Everyone from Middle Eastern royalty to the Chelsea jet set are eager for Parveen Sheikh couture designs.
Rani Singh speaks to her about her rise to the top, working with the fabulously rich and meeting Michael Jackson Step through the doorway at 48 Dorset Street, Marylebone, and enter a world of creativity, taste and sophistication.
This is Parveen Couture, where Parveen herself offers original, classic designs to such discerning clients as international royals, British aristocracy and stars of stage and screen, as well as working women who need comfortable clothes to go straight from the boardroom to the ballroom. Every item of clothing in the shop has been designed, cut and made up with the care and attention to detail that reflect Parveen’s extensive experience that spans over 20 years.
Going by her first name only, Parveen says her current day wear collection “is inspired by Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Onassis, while evening dresses are based on Hollywood’s legendary glamour of the thirties and forties.” The clothes are tailored to perfection, “sculpted on to the body so that a woman’s individual requirements are met to the highest possible standards.” Alluding to overpriced fashion, couture is in fact the method by which clothes are deftly made. From the skill in cutting the pattern to selecting the right fabric and the many fittings that take place before the final garment is ready for the appreciative client who knows that she will soon be turning heads. Couture should emphasise a woman’s most flattering features and detract those aspects she would rather forget, giving way to the actuality that couture is in fact an investment and with Parveen’s flexibility, immaculate taste and exquisite clothes, her loyal clientele continually invest their trust in her. I watched as delighted customers gazed around Parveen’s shop in wonder, gasping over the couture gowns, as well as the designer handbags and jewellery on display.
There was an air of discovery and joy as Parveen personally attended to them. Clients were curious about a framed photograph of Michael Jackson standing with Parveen. “It was taken at Uri Geller’s wedding ceremony,” she recollects. “I designed the gown which Uri’s wife Hanna wore and Michael Jackson (Uri’s best man) admired it. “Michael had an entourage of 20 or 30 people, and Hello! magazine had the rights to the official photos of the ceremony at Uri’s house, but luckily I had my own camera with me, so I own this photograph. Michael spoke to me in a very soft, gentle voice, expressing his admiration in words that will remain with me for the rest of my life.”
The queen of London’s haute couture has the right genes. In 1890, Parveen’s grandfather worked as a tailor in the British Army in the days of the Empire and her father was a milliner, but when hats went out of fashion in the 50s, he took up dressmaking. Parveen maintains that she learned her business acumen and work ethic from him. “I was taught that the harder you work, the more the results come in. I learned my dressmaking skills from my father, especially how to make dressmaking look like art. When I was growing up in Kenya, I learned pattern-making at a local dressmaking college and I used to make clothes for myself, friends and family.” It seems that wearing her own clothes was a great advertisement.
When Parveen later moved to London, a manufacturer who observed the cut of her clothes asked her to come and work for him, designing and cutting patterns. Simultaneously, she studied for a fashion degree at night school, and she was so far ahead of her contemporaries that she was asked to skip the first year. In 1985 she set up her own business in a studio in Central London, designing 12 evening and cocktail dresses as the basis of her first collection. These designs were prototypes for the made-to-measure service she was offering, and taking an initial deposit, with the remainder paid upon collection, ensured that the cash flow did not dry up. Amongst her jet-set clientele were some Middle Eastern royalty and she went to work in the United Arab Emirates for two years. “Our company was owned by one of Sheikh Zahid’s daughters, Sheikha Latifa, so I was in and out of the royal palaces all the time for design meetings and fittings. People liked my work and they thought my cut was very French. I worked hard and the company grew from 15 to 56 under me. “In my career I have also worked for the British couturier Hachi in London when I made different patterns for the Saudi King’s daughters who are very tall,” she adds. In 1994, an investor helped Parveen locate to Belgravia, where English country ladies and the Chelsea set flocked to her studio along with Americans, Japanese, Italians and Europeans.
She became a favourite with country gentry “who look for well-made, classic styles which will last, not fashion statements.” She was already being compared with Hardy Amies, who was the Queen’s couturier at the time. Eventually Parveen bought her investor out, and relocated her business, which she now entirely owns, to London’s famous Marylebone area. But she is not resting on her laurels just yet. She is currently in the search for a potential business partner to help build “Parveen” as a brand and a globally recognised name. Parveen feels that today’s young fashion graduates emerge from college with no awareness of the “lion’s den” of the fashion world. They should become apprentices in larger, established fashion houses, which will cushion them and not allow them to make glaring mistakes. In the meantime, they will learn the tricks of the trade, giving them a better chance of long-term survival. They should build their know-how and expertise in their own time, taking flight when they are ready for it, without fear of failure. For the present, Parveen is happy to take youngsters under her wing and advise anyone who wishes to make a career in the world of fashion. Parveen Couture was one of a select group of houses and companies to show at this year’s Gulf Fair for international billionaires in London’s Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane. Parveen was inundated with enquiries from the moment of opening to the close of play for a full three days. And she’s so busy, it seems clients want her designing for them round the clock – she hardly seems to sleep.