(Dawn October 10)
This September the frenzy of excitement amongst designers was hard to hold down. The latest issue of American Vogue had hit the stands, featuring two-pages on Fashion Pakistan Week 2, and understandably not a single copy was left unturned (read unsold).
Any fashion follower would know the value of Vogue coverage; fashion fortunes have been made by a mere mention in its sacred pages. And while this coverage did not entirely look at Pakistani fashionâ€™s most glamorous angle â€” inevitably bringing in the Taliban â€” it did suggest that Pakistan has another, more liberal angle than what the world is used to seeing. Carla Power, the writer who specialises in the study of Muslim societies, suggested as much with sensitivity and admiration in her coverage of FPW2.
International interest at the helm of so many fashion weeks â€” in Karachi and Lahore â€” has most certainly given Pakistani fashion a much-needed boost. Designers have been written about in prestigious publications, they have spoken on TV channels and they have been invited to participate in numerous fashion shows across the globe. But what is to happen now that the initial excitement is dying out? The year Pakistan had three major fashion weeks cannot be celebrated and packed away in the same breath.
There needs to be a system to ensure that the industry continues building, brick by brick. Designers have basked in the spotlight, they have after-partied and they have brushed shoulders with international media. But almost one year into Pakistanâ€™s affair with fashion weeks, where exactly does the fashion industry stand and how closer is it to being on a par with its global counterparts? Is there really so much to rejoice? One would have to say, not yet.
The British Fashion Council (BFC) on its website states that â€œLondon Fashion Week puts London and British Fashion firmly on the global stage, generating orders in the region of Â£100m; the event itself contributes Â£20 million to the London economy in terms of direct spend.â€ Can the two local councils please provide similar figures for Pakistan?
The BFC takes transparency a step further by publishing an extensive Value of Fashion report on the British fashion industryâ€™s direct contribution to the economy. Pakistanâ€™s fashion industry needs to understand that in this day and age, economic value is the only thing that can make it sustainable.
It also needs to be consistent not sporadic, at the fashion week as well as the fashion designer level. International fashion weeks usually recur every six months but neither council in Pakistan has been able to show this commitment. The PFDC just recently announced a one-month postponement of the PFDC-Sunsilk Fashion Week, stretching the gap to 10 months. And the newly elected Fashion Pakistan council in Karachi is completely mum on their own matter. It appears that two unnecessarily back-to-back events (November 2009 and April 2010) have burnt its designers and resources out.
On a baser level, designers need to show some consistency too. One is witness to the fact that their supply chain is extremely poor. Collections are launched with much hoopla but rarely are they consistent. When a card reads that so and so is launching at an outlet, it actually means that he or she will be putting out a limited collection which will never be restocked once sold out. And whatever is left unsold shall be seen hanging on the racks forever. This holds true for Sana Safinaz (Ensemble), Shehla Chatoor (Labels), Sublime (Labels) and numerous others. Certain outfits have been on the racks for months!
Itâ€™s all very impressive to have a launch serving canapÃ©s and fresh juices followed by extensive Page 3 coverage, but surely the business of fashion needs to be about much more. And if designers are content retailing privately from personal spaces then why step into the fashion week and ready-to-wear brouhaha at all? Giving credit where credit is due, one has to appreciate the efforts of some designers who have actually made their fashion week collections widely available. There are a few.
Fashion needs to start looking inwards for strength and structure rather than outwards for spotlight and applause. But itâ€™s always the foreign shores that entice designers. They would rather be showing at fundraising events in Dubai, Los Angeles, Washington, Geneva, London, etc., than plan and prepare for a local fashion week. The proof is in the pie.
And now, the PFDC has announced their alliance with the Federation Francaise Pret a Porter Feminin, in which a selection panel headed by Alexandra Senes would take a few Pakistani designers to show at the Pret-a-Porter Paris in January 2011. Letâ€™s hope that the truly deserving go (historically it is usually the established and well connected that land these opportunities) and actually manage to deliver! And most importantly that these ventures actually help give a solid structure to Pakistani fashion.