While the much-awaited Fashion Pakistan Week Spring/Summer 2018 was a fun-filled fashion affair it was more or less a repetition of the previous years. However what was different this time around was the poignant message of putting an end to child abuse and inclusion of challenged individuals in our lives. Definitely refreshing!

Another first was the participation of talented designer Cheena Chhapra whose claim to fame is designing for the ‘real women’. We’ll get back to that soon.

The participating designers this time around were Maheen Khan, Huma Adnan, Cheena Chhapra, Hasan Riaz, Yasmeen Jiwa, The Pink Tree Company, Amir Adnan, Farah Talib Aziz, Deepak Perwani, Saira Shakira, Rozina Munib, Boheme by Kanwal, Nauman Arfeen, Natasha Kamal and Ayesha Farook Hashwani. However, Cheena Chhapra stole the limelight with her “realistic” and “very wearable” presentation, words often repeated on Day 1 of FPW by the audience and models alike.

Rather than creating fantasy attire for size zero models, Cheena crafts beautiful ensembles for plus size ladies. Over the years, she has developed a niche for designing clothes for women needing ‘extended’ sizes.

In a fashion world that is driven by size zero, designing for bigger sizes might be a tough task but not for Cheena who has a knack for making clothes for women who look beautiful even if they are not near the size zero mark. In fact, she believes that by making smart choices full-figured women can easily look as attractive and beautiful as model-like shaped women and may be even better.

Rather than taking a departure from her signature style and follow the current trend, Cheena had whipped up a breath-taking collection for the real ladies. Her models too were offbeat and endearing – definitely not your usual suspects. Cheena’s model brigade comprised successful working women namely Shakila Hassan, Naila Naqvi, Moneeza Usman Butt, Ishrat Zahid Hussain, Laila Dossa, Niggi Imtiaz, Ayesha Tammy Haq, Asma Ibrahim, Zarnak Sidhwa, Zehra Gheewala, Hina Sharif, Nasreen Hussain, Hina Thimur Suri, Mariam Sarwar Butt, Shama Dossa and the eight-month pregnant Uroosa Siddiqui.

Cheena Chhapra’s collection was a refreshing revival of dying arts like Parsi Gara, Phulkaari, Block Print and Kaanta. She had whipped up combinations of these various techniques resulting in a splendidly regal and timeless collection. Her saris, ghagras, sherwanis, front open jackets and smartly tailored shirts were absolutely impeccable. Pakistan Life Illustrated caught up with the sensation after the FPW and interviewed her. Here are some excerpts of the interview.

Q: What is fashion and how would you define an ideal figure?

A: Fashion is a person’s greatest weapon and asset, an identity, a skill to look powerful no matter who you are – large or petite. The secret should be how to carry yourself. Fashion is in the streets, malls, in magazines in fact it’s everywhere. But the secret is not to emulate each and every fad rather to choose the ones that suit you. In our society people believe being fashionable means overdoing a certain trend. The secret to looking good is to be subtle, classy and fabulous, especially if you are a plus size.

If you are on the heavier side you should always opt for boot cut trousers and jeans. They make the legs look slimmer and long. Shirts should be slightly long also.

Q: What is your design philosophy?

A: Simple, classic and elegant. My collections are all about less is more – also my philosophy. You will never see an opulent or over the top Cheena Chappra outfit.

Q: Who is your target market?

A: Although I have a healthy mix of clients from different fields and with different body types, I mostly cater to the plus size women and women who need help as well as ones who want to look beautiful within an affordable budget.

All fashion designers are making clothes for ideal figure or so called zero size, but what about those women who do not fit into that category? I myself am large but always knew how to carry myself.

I have also been designing apparel for extended size females for television serials.

Q: Who are your role models in fashion?

A: My late mother Meher J. Bilal and now my two beautiful aunts Aunty Layla Dossa and Aunty Ishrat Zahid Hussein. I love their way of dressing up – elegant and sophisticated.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?

A: I mostly seek inspiration from old classic movies, vintage music and also my mother who was an amazing parent and an amazing teacher. She instilled in me a sense of style and the fact that simplicity is a woman’s best weapon. That then is also my philosophy.

Q: What were you doing before you started designing. How did you get into this field?

A: I was raising my three beautiful kids. I was always into clothes… Always knew how to cut and stitch. I started designing clothes in the late 80s. It was fun and something new basically plus friends and family loved my work. I even made clothes for my friends Frieha Altaf, Safinaz Muneer, Saniya Muneer, Shalah Junajo – all great women and very dear to me. It was always fun dressing up being appreciated and it was fun earning your own pocket money. When my friends and my colleagues used to see my creations and the prices they were placed at, they started placing orders and it gave boost to my business as well as my confidence.

At one point I did make two Kurtis for Shabana Azmi and American actress Sherly McLain. This and the fact that no one was designing for the plus size women steered me towards taking up designing as a profession. I also wanted to help kids with diabetes hence I embarked on this journey.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: To take my label to another level as I make clothes to support Children’s Diabetes. The proceedings from my designs go towards the kids who need help with health issues.