In Conversation with Art Director and Storyteller Hashim Ali

Abiya Manzoor

Abiya Manzoor

Fashion and Features Editor

Hashim Ali has redefined the way we look at creative direction. His craft is immaculate and every brand seems to realize that with him becoming the most sought after creative director in the market.

As we sat down with the man himself, we got an insight into his world and the world he creates with his own hands. He is widely known for setting up the most glorious sets but he is a man of many skills; Hashim is also a theatre actor and invests greatly in that sphere as well. In 2022 he was associated with big names like Coca Cola, having designed the set for the global sensation ‘Pasoori’. Hashim was also featured in Forbes as an award winning storyteller.

We sit down with him to understand why he continues to go that extra mile with every project he takes upon. We also discuss his sources of inspiration and what he wants to do next.

Hashim Ali

Being in the industry for a long time, you must know the short-cut to go about things but your work displays that you would rather not. Your eye for detail is impeccable. What makes you stay that way, does it get exhausting?

The short answer is yes it is. However, for me its an in-built thing, I can’t do the same thing for too long which does get exhausting, physically, mentally and creatively. Every time you create something it requires a lot of effort and knowledge but that is also something I live and breathe for, I enjoy when things are different and not the same. I’ve always hated monotony and I guess breaking that cycle drives me forward, so yes the process is exhausting but extremely rewarding as well.

Hashim Ali for Zara Shahjahan

You often describe yourself as a storyteller, what is a story you can’t wait to tell and what medium ( sets/dance) would you want to employ to articulate it?

I’m trying very hard to tell stories of South Asian traditions, history and culture. I want to make an epic fantasy film that delves into the Indus Valley civilization, the interchangeable trade between Indus Valley and Egypt. The Gupta and Maurya dynasties are also very rich and it’s a pity that our land’s history is so rich yet we don’t know much about it. These stories tell us how we are capable of greatness just like our land.

Another thing I really want to do is to collect folk stories, not conventional ones but something unheard of like ‘Jalpans’-who are sirens/mermaids living in River Ravi narrated by people of the Ravi themselves.

Hashim Ali for Faiza Saqlain

Do you have a learning experience that was vital in the making of THE Hashim Ali we see today?

I staged my first commercial play in 2010 and it was a huge disaster and so was the case with my first theatre show where the audience just turned around and left. With art direction also, my sets have fallen down because of very strong winds or extreme weather conditions. Even people have failed me multiple times but I believe in turning all these experiences into moments of learning. This poem by Rumi greatly resonates with me, I’ll just quote the first stanza:

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.”

Hashim Ali for Afrozeh

The industry is a close knit circle where ‘friends’ and ‘celebrated personalities’ may ask for favors that do not align with your values, how do you cater to them?

I have a very strong stand on things I believe in especially social issues. If someone is attached to a project that goes against the causes I truly stand by then I won’t associate myself with it.

Izzat aur Zillat Allah k haath mein hai, I want to work wholeheartedly, I don’t gain from people but my work-that keeps me going. I never cancel dates for a bigger brand at the cost of a smaller brand-I have never canceled a project apart from health reasons. In my head I see everyone as equal, smaller brands are also on the cusp of being great so in my opinion everyone trying their best is great.

Hashim Ali for Qaalamkaar

How do you re-invent and evolve your brand with each project you take upon?

I think reinventing is the key to everything. The statement ‘all good things come to an end’ really bothered me and then I read this thing about ablution-wuzu which said that wuzu should be done with running water emphasizing on the importance of something moving in contrast to something stagnant and it allowed me to look at things from a different perspective.

The opportunity to work with various brands also allows me to use various mediums at play, all of them come with a different brand image and vision and it helps me to put my spin to it.

My inspiration is also driven by my favorite storytellers and artists who have reinvented with each project of theirs like Tim Burton, Sandro Botachelli and West Anderson. Botachelli especially shows how mistakes can also lead to something great, so for me it’s about the impact your art creates every time someone sets their eyes on it.

Hashim Ali for Suffuse by Sana Yasir

Do you think social media presence transforms the way a brand is looked upon by its audience?

I think social media plays a very important role right now and it’s vital to know your way around it, you have to cater to each platform as well as to understand your audience.

Another thing is the availability of your work to everyone which also means everyone having an opinion about it but I like to take it as a platform that engages us with the masses. Having the the right knowledge about your craft also helps you on this journey plus I always say you’re not biryani, not everyone will like you.

Hashim Ali for Republic Womenswear

What is the best part about your job? Does taking down a set after it has served its purpose ever bother you?

The best part of job is to translate the visuals in my mind into actual products, meeting people who are geniuses and their outlook to life inspires you. I also love my team including my carpenters, painters etc and hearing their side of things, their life stories are so inspiring and makes me grow as a person. Furethermore, I love a nothing to everything story, seeing people become huge symbols of inspiration and looking back at how they started from scratch is heartwarming.

Now answering the other part of the question, no I don’t feel hurt when I take down a set because I feel it has told the story I wanted to narrate and now it’s time to tell another one. I created  a memory and it is for everyone to share now. I actually love taking them down because it gives me a chance to begin again.

Hashim Ali for Sania Hasan Couture

Looking forward to see what Hashim does with his upcoming projects. We’re all set to be blown away like we always have been in the past. More power to him!