When I asked Sadaf about how long she has been in the fashion industry, her first remark was a witty rejoinder, “literally, or in my head?” As her contagious laugh filled the air, she went on to assert, “Practically, I started my company in 2005.” At once, I could tell I was dealing with a person who knew the subtle art of distinguishing light-hearted fun from hard business. Recalling the start of her journey, she explained that before she started her company, she worked with Maheen (Khan) for around five years, before which, she was in Paris, which is, in her words, “a walking, talking fashion industry.”
Her own style is minimalistic and her prime motto is, “Less is more!” Keen on individuality and the imprint of a particular soul, she explains that her “style is about bringing out the person rather than drowning them with a certain garment or a certain style which is borrowed from a magazine.” As she explains her aesthetic, I am compelled by her other-worldliness , she is a diva-esque figure who is deeply knowledgeable about style. The word she uses to describe her aesthetic line is “bold!” As I again begin to fall under the spell of Sadaf Malaterre , I realize it’s this very interweaving that draws me so strongly; the other-worldly with the bold!
We switch to discussing the energy of fashion shows, I’m curious about how she would explain its buzz to an ordinary person. As she talks, I begin to see, a puzzle coming together: “It’s so quick; it’s so fast, fashion is so fast…it’s like a season that comes and goes in days! …there’s a buzz about fashion shows, you walk in and walk out, people may have worked for months, but it starts and finishes in seconds. It’s like a wave that goes over you and you say “khatam?” (It’s over?)… (Like the water wave) you anticipate it …it’s coming, it’s coming and oh, it’s over! It literally feels like it was 10 seconds.”
Through her vivid explication, I can suddenly see her metaphor coming alive almost, like an equation of the Matrix. However much effort you put into any creative work, be it singing, writing a poem, making a movie, composing a tune…it is consumed in a matter of minutes in comparison to its actual creation. Hell, it is even true for love, as Neruda puts it; “Love is short…forgetting is so long.”
Vicariously experiencing the time-zone of fashion, I am now intrigued by how her creativity is triggered in this alternate universe. She gets right to the pulse: “Creativity is where it starts – it could be the tree, it could be the sky, and that spark that starts it, is creativity. It takes you anywhere.” She enters this world through music, or just sitting under the sky. Nature and the connection to the cosmos are one of her biggest inspirations.
Sadaf believes not just in connecting with the metaphysical universe, but also with the earthly beings that inhabit it. She has participated in many collaborations with artists over the years. Speaking in particular about Blackbird 1 (A fashion and art collaboration), she reminisces about how it was one of the most fascinating, fantastic experiences she ever had:
“I was visiting the artist Anjum Alix Noon in Islamabad, and she was dropping me to the airport and on the way she said, “Let’s do something!” We had two months left for fashion week. For the next two months we didn’t meet. So we decided that we will collaborate but we will not tell each other what we are doing. She sent me a lot of work back and forth. And then we met three days before the show…so it was a collaboration without meeting.”
Sadaf likens her invigorating collaboration with Anjum to a poem by the great American poet Wallace Stevens ; In “Thirteen ways of Looking at a Blackbird” Wallace Stevens writes: “I do not know which to prefer… the blackbird whistling, or just after. In the aftermath of the fashion collaboration, I the Blackbird, could feel the energy of the fashion show, how quick, how dynamic it must have been, however, the aftertaste is experienced in solitude, like a glass of wine. The show itself, had a lot of social commentary…about how there is chaos, yet there is a search for beauty which connects us all”. Overall, it was an eye-opening experience/collaboration for her and she adds that Alfred her oldest cat played his part in the creative process along with an enigmatic black crow. The animal kingdom seems sacred to Sadaf, as she lovingly mentions her cat throughout the interview, and I begin to wonder why the black crow was so important to these two artists. For this, I turn to Steven’s poem again, “The river is moving. / The blackbird must be flying.” There is a divinity to the animal world , which Sadaf cherishes and explores in her work
It doesn’t stop there. Anjum and Sadaf came together again earlier this year, in an exhibition called “Take a Piece of my Heart,” by the former. This work was curated by Sadaf. She chose to be a part of this work after she saw a painting by Anjum, in which Anjum had painted her self -portrait with a rose in front of her eye. Curious, Sadaf inquired about it further, and from there the collaboration grew. The work was concentrated around the portrayal of the self in modern culture “everything was just about the selfie culture…self-obsession and how everyone has just drowned into it.” She pointed out that in “Take a Piece of my Heart,” there was an interactive process, whereby you could actually ‘take’ a piece of the artist’s (heart) work. Hearts, also signified the ‘likes’ people treasure on facebook.
