Depending on the quality of the fabric and embroidery, bridal lehngas start as low as Rs. 20,000 but, as always, it’s a case of you get what you pay for. At that price point you’ll get polyester, not silk, and the work will be all about impact rather than craft or delicacy. It can be confusing but you can also find more luxurious outfits in the same market.
If you have a feel for kapra, it is worth heading to bulk markets where you can find gorgeous brocades at lower prices. Similarly, a lot of the lace, button and stone vendors buy their wares at Bolton Market so a trip there can be worthwhile.
Karachi’s bazaars are a treasure trove of craftsmanship but they won’t be able to give you that designer touch. Even if you’re a gifted amateur designer, you’ll need a truly skilled tailor to give your outfits that certain sense of style. Finding the best tailors is easier said than done; a local may share who the best kaarigars are but who her tailor is?
That’s a secret she’ll never tell.