(Dawn Images, Sept 19, 2010)
It’s time someone stepped in to revive and reinvent the multi-million rupee bridal industry in Pakistan.
The biggest market for fashion in Pakistan isn’t the show. It’s the shaadi.
With Pakistan’s fashion conscious middle class falling into a slim minority, the practical window to high end fashion – for most women – is still wedding wear. They can tally off designers for dholkis, mehndis, the wedding/baraat day, valima, trousseau etc even if they still go to tailors for everyday clothing. Weddings are what uphold the sartorial snob value here even though critics resist accepting bridal clothing as fashion.
To be fair, bridals cannot be slotted as ‘fashion’ in any contemporary sense of the word. They are repetitive, often monotonous and aim to revive rather than reinvent style. But the revival of centuries’ old craft and traditions of South-East Asia is exactly what intrigues the world. Foreigners are attracted to the opulence of the east, so rich in its heritage and so colourful compared to the pristine whiteness of western weddings. While the world may never sit up and notice a ball gown designed by a Pakistani designer, the intricacy of a Bunto Kazmi farshi is mesmerizing enough to get anyone’s attention. Barring those awful confectionary concoctions that are being churned out in the name of commercialism, the quintessential Pakistani bridal is an art form that must not be lost to modernity.
There is no reason why bridals shouldn’t be elevated to the next level. What we need to see is a high standard bridal show happening in Pakistan, perhaps a separate bridal couture week (or even segment for bridal couture at existing fashion weeks), a museum dedicated to centuries of vintage bridal costumes that have been crafted in all regions of Pakistan. Fashion councils should undertake this responsibility. And before all of this is anticipated, it would be helpful if authorities pushed for legalization of the trade so that studio-operative bridal designers can be encouraged to pay taxes. All this has to change and only then will it ensure the steady evolution to benefit a very lucrative industry.
Granting bridal couture its own platform
Fashion shows featuring bridal clothing are the most boring to watch when they’re thrown in as part of a fashion week program. Having to sit through one tier of ‘opulent grandeur’ after another can be mind-numbing for an audience waiting to be inspired by cutting edge designs that are trend setting and associative with the word fashion. And yet they are thrown in, gharara after gharara, ghoongat after ghoongat because bridals are what get the average buyers (read women) interested in a place like Pakistan. This is exactly why they should be taken out of fashion weeks geared for ready to wear and provided an exclusive space of their own.
An event like Bridal Asia, which CEO Divya Gurwara says taps into the massive wedding market in India, would be ideal if organized here.
“The wedding industry in India is roughly estimated as a 1,250,00 crore (Indian Rupee) category which is growing on annual rate of 25%,” Gurwara stated in an exclusive with Dawn Images.
Bridal Asia has been successfully promoting these figures for the past several years and though critics argue that the event compromises on quality in exchange for revenue generation, it still is acknowledged as one of the important bridal platforms in India.
What one needs to see is someone investing in a similar bridal platform for Pakistan.
An event remembered as Bridal Waves took off on the right foot in Lahore several years ago but fell prey to ill planning and wrapped up all too soon. A local magazine, celebrating its 25th anniversary, brought the Bridal Asia franchise to Karachi in 2003. It featured Ritu Kumar, Anamika Khanna and JJ Valaya from India and Bunto Kazmi and Faiza Samee from Pakistan in an impressive show that year.
“Bridal Asia was organized in Pakistan as a one-off event,” remembers Andleeb Rana (currently Editor, Xpoze) who headed the organizing committee. “It wasn’t continued because it’s logistically a nightmare to take designers and their clothes across borders. I think we need a bridal show in Pakistan but not necessarily a Bridal Asia. We need a show organized by people who know the industry well. Pakistani bridals are infinitely superior to Indian bridals. They just need to be promoted in a more interesting way. One of the councils should initiate a couture week eventually, which is the only way the bridal industry will evolve.”
While it will take fashion councils time to get organized, a sponsor like Veet, which finances the ‘Celebration of Beauty’ shows twice a year would make for ideal champions of the cause if they put the project in capable hands. Veet fashion shows already pick up on formal-bordering-on-bridal-collections and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be taken beyond one show, into an event sprawled over a weekend. Someone with a vision needs to pursue.
A museum for bridal costumes and heritage
Preserving history is just as important as pushing for an evolution. Documentation is imperative but most bridal designers are either too disorganized or too finicky to care. Bunto Kazmi deems it unlucky and unethical to photograph a young girl’s bridal outfit before she wears it. Since she only designs customized ensembles, that doesn’t leave one with much of a choice. Faiza Samee, on the go between Pakistan and India (where she has a huge clientele) never has the time. Sana and Safinaz have gotten back onto the publicity bandwagon but fears of plagiarism keep them from overexposing their creations.
Despite everything, some of the work being created by revivalists like Kazmi, Samee (who have been commissioned to exhibit at the V&A Museum in London) Nilofer Shahid (who has shown in Paris) and Rizwan Beyg (who has shown in Milan) is nothing short of a masterpiece. Their creations need to be treasured in museums for future generations to cherish.
Legitimizing the trade
There are no concrete figures to evaluate the potential of the Pakistani market for bridal couture – as most studio-operated designers do not register as taxpayers for the millions they charge for their coveted labels – but it can be safely assumed that the figures are just as mammoth as they are in India. The government should take responsibility of registering all designers and ensuring that the generated revenue be put back into cementing a system. Just for the record, certain bridal couturiers are known to charge anything between 6 to 10 lakhs for one outfit and most of them accept cash only. Go figure!