Her interest in accepting the challenge of collaborations took her to “Dreamscapes,” with artist Amin Gulgee. Sadaf’s work showcased in “Dreamscapes,” was titled “Tea with Alice.” Sadaf’s ability to take her audience to new worlds was obvious in the way she envisioned a portrait for this installation: “It was a larger than life installation of the intriguing, mysterious story (for me) of Alice in Wonderland. Alice’s big skirt was actually a tent and people went inside and could actually have a cup of tea with Alice…it was lit and very magical.” Taking the conversation further about “Dreamscapes” she explained how there were so many other performing artists and installations part of the exhibit.The works that caught her attention were those featuring representations of barsaat (Monsoon) and others including “a whole body made out of cake and a butcher standing and giving out pieces of it!” She insisted that the feeling was akin to walking inside a literal dream, you lived out whatever was your fantasy – it could be a nightmare, it could be a dream. “A dream is anything!” Sadaf asserted.. Looking at the pictures of ethereal, other-worldly, Emily Dickinsonian Alices’, in “Dreamworld” I realized that I would never see Alice in Wonderland in the same way again. Taking a cue from her own fashion statement: “(be) bold!” I ventured to ask about the cover photo of her facebook page, “Sadaf Malaterre Clothing.” and of how the two girls in the picture, dressed in sheer lilac and dreamy blues reminded me of vampires and the world of Dracula..To this, she graciously laughed and half-admitted, that “we love Dracula and the vampire philosophy, there’s something beautiful about it.” This was a collaborative effort that took place in her good friend Zain Mustafa’s house, where Ayaz Anis was the photographer and his sister Rana did the styling. Talking about her experience of working with like-minded people on this project she said how “everyone put in their bit, without guiding each other…when you don’t…something beautiful comes out of it.”
Fashion inspiration is everywhere, from what I gather talking to her, in nature or the stars or simply in a film or a TV series. “What inspires me in a very strange way, is cold, icy winter with dried up trees and snow-frosted scenery… (like in) Orlando, have you seen it?” She reminds me then, that it could be a colour, or an element, or just a random detail that sparks the imagination. On a lighter note, she adds, that “Sex and the City” was a fun series with a lot of fashion inspiration. She was entertained watching it because even something as ordinary as going to the park with your dog, was a fashion statement!
Her message to newcomers in the fashion industry is simple: “Stick to what you’re good at.” Sadaf explains that in fashion there’s always a wave like pattern – it goes down, then it comes up. This happens all over the world except for in our part of the world. She feels everyone is repeating the same patterns locally. For the first time in the interview, Sadaf’s tone is filled with concern: “People have lost their own identity of what their signature is. Everybody’s work looks the same.” She chides the newcomers for this uniformity, and exclaims that it’s true that bridals make money but if one wants to be creative and make his/her mark, then one can’t just stop at bridals: “Fashion shows…that’s the only canvas you have where you can show what your creativity is and then your retail is different. So fashion shows, I think, for newcomers and for the old people also, have become very monotonous and very regular. There’s no oomph, there’s no element of surprise.”
Sadaf is someone who celebrates the present, and does not live in either the future or the past. When asked about what she would do on her last night in the world, she didn’t have to think too much. “I’ll have an early dinner (with) all my people I want to be with.” Somehow I felt that her emphasis on ‘my’ was touchingly possessive. She goes on to say that, around 9 pm, the people would leave and she would spend the rest of the night with her pets till whatever time she had left
At Pandemonium, we love the surreal and esoteric, so by instinct I bring out my tarot deck and ask Sadaf to draw out any card and tell me the first thing that she thinks of when she sees it. ‘The Butcher’ is summoned (and if you go into “Dreamscapes” earlier in this interview, you will find him there, delivering pieces of cake to everyone!) As she draws the card, she is startled by the image but takes hardly a second to respond:
“The Butcher…the first thing that comes to my mind…is… the image of a butcher who left his profession when he saw the bull that was being dragged for slaughter towards him was crying… it wouldn’t come so he kneeled down and wept… so (the butcher) went to the bull, rescued him, took him to the sanctuary and decided that he will never be a butcher again.”
As I wrap up the interview, I am overcome with a feeling of raw wonder. Malaterre’s world and her inspirations have enraptured me completely .. the sacred animal kingdom, the ethereal beauty of the starry night, the way the spark of creativity starts… are all left with me, forever.