British pop star Dua Lipa was all set for her show in November last year and after much picking and choosing and decided upon a Thierry Mugler customised costume. After the rigmarole of sketching, sewing, fittings, changes and last minute tweaks, the outfit was finally ready, packed and sent to the star. The entire process had been supervised over Zoom from Paris. Then on the day before the show, disaster struck. Dua’s stylist called to say while trying on the dress, it had ripped in a certain place and had to be mended overnight. In a flurry of emergency damage control action, someone was flown from Paris with a piece of the fabric and did the repairs. And Dua Lipa lit up the stage in her sheer gown encrusted with Swarovski crystals.
That’s all about the serious business of keeping a star’s brand image intact. And it’s the brand communications team that is on it toes, round the clock, ensuring nothing goes wrong. And interestingly, it was Aydha Mehnaz, a young Bangladeshi woman, who dealt with Dua Lipa and her team from start to finish.
It’s only been a year that Aydha Mehnaz got her Master’s degree in international fashion and luxury brand management from the famous French private institute of fashion, ESMOD. After that she specialised in brand communications. After passing out in 2019, she joined the famous Thierry Mugler fashion house.
She initially joined on a six-month internship as part of her Master’s final year, but they kept her on as brand image and communications coordinator from July to December. Over a span of one year, she won them over with her efficiency and the New Year saw a promotion for Mehnaz. She is now the senior brand image and communications coordinator at Thierry Mugler.
Aydha Mehnaz was at the Ninakabya office of Epillion Group in Dhaka last week, and chatted at length on international and Bangladesh fashion, her brand and more. That is when she related the Dua Lipa incident and such experiences. She spoke on the various aspects of communications, her achievements and her thoughts about Bangladesh.
Renowned fashion designer Thierry Mugler set up this brand in his own name in the seventies. It changed hands several times after that. It was bought up by Clarins and then it became more known for its fragrances than fashion. Finally Clarins decided to sell the company and in January last year it was bought up by L’Oreal. L’Oreal had already bought up Yves Saint Laurent, Armani and such top fragrance brands. But L’Oreal had ties with fashion from beforehand.
Mehnaz had been involved in the entire process of changing hands and earned enviable experience. She said that fashion took second place to Clarins, but L’Oreal has brought fashion forward again, making it easier to project Thierry Mugler as a fashion brand again.
Active even in the pandemic
Mehnaz lives in an apartment in Paris which has a hotel section too. She rents a room there where she keeps clothes of the various seasons and then works from home.
She keeps up communications with the media, the stars, works on model selections, photo shoots and so on. She shared some interesting experiences.
In last September’s Paris fashion week, a fashion film was made for screening rather than the collections being directly on display. It was quite a difficult task. Other models could be flown in from all over to Paris for the shoot, but not the super model and show stopper Bella Hadid. A studio was set up in Brooklyn and Bella Hadid was scanned from head to toe for her 3D image. This required 500 cameras. Then animation was done in London, New York, Paris and Germany. After all that, when the results were not hundred per cent satisfactory, the show which was scheduled for 28 September, was cancelled. It was screened at a later date. Bella Hadid was at the centre of the film.
In normal times, outfits are sent to the homes of the celebrities who grace the front row. They take pictures in those outfits and post these up before film premiers. That’s how the entire process draws to a conclusion.
Celebrities are given outfits. How are these transactions carried off? Mehnaz explains. These are done in two ways. Many take clothes from our ready-to-wear collection and some are given tailor-made wear. In Dua Lipa’s case it was both. We do not allow the celebrities to buy clothes, we give it to them.
How does this balance up?
These clothes are written about, are discussed. There are other considerations too. Each ‘like’ on social media means 0.97 euros which calculates the value. At the end of the year, we at the communications team submit an overall report.
Success during corona times
Under her leadership, the communications team managed to have Thierry Mugler outfits feature on the covers of 20 international fashion magazines in 2020, even during the pandemic. These magazines include Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and others. Vogue had a special feature on their bodysuits. Then at the MTV Awards last year, three of the top ten – Dua Lipa, Cardi B and Beyonce – all wore Thierry Mugler. Vogue has termed Mugler as the fashion revival brand and the ultimate pop star brand.
Mehnaz last year also worked with supermodels like Bella Hadid and Debra Shaw as well as singer Ariana Grande, among other celebs.
The company’s managing director, pleased with her performance, presented her with a beautiful bouquet.