Simply put, fashion designers who do not make bridals are fashion designers out of business. Deepak Perwani gave in after years of resisting the lure of dabka designs. Adnan Pardesy does make bridals that conform to the typical, even if his runway collections are razor sharp and radical. The bottom line is that no matter how progressive we may claim or want to be, fashion in Pakistan depends upon the bridal market for sustenance. It’s high time the process was regularized.
Pushing a bridal (r)evolution!
One feels that the higher ready-to-wear rises in Pakistan, the more it threatens to burn out bridal traditions. There is no need for one to challenge or compromise the other.
Unfortunately that’s exactly what the LSAs have done this year. The Lux Style Awards fashion jury has done no one a favour by eliminating ‘Best Couture’ from the fashion categories. While one admits that Pakistani couture does no justice to the term when compared to Galliano or Chanel couture, the category should have been redefined. Bridal Couture, which perhaps has a greater significance and relevance in Pakistan than prêt a porter, should have been the substitute. The answer perhaps would be to have bridal awards at the end of a couture week.
There is a plethora of fashion magazines dedicated to the world of weddings. Their standards need to be raised. Bridal photography needs to appeal to contemporary sensibility instead of the obsolete. The over-done, over trussed shy bride needs a drastic makeover. It’s high time ancient crafts were revived and preserved with dignity while contemporary bridals were allowed to evolve, as they should.
Poll reveals Pakistan’s top 3 bridal couturiers
A girl’s wedding dress is probably the single most important piece of clothing in her world. And while one has a fair idea of who constitute the top tier of bridal designers in Pakistan, we conducted a survey amongst 100 unmarried girls (evenly from Karachi and Lahore) on who their ideal bridal designer would be.
Karachi based Sana Safinaz topped the list with 22 votes, their popularity being consistent in Karachi and Lahore. Many girls felt they epitomized elegance without being archaic.eepak Perwani from Lahore followed close with 20 votes, again widespread across the country. Bunto Kazmi, a favourite for girls looking for the perfect traditional look, came third with 16 votes. The almost 50 year long Kazmi tradition (initiated by Sughra Kazmi, Bunto’s mother in law) is still going strong.
Surprisingly these were the only three names that received substantial votes. Hot on their heels were Karma (8), Faiza Samee (6), Nomi Ansari (5) and Umar Sayeed and Mehdi both with 4 votes each. The remaining 15 votes were unevenly distributed amongst Nida Azwer, Kamiar Rokni, Ayesha Varsey, Saadia Mirza, Teejays, Body Focus, Rouge, Nayna, Libas-e-khaas, Sozankar, Rehana Saigol and even Indian brands Satya Paul and Ritu Kumar (both available in Pakistan).
(This poll was conducted with the help of Batool Mohsin and Hani Taha Saleem, amongst others)
Bridal Asia and beyond…
Divya Gurwara, CEO Bridal Asia, which commenced last week in Delhi, India talks to Dawn Images on the importance of the bridal quotient in fashion…
You’ve had several Pakistani bridal designers come to Delhi for Bridal Asia over the years. Which ones have been most popular?
Divya Gurwara: Over the years Bridal Asia has encouraged a wide range of designers from Pakistan to express their creativity to a discerning audience in India. Many have participated, from Rizwan Beyg, Maheen Khan, Nomi Ansari, Faiza Samee, Sonya Battla, Nilofer Shahid, HSY and presently Honey Waqar. The Indian audience and media have received them all with love and appreciation. Inquiries from buyers and guests regarding Pakistani designers follow all year.
What do you feel is the reason for their popularity?
DG: The main reason for media and buyer interest is the sheer fascination with Pakistani bridal trends. The silhouettes and workmanship are unique to an Indian audience, who mind you is spoiled for choice in India. A plethora of Indian designers are heavily into bridals and are very appreciated. But Pakistani designers always get sold out for the sheer uniqueness of their designs and styling. The shararas and palazzos, for example, are unique to us as women are mostly restricted to options in lehengas and saris here.
Having said that I must add that in India we have now also started experimenting with the structuring of a garment. Fashionable fishtail Shane & Falguni or Gaurav Gupta gowns are popular for cocktail evenings, rather than something traditional.
Has the Indian bride evolved and is she willing to experiment?
DG: Most certainly and how! Brides are experimenting with their trousseau and looks for different functions. There are theme weddings held in old forts of Rajasthan or Agra which call for grandeur while there may be a wedding planned in Goa or Cochin where the bridal team will be spotted in a more ‘resort’ wedding gear.
The brides in India nowadays plan different looks for different days, ranging over their cocktails, sangeet, mehndi, shaadi and reception! Rarely will you find a bride with the same ‘look’ for all functions. There’s more experimentation and its forcing bridal designers to create practical outfits that can be used, mixed and matched at a later date rather than just staying in the wardrobe as an heirloom.
Who are the three most popular bridal designers in India these days?
DG: According to me Pallavi Jaikishan is the unspoken doyenne of bridal fashion in India today. Besides her I would say a Tarun Tahiliani bride will be at home in any part of the world. Sabyasachi Mukherjee is an eternal favourite across the classes and masses (the ones who can afford him, that is). Shane & Falguni Peacock make perfect clothes for the trendy bride…the list is endless and it’s difficult to restrict it to just three names!
Would you think of bringing Bridal Asia to Pakistan, given that bridal industries are equally huge in both countries?
DG: We have always wanted to work towards it. Let’s hope it happens soon.
– Divya Gurwara was talking to Aamna Haider Isani