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In fashion: The fashion week jungle

In fashion: The fashion week jungle

Great fashion, in essence, needs to be more than just a race to the top. It needs to scintillate, inspire and grow. It is true that the business of fashion can only be viable if it generates revenue but does financial success signify the death of creativity?

It is a question that perpetually sprang to mind during Fashion Pakistan Week’s (FPW) Winter/Festive ’15. The designer line-up was exceptionally exciting and brand new media sponsors, Urdu1, were aiming to air the show not only in Pakistan but also in Dubai. FPW may also feature in other countries, where Urdu1 hopes to collaborate with other channels.

If this happens, it will help open a whole new market for local fashion, presenting it to the large South Asian audience scattered around the world. Given the wider coverage, it’s too bad that standards at FPW were barely up to par. Time and again, the fashion on the runway was disappointing; toeing commercial lines to the point of being lackluster, rustling together badly finished, untidy rush jobs and happily slipping into a bling-and-pearl rut.




Some glaringly bad line-ups made one question if the Fashion Pakistan Council was editing collections at all. Supporting new talent is applaudable but not at the risk of forsaking a fashion week’s credibility.

Hailing from an era where designers unfathomably presented collections at fashion shows and never managed to bring them onto retail racks to now, where commerce is the primary — and often, the only — concern, most ateliers haven’t been able to marry their art with business. It was surprising to see some of fashion’s most established labels present line-ups that were run-of-the-mill at best. Had they lost the passionate edge that had once been their USP? It was sad when design houses renowned for their love of craftsmanship showcased designs where motifs clattered down onto the catwalk. Was the primary concern now merely churning out collections, neglecting quality?

To abandon conventions, set trends while wielding drama, make statements that are unforgettable; this is the magic that defines great fashion. Barring a few rare instances, it was hardly what characterised FPW.

Sweeping through the three-day long event, here are some of the highlights …

Couture’s changing game

Fashion weeks, notwithstanding their fumbles and fobs, have become essential marketing mechanisms. This fact was driven home as couture’s old guard stepped into the limelight. Many of these designers had hitherto avoided the fashion week circuit: Umar Sayeed had earlier often denounced it as an unnecessary expense and Nilofer Shahid, though visible at individual events, hadn’t yet participated in a local fashion week.

Also showcasing her bridals for the very first time was Shehla Chatoor, who had previously always opted to air her luxury-pret onto the catwalk, saving her bridal designs exclusively for her clientele.

The times are changing, though. Instagram, Twitter, print coverage and inevitably, fashion weeks aired on TV, serve as catalogues for prospective clients. The fashion week runway is essential for designers who want to stay in the game and by joining into the designer entourage, they thankfully raised the bar for FPW.

Shehla’s All The Raj opened FPW with stunning, avant-garde twists to bridal design. Umar Sayeed’s line-up was classically beautiful, staying true to his grandiose signature and love for flawless workmanship.

For the finale, Nilofer Shahid took inspiration from Rembrandt and transformed it into artistic design; dramatic, poetic and awe-inspiring. Etchings created from digital print, feathers treated onto fabric, military jackets, a theatrical caned ball-skirt with Rembrandt’s art-work printed onto it and a heavily trailing regal gown, it was couture in its truest form; for the love of fashion rather than the love of retail. While many of the pieces were wearable as separates, it will be interesting to observe if Nilofer manages to transform the more dramatic designs into wearable fashion.

Also in a league of his own was Faraz Manan, who opts for individual shows in Lahore and recently, Dubai — cities where he has standalone outlets. The FPW showcase was for his considerable Karachi clientele; a dreamy amalgamation of colour with the glitter of hand embroideries and Swarovski crystals.

Zaheer Abbas’ Baad-i-Naubahar mastered bling and texture without going OTT. He is a designer to watch out for, in the ever-lucrative, ever-competitive bridal design arena.

An eye for retail

Dramatic costumery may not appeal to every designer but a retail-friendly collection often means a boring one. Only a few designers mastered the balancing act of presenting marketable design while staying true to their ethos. Wardha Saleem and Zainab Chottani passionately mixed and matched colour with embellishment. Both designers have a flair for creating contemporary, pretty design; they now need to push the elusive fashion envelope onwards towards groundbreaking statements.

The only menswear range at FPW, Nauman Arfeen’s The Legacy showcased very well-cut, sharp, slick Eastern formals.

Luxurious aspirations

Luxury-pret at FPW faltered quite often, with only a few collections managing to stand out. Elan’s Sauvage was an edgy technicolor ride through flora, fauna and fabulously structured garments. Maheen Karim stayed true to her anglicised ethos with luxe, edgy party-wear. Sana Safinaz’s Russian Roulette was not their strongest collection but did feature some standout elements; velvet pants, fabulous jackets and gilded embellishment.

Sania Maskatiya, meanwhile, infused youthful energy with a collection of absolute winter must-haves: jackets and wraps fashioned from crepe and raw silk, colour-blocked and pleated. The designs were a refreshing, stylish break from the overdoses of bling on the runway. What’s even more appreciable is the brand’s knack for business: the designs begin retailing at Sania Maskatiya stores on the week following fashion week.

Bejewelled

With the predominance of bridal-wear at FPW, jewellery brands collaborated with designers and accessorised quite a few of the collections. Particularly noticeable amongst these was Shehla Chatoor’s ethno-funk range of spiked teekas, matha-pattis and polki designs. Sherezad Rahimtoola’s jewellery in Wardha Saleem, Delphi and Deepak Perwani’s shows was classically beautiful and Indian brand Valliyan by Nitya Arora brought in a head-turning range for the Elan showcase.

The celeb factor

In the absence of celebrity attendess at FPW, local media had a field day, taking pictures of themselves dressed in hot-off-the-ramp collections. Fortunately, the lack of red carpet oomph was made up for on the catwalk. Celebrity showstoppers were dealt out on heavy, unadulterated doses, from the Ho Mann Jahaan triad, Mahira Khan, Shehryar Munawar and Adeel Hussain, walking the catwalk for Umar Sayeed to Mehwish Hayat posing prettily for Zainab Chottani, the Diyar-i-Dil couple Osman Khalid Butt and Maya Ali taking center stage for Wardha Saleem and Zoe Viccaji singing La Vie en Rose live for Deepak Perwani.

It broke the ennui of witnessing back-to-back collections, brought some fabulous music to the ramp and it will certainly improve TV ratings, much to the advantage of Urdu1.

Beauty or beast?

The hair and make-up at FPW was disastrous. Sabs, the official stylist, has long been working backstage at fashion weeks. And yet, they presented looks that were unblended, slapdash and boring to the core, vying hard to make even the few good collections look bad. Fashion weeks are exhausting events to orchestrate, with the council’s key members working tirelessly. How could they, then, undermine their hard work by opting for such mediocre styling?

In its seventh installation, FPW needed to boast more than just a great line-up; it needed to showcase stellar fashion and impeccable styling. The many disappointments at FPW highlight how local fashion is fast losing its identity.

Fashion weeks — whether in Lahore or Karachi — are veering towards the mundane, losing out on the creative brilliance that once shone bright in Pakistan. Designers need to be truer to their identity and councils, more discerning — and they need to do this before they dole out another humdrum lineup or another hit-and-miss fashion week. Pakistani fashion, overcoming cultural barriers and political instability, built brick by brick, has come too far to lose out in the face of commercialism.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 6th, 2015

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