Fashion may be music to a woman’s soul while diamonds would be her best friend but many people would argue that fashion is superficially skin deep while it is in fact music that permeates the skin and seeps into the soul. Music fans would put up a convincing argument that fashion is elitist while music is populist; that most people can afford to buy a cassette, CD or tune into a radio station for what music offers while not so many can actually afford to buy or own any part of fashion. The last leg of this argument would be that musicians are better people than most fashion designers.
Now on an average day I would be able to put up a pretty convincing counterargument. I’d say that the triangle of existence has always been pinned upon roti, kapda aur makaan. Kapda, meaning clothes, not gaana bajana. I’d say that in Pakistan there have been more fashion shows in the last six months than concerts. There are at least a dozen credible fashion magazines while not a single committed solely to music. Sure, music websites are ‘virtually’ everywhere but there are just as many fashion websites too. And at the end of a day, a man can leave his house without his iPod but certainly not without his clothes. On an average day I would risk facing the wrath of the people by putting up this argument but not today. Not while Coke Studio is quenching a thirst that not even the most anorexic fashionista would be able to resist.
There is something irresistible about Coke Studio, something that has even the most tone deaf, soul-less individuals tuning in to Arif Lohar as he twitches his chimtaa to the bewitching “Alif Allah Chambey Di Booty’. ‘Bibi Sanam Jaanam’ grows on you as does the wail of the violin played in it. Needless to say, upcoming episodes hold great promise and one cannot wait to witness them all. I have to say that this isn’t how most people feel when they sit and watch the first collection at a fashion show featuring numerous labels. Much to the contrary, most of them people can’t wait for the show to be over with. There’s fatigue, not anticipation.
While fashion shows, fashion weeks, corporate shows like Veet’s Celebration of Beauty or the Lux Style Awards etc play out their own agendas, fashion desperately needs a platform similar to the Coke Studio. Fashion needs a show that puts the classic next to the contemporary and manages to consolidate both therefore appealing to the common man as well as the high society. It has to be about the masses not just the classes. Show them that fashion, like music, is an intrinsic part of who they are, whoever they are. Give them something to relate to rather than isolate them from. Anyone and everyone who wears clothes (and in the absence of nudist colonies that’s about everyone in Pakistan) should be able to relate to fashion and I must say that I have seen more style statements coming from the beaded beggars around mazaars than guests at fashion week front rows.
Fashion needs a Coke Studio and to accomplish that fashion needs a Rohail Hyatt. His fashionable counterpart is Frieha Altaf but while Hyatt cuts a unanimously well-respected and almost revered figure in the music industry, Frieha doesn’t cut the same credibility. She may be the single most experienced event manager when it comes to fashion but she lacks the discipline that it takes to put a Coke Studio together. Frieha’s events almost always suffer technical glitches, they tend to serve an advantage to her friends and her backend work isn’t always as efficient as it should be. While musicians fantasize about working with Rohail Hyatt, people who work with Frieha rally off complaints over her lack of professionalism. It’s fashion, an industry that is all about air-kissing and back-stabbing, so none of them will formally complain but a general disgruntled opinion about Frieha sifts through the air nevertheless.
Fashion also needs a committed sponsor. Other than the title sponsorship and gentle branding, Coke remains in the background of Coke Studio and does not interfere with the music. Zeb & Haniya do not sing a Coke jingle at the end of every show and Rohail Hyatt does not hold up a bottle of coca cola while the credits roll. The closest fashion has to Coke is Lux, but the Lux Style Awards hardly come across as an effort as sincere. Inconsistency in the event over the last two years has seen it sink and Unilever’s constant excuses regarding lack of finances and national security have really damaged their reputation. The Lux Style Awards have put up ideal case of fusion but lately have been reduced to a publicity exercise more than a genuine commitment to acknowledging excellence. Coke comes across as much more noble.
Once it has a producer and a sponsor, the fashion industry should not have a problem putting a Coke Studio together. There is enough talent as far as design goes and that talent only needs nurturing and direction. It is possible to pick up the best, most credible contemporary designers and work them around centuries old sartorial traditions of Pakistan. Some like Rizwan Beyg, Rizwanullah, Deepak Perwani, Ismail Farid, Maheen Khan, Feeha Jamshed and Faiza Samee have done it on a considerable scale but much more must be done and brought to the people for them to be able to appreciate it. Till then it’s roti, music aur makaan!