The story of Lajwanti and its iconic bridal ensemble ‘Bindiya’

Pakistan’s iconic fashion label — Lajwanti — that came into being 25 years ago, is known for its unparalleled craftsmanship, luxe wardrobe, refined lines and cultural silhouettes, but fashion aficionados are not aware of the rich and heart-warming history behind its origin. It began with one visionary woman, Ana Ali, who single-handedly contributed to revive forgotten techniques and crafts and took the risk of experimenting on her wedding day. Little did she know that her bridal ensemble will give birth to not only a brand, but the technique i.e. number 26 hand-work, which is the most intricate form of embroidery, to this day, will become Lajwanti’s unique selling point.

Ana Ali, CEO of Lajwanti, is a passionate woman with a thirst for heritage, discovery and travel. She has narrated the legendary story of her wedding dress to acquaint us with her formidable journey. In 1995, in light of her approaching wedding ceremony, Ana and her husband-to-be Afzaal, were on the hunt for a perfect garment but nothing tickled their fancy. They decided to design something out of their creative imagination, taking inspiration from books on Mughal architecture and Persian art. The goal was to create an ensemble which is both powerful and meaningful, and they travelled to Karachi, Islamabad and Jaipur, to old book stores and multiple heritage sites to take pictures of motifs. The extensive research led them to shortlist all the designs they resonated with and draw their own motifs.

The bridal took approximately 8 months to be birthed in all its glory after rigorous work with tailors and karigarswho were handpicked. Afzaal also contributed in this process by cutting down cloth panels to create a specific kind of repetitive arch. 36 panels of cloth were reduced down to 16 as cuts and alignments were made and there was no mannequin involved, the dress was sculpted around the bride.

“If you’re familiar with minute detailing in South Asian fashion, you’d know that the 26 number single thread, reshum work in kora dabka is the finest, most delicate means of technical detail, the kind that was used in the pre-partition era. Afzaals great grand-mothers bridal ensemble was one that harbored gold plating and this technique of employing a 26 number thread work, and we did just that, we found karigars who had the knowledge to recreate such work. Two shops by the names of Ruby and Sartaj in Lahore, were the only places where you’d find the gold-plated kora dabka,” Ana shared.

The underlying colour of the bridal was olive green, contrasted with blood red and accentuated by a multitude of colour schemes with one motif at a time. The dupatta was an ode to the jaals found in Mughal architecture. “The choli was stitched on the day of my wedding and I got it an hour prior,” she recalled.

At the tender age of 19, Ana was consumed completely by a regal wedding dress that she managed to make on her own. The achievement allowed her to discover her passion. “It goes without saying that a bride captivates her audience, but I knew, this wasn’t just a single new beginning, but two, as everyone’s gaze danced upon this magnificent, understated bridal ensemble. The arches – perfectly aligned, the gold plating – glistening in the light, the red – as rich as a ripe pomegranate, the woven frescoes – an ode to miniature paintings, everything about this piece garnered attention. Bindiya [as the designer calls it] is timeless, like art should be. It turned heads then, and it turns heads today,” Ana reminisced.

The story of Lajwanti and its iconic bridal ensemble ‘Bindiya’

Bindiya with its antique Mughal frescoes woven atop voluminous lehenga, choli & dupatta, drew its inspiration from the virtues of elegant, South-Asian design. Featuring tilla work and crystal cut beads, the embroidery methods used were the same as the ones employed 150 years ago in our great-great-grandmothers’ wedding ensemble with a craft that was falling extinct. Ana later realized that the ensemble changed the trajectory of her life and will become the cornerstone of her legacy.

“After the wedding was over, we got so many calls on our landline for similar ensembles, that’s the day my mother in-law and I took it upon ourselves to establish a fashion house by the name of Lajwanti. Today, we stay true to the values and techniques that we started Lajwanti with, while the world around us continues to modernize to cater to fast fashion by deploying the use of machine work, we take pride in every stitch that goes into making a Lajwanti garment,” Ana proudly stated.

Lajwanti started from a quaint store in Pearl Continental Lahore in 1996, skyrocketed into a full-fledged brand that graced catwalks across Europe and the United States. It soared to great lengths from getting national attention to making it to international headlines.

“25 years later, I brushed the dust off of its packaging and brought it out, a dress that I have named “Bindiya” – a nick name I would often be called by as a teen, for it too is a child to me. And Bindiya looks as pristine as a freshly bloomed rose, seasoned with dew drops, untouched as if she were created today,” she said.

After 25 years, Ana’s daughter, who would play hide-and-seek around tailor-tables, overhear conversations about fabrics and thread work, and grew up watching her mother work tirelessly as she built her empire, has grown up to become the Creative Director of Lajwanti, Dania Ali. As the brand opens its doors to millennial talent, Dania is determined to carry her mother’s legacy forward and to stay true to the brands’ philosophy. Dania works with the same resilience whilst nurturing both, Lajwanti and her flare for art.

Ana Ali with her daughter, Dania Ali, who is now the Creative Director of Lajwanti

“It’s been a long 25 years, and today my family and I stand tall and proud, as to how we grabbed the reigns of an unplanned journey, worked tirelessly hard for a moment of happiness through which we found our calling and now are the torchbearers for lifetime of contentment by doing what I truly enjoy, being the woman behind a brand that will always seek to stand out,” Ana said, reintroducing the ensemble that gave her wings to fly and conquer the fashion world.

“I give to you, The story of Lajwanti – where a 150 year old garment – our great great grandmothers’ bridal ensemble and the dying art of technical design was revived, an art that would be forgotten if not revisited, and the work of a garment that would be left unseen. With a force of 1000+ artisans, the house of Lajwanti is known for its hand-work, in a constantly evolving world.”