First Published in Economic Affairs June 2013 Issue
‘Artists are the gatekeeper of truth. We are civilizations radical voice’. Paul Robeson
There was a conference on counter-terrorism underway in Hyderabad as fashion week was winding down in Lahore. One of the presenters, a Dutch with a Phd and a thesis on the effects of fear on social behavior had indicated resilience as part of the counter-terrorism strategy. ‘We had a fashion show, does that count?’ I later asked Dr. Mark Dechesne who was in town recently. If he was startled, he did not show it.
Two things have been trending on twitter since April 2013. Fashion week finds itself in the same time slot as politics and as politicians perfect their strut on the political ramp, the fashionistas have taken to the red carpet and designer-wear floods the catwalk. Though fear overshadows both events, people refuse to let the claustrophobic environment dictate their social calendar.
The famed fashion week which started from Karachi and concluded in Lahore represents the beautiful bubble that exists in the midst of madness and mayhem and mirrors the resilient core of a nation. The existence of this oasis when every sector has suffered set-backs from tourism and film to sports is an encouraging sign.
As designers gathered to put their best foot forward, their elegant statements and edgy vision define their region’s stylish new trajectory. The industry is young and to go from being a mere blip on the local map to a substantial presence in the international arena, it needs a well designed roadmap and a proper platform.
Pantene’s Bridal Couture Week (BCW) runs for three days, has six shows and comes twice a year. For a city like Karachi, a hairs trigger away from violence, prolonged outages and shutter down strikes, putting together a show of this magnitude is a major achievement. For the fashion industry that gets a chance to honor Pakistan’s contribution to couture while keeping the dazzling spotlight on the best and the brightest from its ranks, it is an iconic victory.
This year the Bridal Couture Week featured 18 designers and 14 Haute Couturiers. The parade of models floating by included cricketing legends, film/stage performers, TV actors and a news anchor; their presence was hailed by cheers and gave the show some added pizzazz. Sumptuous designs by seasoned players like Deepak Perwani, HSY, Lajwanti or Nadya Mistry graced the walkway. For some, like Zaheer Abbas, this would be a first.
For others like Tabassum Mughal whose majestic creation got to take not one but two turns down the runway – the second time because her model Ayaan Ali snagged ‘best dressed on red carpet award’, it is a chance to be part of an ensemble cast of trailblazers out to take on the design world by storm.
Tabassum Mughal (L) with Ayaan Ali
They included Nadda S. Aadamjee, Imraan Rajput, Mussarat Bushra and 10 others chosen to feature one piece in a special segment. The resident social media team was required to be on their toes ready to spin the few designer faux pas into 140 characters or less. But there weren’t many misses. Earlier, a models predicament on the ramp had been skillfully covered up by an impromptu dance routine by her partner Tipu, giving chivalry a memorable little cameo.
But for a society, dealing with a spiraling economy and escalating extremism – where does such pageantry fit in especially given the deeply conservative roots? There are many reasons for enlisting vanity-fair in the counter-narrative.
Bridals, according to Shanaz Ramzi – GM Publications & PR at HUM Network Ltd, falls into neither prêt nor couture. The ramps were not willing to give it a place. More than three years have passed since BCW introduced bridal couture to the mainstream. Since then there has been a waiting line for designers and openings for make-up artists, choreographers and entertainers. The event is beamed to thirty or so countries. This time it was available online via the magic of live streaming.
Faisal Qureshi (L) Aijaz Aslam Day 3
An international clientele awaits beyond the gates who can now avail the cyber services (style360labelestore) to view and/or order. Pakistan ranks among the top 10 textile exporters of the world and as sales skyrocket, the increased visibility ensure that its vibrant fashion scene gets global recognition. These are promising indicators of growth and a step towards prosperity – if only in select sectors.
Waseem Akhtar (L) Zeba Bakhtiar (R)
A portion of the show was dedicated to Nadia Chottani’s jewelry collection out to showcase the ‘lost splendours of Empress Noor Jehan’s Haveli’ alongside the debut of Maliha Sheikh’s designs known for incorporating trace elements of ‘Sindhi heritage’ with a contemporary twist.
Pakistan reportedly lacks gem cutting/polishing facilities and is forced to export gems in raw form, losing revenue. On the bright side, the gem/jewelry export business has spiked to “16.99 percent and 138.73 percent respectively during first eight months of current financial year....” (Asad Naeem – Business Recorder)
Furrukh Mughal here to cheer for his sister Tabassum?
National Anthem at BCW
Tending to the cultural roots helps in building up the Pakistani brand. The infusion of patriotic fervor came in the form of the national anthem that made a sudden appearance from the second day onwards. It continued when Fuzon – a popular band took the stage driving the shrieking volunteers wild. That many were later overheard wondering who they were just cheering for underscores the importance of promoting local talent above all else lest their voices get lost in the din of cultural invasion.
Also, choreography heavily reliant on Indian music interferes with the process of crafting a distinct identity devised under that ‘Made In Pakistan’ banner. Bollywood does not need our patronage. Pakistan does. Ironically Indian designers Anjalee and Arjum Kapoor marched to the beat of X-Men First Class & Pirates of The Caribbean, though their bright looking collection stayed on the fringes of bridal wear.
Indian designers Anjalee and Arjum Kapoor
The month long festivities dedicated to fashion makes it much more than a charming little foot-note in the style directory. The brief conversation with Dr. Dechesne assigns it as part of the resilience narrative.