Occupying pole position as sri lanka’s only female designer for menswear, sammani pathiranagama, the founder of O:LIVE couture charts her successes
Would you define yourself as a designer or a tailor for menswear?
I would most certainly define myself as a menswear designer and a stylist. I am trained in menswear designing, tailoring and styling. As a designer I create new looks and re-imagine traditional men’s silhouettes, styles and cuts while constantly updating myself with current trends, whereas a tailor would stitch an existing design that the client provides. At O:LIVE Couture we do a lot of planning and follow a specific process to make the final garment. I even go to the extent of advising my clients on how to style the outfit as I care about the whole look of the outfit I create.
You veer more towards designing for men. Why is this?
While there are a lot of male designers heading women’s wear brands there is hardly any female designers heading menswear brands. I believe a woman is capable of injecting menswear with much needed new ideas, while creating fashion forward clothes for confident men. I have always been a huge fan of the tailored look even when it comes to women’s wear and I love experimenting on how a man’s physique can be used to create interesting patterns while doing justice to the traditional mens’ silhouettes. As a female designer I benefit from knowing what makes a man look good through the eyes of a woman which I think is an added advantage.
What are the challenges you face in being a female fashion designer for men in Sri Lanka?
I think I have been fortunate enough to work with a good clientele who always believed in my creativity and work regardless of me being a female designing for men. Therefore it has been easy for me to convince them to wear what I feel is suitable for their personality and most importantly their individuality. At the start it was rather difficult to convince men to try out things when it comes to dressing but now they are more aware as to how they should present themselves in public.
How competitive would you say the fashion industry in Sri Lanka is?
The Sri Lankan fashion industry has come a long way since the time I started. We have witnessed a steady increase in the number of designers. The customers too have become more demanding. In order to succeed, brands have no choice but to meet the customer’s requests with fresh ideas, innovations and quality products. I think having a competitive market is a good thing and that keeps the industry evolving and expanding.
Why do you think very few women enter the realm of fashion design for menswear?
Maybe they want to work within their comfort zones or it could also simply be the fact that they are not interested in menswear and it is not as fast moving as women’s wear.
What are your predictions for menswear in Sri Lanka next season?
In the fashion world there are lots of new developments with regards to menswear. However in Sri Lanka it is difficult to adopt changes straight away but as a designer I try to implement those trends to suit the Sri Lankan market. Next season I believe that pastel colours and neutral colours would come into play for suits. I already started off the year by doing a pastel blue suit for a groom, which received very good feedback so I am hoping this trend will become big next season. Mixing up smart and casual pieces will be another trend relevant to our market, hence the formal blazers will mostly be worn with casual tee shirts or shirts paired with jeans or chinos. Plaid pants could also be big next season and it could also replace basic office pants. Further, double breasted suits is set to make a comeback in more neutral colours and natural fabrics like linen.
What are some of the obstacles you overcame to be where you are right now?
Sri Lankan consumers were used to buying off the rack products (retail) and one of my challenges was to build a clientele for custom made clothing. Thankfully we are headed in a direction where the demand for personalized outfits is increasing. As young designers in Sri Lanka we also face a lack of formal financing revenues for start ups. Many of us had to find our own funding and we do not have a good platform to reach venture capitalists to grow the business. There are too many designers, too many products and not enough funding. Banks look for someone successful to evaluate, but I think for a person to be successful, they must first be supported. Another obstacle that I faced at the onset was the lack of experienced staff, but now I have a good reliable staff on my team. Lack of access to the international arena is also a big challenge that designers face. I wish there are more opportunities to showcase my work on international platforms. However these obstacles should be seen as challenges for us to overcome.
How difficult is it to source quality fabric for menswear in Sri Lanka?
It was quite difficult to find good material in Sri Lanka those days but now there are quite a lot of suppliers who bring down good quality material. The problem is that the options with regards to colours, prints and textures are very limited. All my fabrics for menswear are imported materials and I do not compromise the quality of materials at any cost.
How should men accessorize themselves?
Accessorizing plays a huge role in transforming an average look into a more dapper look. How you accessorize depends on one’s personality, outfit and the occasion. I always assist my clients in choosing the right shoes or the accessories to go with their outfit. When accessorizing, you have to always pick accessories to complement the outfit. Having a variety of ties in terms of design, colour, theme, texture and even material can spice up a man’s outfit and outlook.
What are the most important points to remember when custom making a new suit?
Getting a custom made or a bespoke suit is an experience. It signifies something owned by exactly one man and implies that the suit will be based on a paper pattern hand-drawn to the exact specifications of your body. To achieve this you have to communicate well with the designer about what your requirement is and most importantly get the designers advice in choosing the right fabric and cut to achieve the desired look. A bespoke suit should reflect who you want to be and it has to flatter your figure. Now is not the time to be in denial about your height, your waist, or any other insecurities. It is the designer’s job to choose the right cut and style to complement your structure. When going for fitting sessions you should go in your dress shirt and dress shoes and make sure you tell your designer/tailor if you have any concerns with regards to the fit or the comfort of the suit. At the first fitting you could change most elements of the suit except the material.