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Ali Xeeshan: A Fashion Maverick’s Journey to Self-Expression

Ali Xeeshan: A Fashion Maverick's Journey to Self-Expression

If ‘eccentric’ had a picture in the dictionary, there is no way that proud Punjabi designer Ali Xeeshan would not be featured alongside. This is the man who openly admits to dressing in a fur coat and a necklace to use the loo in the middle of the night. Xeeshan, with his bold unorthodox fashion choices, was born to stand out – a trait that was immediately pounced upon when the designer was carving out his territory in the fashion industry.

The larger-than-life designer, clad in a silken robe, hip sunglasses and hair sleeked down on his head – looking like “a Saudi prince” – appeared as a guest on Ahmad Ali Bhatt’s podcast, and in his sing-song cadence, related the extraordinary Mean-Girls-esque bullying he had endured as a young fashion icon in Karachi.

“I was born like this,” stated Xeeshan, indicating his flamboyant outfit. “This is my lifestyle. I am authentic. I wear whatever I want. As I always say, loud is proud, and silence is violence.” Born and raised in a large joint family, Xeeshan explained that his fashion sense comes straight from his mother, “who is me, magnified by a hundred.”

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Proud to be “as Lahori as it gets”, Xeeshan said, “I went to a government college, and it really shaped me. I was good at academics. I got A grades and distinctions, and I graduated from fashion school.”

Brushing aside the long-held concept that only a certain class of person can begin a career in such a seemingly closed-off field, Xeeshan noted, “Fashion doesn’t belong to the elite, you know. It took me a while to break through, but I won them over with my creativity. My design sense has its own voice, from Multan to Milan, from Lahore to London.”

Vociferously denying being “upper class”, the ambitious and self-described workaholic said, “I may be successful now, but I have done everything under the sun to get to where I am. We had financial hardships when I was growing up, but we come from an entrepreneurial background. I have sold sandwiches to get by and even sold bangles on chaand raat.”

In the fashion world in Pakistan, there is a solid line between Lahore and Karachi, and dredging up painful memories of the inevitable Lahore vs Karachi fashion debate, Xeeshan remarked, “It became really ugly, and I was a victim of that. I became a big star overnight in Lahore. People in Karachi didn’t like that.”

Showing just how much people in Karachi disapproved, Xeeshan recalled being the center of a brutal review. “It was the after-party at the Karachi Fashion Week. There was a rectangular table, and everyone from the fashion industry was there,” said Xeeshan. “I didn’t know anyone. And then someone showed me the review he had written about me where he called me trash from Lahore.”

So distraught was Xeeshan at the time that he fled to his car and sobbed. “I cried like I had lost my baby,” he said. “Something broke in me. I was very hurt.” The humiliating recollection proved so traumatic that Xeeshan burst into tears at the mere memory. “I was alone in the city,” he said. “No one should have to go through something like that. It was so wrong.” Turning his face to the camera, Xeeshan steeled himself with a deep breath. Banging on the table to make a point, he thundered, “Fashion is democratic. It belongs to everyone.”

Today, Xeeshan is at peace knowing he has contributed financially to his country and the people around him through his work in fashion. “I know my worth now, and I empower the people around me,” he said. Naming his agent, his tailor, his cleaner, and all the people who have allowed his business today to thrive, Xeeshan can sleep at peace knowing his heart is “clean”.

“I am not here to give you a sob story,” he explained. “I don’t steal or lie. my earnings are halal. I pay taxes. I try to give back to society and thank God my work is good. My heart is clean.” Thinking back to those who had wronged him in the past, Xeeshan added, “If your craft is rubbish and you are rude, then there is something wrong with you.”

Whatever traumas he may have had to battle on his route to the top, Xeeshan can now freely be himself without being weighed down by the prospect of negative reviews.