How communications are done
Mehnaz said this is done in two ways. The magazines are divided into three categories. The European and American magazines are at the top. They are contacted. Sometimes they are paid to write and publish features and editorials. "In the case of paid articles, we have a lot of demands. Then sometimes they are the ones who contact us. They let us know in detail that they want and we send them everything accordingly. But we make sure we know who are being taken for the photo shoot. There is no problem in the case of regular models, but we have our choices when it comes to stars. We work with those that go with Thierry Mugler’s dignity, not just with anyone."
"We often work with social media influencers too, but always have to remain alert. We don’t want anyone who works with us to get embroiled in any controversy or many any objectionable statements, particularly religious, communal or racist in nature," said Mehnaz.
Mehnaz presently manages Europe.
Fashion branding and Bangladesh
Each brand has a separate universe replete with details. These things are not given importance in Bangladesh. That is why Bangladesh can’t create brands, says Mehnaz. In Bangladesh, business comes before brand, she explains, and that is why the various brands can’t be distinguished. These details must be given attention to create a brand identity. This has to be dealt with in every step of communications.
She said, when we have a photo shoot, every detail is looked into minutely, from model selection to following the mood-board, communicating with the styling team, trials, make-up and more.
Even every word is given thought. We never say pants, we say trousers. Mugler has its colour branding too, like black and powder blue or pale blue. No matter what, there has to be a touch of these two colours along with the colour palette of that year. The brand DNA runs through certain elements.
Mehnaz feels things will change in Bangladesh and is interested in doing some work of her own to this end.
The world is now leaning towards sustainable products and many establishments have begun working on this. Does Mugler have such plans in the pipeline?
Mehnaz said that their creative director has already declared that from this year they will use sustainable clothing. Also, they had been coming up with 8 to 10 collections a year. That will be halved and more attention paid to product design and manufacture. They are taking another initiative and that is to present their collections in due time. The collection for six months later is put presented at the fashion week. But now they will display the spring-summer collection at the autumn-winter fashion week and the autumn-winter collection at the spring-summer fashion week.
Many brands are wanting to move away from the season based fashion concept. Their slogan now is: see now, buy now, wear now.
Mehnaz said that Tommy Hilfiger and Givenchy were not too successful in this regard, but Mugler is quite excited. She laughed, I told my colleagues that this is how we grew up. That's how things are in our country. That's the way it is so this is nothing new to me.
She said before getting into sustainable clothing, Gucci changed its packaging. They are using green everywhere.
As to the future of luxury fashion, everything will shift to the digital platform. And the attraction to such items will never wane because everyone wants to get what they yearn for, what they like. This will remain so and people will continue to buy.
From biochemistry to fashion communication
Aydha Mehnaz was basically a student of biochemistry, graduating from North South University. But her higher studies were in fashion communication. That was the forte she sought, rather than fashion designing.
When in North South University, she carried out 'modest fashion' advocacy and had good contact with Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. She was invited to speak at the Indonesia fashion week in 2015. Recently she was selected as the regional director of the Modest Fashion Council.
She would work in fashion communications when in Dhaka, would have her own blog and make videos. She started part time work with the fashion brand Sailor. This experience helped her in her future career.
She studied at ESMOD in Paris but it was quite a struggle to reach there. There were a series of interviews before she could enroll. She studied two years there. During her studies, she first attended the Kenzo show at Paris fashion week, back in 2017.
As a student she interned in the top ranking public relations agency KCD. Through this agency she had the opportunity to work with many leading brands like Balmain, Isabel Marant, Valentino, Gucci and more. She got to delve into the characteristics of each branch, their unique styles, brand dignity and culture. That experience was a great help for her work at Mugler, she said.
Bangladesh is known for its readymade garments, but there had been bad press after the Rana Plaza incident. She says she had endeavoured to rectify that misrepresentation and strives to uphold a positive image for Bangladesh.
However, the outside world has no idea about Bangladesh's fashion industry. I try to project it and talk about the successful brands, she says.
She says many people had assumed she was from the Middle East, because of the way she dressed and were surprised to hear she is from Bangladesh.
She hasn't seen anyone else from Bangladesh in this line of work in Paris. And those in London are actually British-Bangladeshis.
"The pandemic has upset our work-life balance. I want to revive that this year. Alongside by work for the brand, I also want to collaborate with my friends in other brands and do something for Bangladesh. I have even spoken to my university ESMOD. They are interested too. Let's see what can be done," said the confident Mehnaz.
In the meantime, she continues with Mugler. In future she would like to work with other top brands too, to enrich her experience. But first of all she looks forward to the year going well. Everyone should stay well and be freed of this coronavirus.
This piece appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir