Farah Khan Ali
By Shahneez Haseeb
Motherhood Magazine brings you an exclusive interview with Farah Khan Ali, the highly talented and successful jewellery designer from across the border. Farah successfully juggles between being a jewellery designer, daughter, sister, wife and, most importantly, a mother.
Mumbai born Farah talks about her childhood, family life, her foray into jewellery designing and much more. When asked about her student days Farah recalls that she was a very naughty student. “I was least interested in my studies. School, meant fun and friends. It is only after I passed out of school and entered college that I begun to take my life a bit more seriously and spent some time actually studying. I remember always getting remarks in my diaries that I used to hide from my parents and sign on their behalf when I gave it back to the teachers. At one point I had three diaries filled with remarks. I remember not studying just before my 10th standard board exams and watching the India – Pakistan match and my sister Simone saying that I would flunk. I passed my Board exams with 1st class.”
Farah has fond memories of her childhood. “I was a shy kid initially. Both my parents indulged my sister Simone and me thoroughly. My mother was very strict yet loving and did not hesitate to occasionally spank us because we were very naughty. My father never raised his hands on us and actually spoiled us. He would always come back from his trips with loads of toys and clothes for all of us especially matching all the accessories to our clothing so we were always impeccably dressed. My mother was my best friend and confidante in my growing years and allowed us the liberty of partying with our friends. My father was much more strict then and did not approve late nights and so we had a curfew to be home every evening. Of course that did not stop me from sneaking out and breaking the curfew. The one thing I do remember distinctly during my childhood years is that my parents never fought in front of us, so we grew up as very secure and confident people.”
Farah comes from a family of three sisters and one brother. She is the eldest and her sisters Simone and Suzanne come after her. Zayed is the youngest and hence, the most spoilt one. “My father and mother always stressed on education being the most important aspect of our lives and so all of us always tried to excel in our studies. Even though we are Muslims in faith, my parents stressed the importance of humanity over religious rituals and practices. We were always taught to do charitable work and help those who are less fortunate than us. My parents brought us up to be strong independent adults and thanks to our educational background we were able to succeed in doing so. Also we were taught that all men were equal and one must be compassionate with the poor. As children, my sisters and I were less exposed to movies; even though my dad acted in films and made them, we were never interested in them. I remember spending lots of family holidays together and one thing my parents always insisted upon was that we shared one meal of the day at the table with them so that the family bonding always remained.”
Farah’s mother is an inspiration to her. “My mother is a strong independent woman who has survived the tests of time. She was born into a rich Parsi family but her father lost all his wealth when she was 11 and so the family moved from a mansion into a shack. Since the age of 14, my mom started modeling to get through life. She met my dad when she was 13 and they dated for six years until they got married. My mother is the one woman who always sees the glass full rather than empty and if there is one thing I have gained from her is to see the world around us in a positive manner. She always kept us three sisters firmly grounded and stressed on the fact that “beauty is what beauty does”. There is no point being beautiful looking if you do not possess a beautiful soul. She also taught all of us children to never choose any material things over people, for possessions can be replaced but your loved ones cannot. In my growing years my mother was a disciplinarian with my sisters and me, but as we grew older she became a confidante and a friend. She always advised us on what is right & what is wrong and made sure we rectified our mistakes. My mother is my best friend and I know that she will always be with me and guide me. Even today I love taking holidays with my mom and am planning a trip with her to Greece this month.”
Farah is a mother of two. She believes that her relationship with her kids is exactly the way it was with her own mother. “I am always trying to share all the values my mother shared with me. If you ask my kids, they will always stress the importance of people over things saying things can be replaced. Even though I am a working woman, I make it a point to spend a lot of time with my kids even if it means skipping social events, for I want my kids to feel secure that their mother is and will always be around for them, come what may.”
Farah also talked about the significance behind naming her kids ‘Azaan’ and ‘Fizaa’. “Before I had Azaan I was trying to have a baby and had had two miscarriages. I then told God that I would start praying five times a day if he gifted me a baby and that if I had a son, I would call him ‘Azaan’ as it meant ‘call to prayer’. I was blessed shortly after with a baby boy. So when I did give birth to my son, I named him Azaan and kept up to my other promise of prayer as well. The name ‘Fizaa’ means the ‘Seasons’ or ‘The Breeze’. I just liked the sound of the name Fizaa and so when I had a daughter I named her ‘Fizaa’ and I feel blessed to have her in my life.”
In her family, Eid is celebrated amidst great fan fare. “It is a day when all of us get together and wish each other. It is also a day my parents host either an Eid lunch if it is Bakri Eid, or an Eid dinner if it is Choti Eid, for close friends and family. Living in India we celebrate a lot of other festivals as well, for I think that all festivals, be it in different faiths, bring people closer, and a lot of good will and cheer is shared. In fact it is nice to take part in various festivities that spread happiness.”
Farah’s favorite holiday spots are Italy and Greece. “I just love both these Mediterranean countries and can visit them countless times. In Italy, I love the shopping and the art, architecture and culture. In Greece I love the scenic beauty and the food that comes with the place. I also enjoy the beaches with its glorious blue waters and can spend hours under the sun.”
Farah was involved in a wide variety of ventures before becoming a jewellery designer. She had aspired to be a jazz ballet dancer while growing up. “After graduating from college, one doesn’t usually know what one wants to do. So I did try my hand at various careers namely interior design, advertising and television, however I wasn’t suited for any of them and hadn’t found my calling. While growing up I wanted to be a Jazz ballet dancer as I had professional training under Shiamak Davar Dance School, where we used to practice for four hours a day doing stretches and splits. In fact, I have performed in many dance shows on stage with Shiamak’s troupe way back in 1989, and at that point we were only 12 dancers in the company. Unfortunately, I had to quit, as my father got burnt in an accident on the sets of his TV serial Tipu Sultan, where he sustained 65 percent 3rd degree burns and had to go to America for further surgeries. That put an end to my dreams of being a professional Jazz ballet dancer.”
Farah decided to accompany a friend to USA on a whim to do a course in Gemology. “My fathers first reaction was ‘How am I supposed to believe that this something you really want to do, since you never told me you wanted to be a Gemologist?’ My reaction to him was ‘Please papa, I promise you I will top my class.’ Of course I had no clue what the class entailed but the idea of tagging along with my friend to LA for six months sounded exciting enough and for that I was willing to do anything. With all my pleading my father did finally gave in but made me promise I would top my class, which I eventually did.” She professed beamingly.
When asked if she instantly felt connected to the field of jewellery designing while studying Gemology Farah replied, “Frankly Gemology is ‘the study of the chemical, optical and physical properties of 99 minerals and their gemstone varieties’, and has no connection to jewellery designing in the artistic sense of the term. So the only connection I actually had to the field was after I topped my Gemology class and took on jewellery design, where my artistic side was tested and tried. My Instructor was Robert Ahrens, a designer of repute who had worked with Van Cleef & Arpels as their sole designer in LA for 22 years after which he retired and started teaching at GIA. Bob, as he was affectionately called by all, always encouraged me to think and work beyond my imagination. He affectionately nick named me ‘the tiger’ because he said he saw in me a tenacity to never give up, no matter how many times I needed to do a particular assignment to perfect it. Those days were the best days in my student life and I would give anything to experience it once more. I think it was during that time in my life I actually found my calling and realized that I was ‘born to design jewellery’.”
Farah’s initial journey into jewellery designing was a difficult one. “Contrary to what one may imagine, given the fact that I came from a Bollywood family, my journey initially was a tough and disciplined one. When I returned from GIA, there was a lot of curiosity about my trade, as the concept of gemologist and jewellery designer did not really exist in the trade. Most people came from jewellery backgrounds with their families having been in the trade for many years. ‘Designers’ were usually the Bengali babus that were hired for their aesthetic talent. I was out of the ordinary because I did not come from a jewellery background and knew nothing of the business except I wanted to design jewellery and enjoyed sketching painstakingly into the nights. My Bollywood background helped get customers to the door initially but when they realized the passion and the dedication I had towards my work, people kept coming back. I remember taking orders on sketches that I had prepared tediously to make it look as close to the original piece of work. Clients would then place orders and give me 50 percent of the amount to start work, which I would use to procure the materials. I engaged some babus initially to do my work and would spend hours sitting with them and explaining the concept. Initially that was tough as most of the workers had a fixed mindset and to break that was tedious. Eventually I moved on to manufacturing through factories where there was a strict control on quality and gold. Yet breaking into the workers mind is a challenge I still face today in my designs because most babus are used to flat and stiff pieces, in place of 3-dimensional and flexible jewellery. Even the CAD designers have that mindset and each time I do create something new, it is always a tussle between me and a babu, or me and a CAD designer, so that they can see it the way I see it. My journey so far has been a self-made one without any financial support of my loved ones. I have made mistakes on the way and have stumbled and fallen but have always picked myself up and rectified all my mistakes.
Having a very busy schedule, Farah tries to balance work-home responsibilities as best as she can. “I am constantly trying to balance work with home responsibilities, and even though I succeed mostly, in the end the only one that suffers is me, as I barely have any ‘me’ time left over. My children and my family is a priority, and even though I am a workaholic, they will always come first. I prefer to spend quality time with my kids rather than bathe and feed them as I have hired help to do that. I would rather spend time cuddling them and showing them love and teaching them right from wrong then settle down in domestic bliss doing chores anyone else can do for them. Spending time with my kids and my family is a very important aspect of my daily life and is something I look forward to no matter how tired I am. I believe that children are your investment of the future and it is important to guide them, teach them and love them unconditionally, yet teaching them to differentiate between right and wrong, and to always be grateful to the Almighty Allah.”
Farah spends ample time with her family each day. “A typical evening with my husband and kids is over dinner either at home or at a restaurant, playing card games like ‘uno’ or watching television together. I normally see my parents every other day as we live closeby, and I go over to spend dinner with them at least twice a week. On the weekends we bundle off in a car and spend the day at a shopping mall, or by the poolside of an exotic destination. Sometimes we fly to Goa where we have a home to spend the weekend. But I have to admit that as a family we are all very family-oriented so we make it a point to see our siblings with their spouses at least once a month and sometimes twice too where we all meet with our entire brood of kids and all.”
When asked if she thinks she gets enough credit for her work in the industry, she replied, “I think I am lucky to have achieved all I have in the last 19 years of my trade solely by hard work and dedication. I am passionate about my profession and ‘live to design’. I cannot help but see beauty and design everywhere I go. I am stimulated visually and like to convert that into beautiful pieces of jewellery. The Farah Khan Fine Jewellery brand today is a brand that has International recognition and I am proud to say that a lot of Hollywood’s celebrities have graced the red carpet with my jewellery at the Emmy Awards as well as the Oscars. Serena Williams wore my jewellery at the Essence awards in LA last year and pop star Beyoncé wore a head gear designed by me in the artwork of her album ‘4’. As a designer I get the most satisfaction when my brand is recognized all over the world and when people vie to possess a piece of my jewellery.”
Farah also has plans of expanding her work internationally. “I have a lot of clients from all over the world and talks are on to retail at an International outlet in the near future. Fingers crossed and excited but shall talk about it at length when that happens.”
Farah visited Karachi in 2004 when she accompanied her husband who came here to perform at the Rawji wedding. “The people in Pakistan were very warm and full of hospitality, very much like the people in my country. I wish politics and religious fanatics would not try and ruin the warmth the countries can share. In fact, I made friends with some very nice people there and we are still friends and stay in touch. I haven’t been back since and I don’t know when I will visit next but I love the Pakistani designers and wear a lot of their fashion. I like Shehla Chatoor, Sana Safinaz as well as outfits by the Libas collection.”
When asked about her interest in Pakistani dramas and music, she responded saying, “I haven’t watched any Pakistani dramas or listened to any music in a while now. I used to love Nazia Hassan of course, and Strings. Among Pakistani singers I also like Atif Aslam and I loved Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He is a legend.”
Farah may exhibit her jewellery in Pakistan soon. “The Pakistani law for imports on jewellery from India is not very user friendly, also there are many duties involved. I don’t have any plans right now but maybe will bring an exhibition to Pakistan in the near future of my jewellery.”
Farah Khan Ali is one of the few celebrities who are very active on their twitter account and interact with their followers regularly. We asked Farah how her twitter journey began. “My twitter journey began on 29th August 2009. Sara Taseer Shoaib had taken to defaming me on the net by posting all kinds of rubbish about me at the time that she and I were in a design plagiarization battle. Hate accounts on Facebook and YouTube were created to defame me saying the worst possible things. I had to write to Facebook to block those hate accounts against me as well as YouTube to remove the offensive material, which I eventually succeeded in doing. Sara was on twitter and had started tweeting nonsense about me there as well, so I decided to join twitter to counter attack her. I still remember my first day when I had 1 follower and Sara had 700 followers. I remember her tweet where she mocked me for my 1 follower. Today, it has been 3 years and I have over 2,50,000 followers and she has 10,000 odd. It just goes to show that one must never mock another because it all comes back to the person. Having said that, I am happy that she has moved on with her life, and feel sad that her father Salman Taseer was assassinated for trying to stand up against the blasphemy law. I also wish that her brother Shahbaz is soon released from his captives and is returned to his family. Yes my journey on twitter has been a long one but it’s amazing to find and interact with so many nice people. I’m told that I inspire people to be positive but that’s the only way I know. My glass is always half full, never half empty for I strongly believe in being grateful to the Almighty Allah for all we have.
We also asked Farah how she finds time to reply to her followers’ tweets between her very busy work and home responsibilities. “Sometimes when you can change a person’s life with one tweet of yours, or by taking time out to reply and interact with that person, I think you should make that effort, because its wonderful to sense the happiness and gratefulness in their tweets. I enjoy interacting with my friends on twitter and use twitter to exchange ideas and thoughts more than to promote myself, or my jewellery. Believe it or not but I know most of my followers by names and can remember details about their lives simply because I interact with them on a regular basis. In fact I have also met many in person and once had a get together for twenty of my twitter pals where we spent the evening together laughing and joking in merriment. At times I am pressed for time and cannot do replies but always do so when I have the time.”
Farah has great aspirations for her future, in terms of how she wants to see this world as well as for her professional career. “My dream for the future is for a peaceful world, where people spread humanity through their religion and genuinely care for each other, helping them through tough times. I hope that my children grow up to be good adults and help all people from all walks of life. I pray that they make me proud of them and be as charitable as they can be, for if they succeed then I would have succeeded in my role as a parent. Professionally I would like my jewellery brand to be renowned worldwide where each person wants to possess a part of it. I would like to be available in every country of the world InshAllah.”
Farah’s message for young aspiring jewellery designers is as follows, “My message to all aspiring designers would be to put your heart and soul into your work. Let your work speak for itself. Your signature should be the excellence in your work. Dream, imagine, create and let no one tell you that it is impossible for even the word ‘impossible’ reads, ‘I am possible’.”
Farah also left a message for our Pakistani readers; “My message to my Pakistani readers is to thank them for all the love they have given me in terms of my work as a designer. I wish you all peace in your country and a Pakistan you can be proud of. I pray that we can always maintain peace as neighboring countries because bloodshed isn’t worth it. God created all of us equally. It’s the politicians and religious fanatics who want to create the differences. In the end we all have to return to him and we will be judged by our deeds.”