The PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week has established itself as the most credible and sought after stage for wedding wear in Pakistan but six years down the lane, it needs to be ready to take a turn for some serious evolution.
“I want people to feel my collection, not just see it,” an emotionally charged Ali Xeeshan said backstage, after wrapping up the grand finale of the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week that took place in Lahore recently. His collection, Khaamosh was quite soul stirring as it came with a social message dedicated to women empowerment. On one level it raised awareness around child-marriages and on another level it projected raggedy decorative monkey dolls, symbolizing young brides to be as submissive as circus animals. What made his feminist message all the more powerful was his medium of expression; a brilliant, well crafted collection that offered so much in terms of design and innovation.
Design. Innovation. Craftsmanship. Awareness. These are words that drive fashion towards relevance in a socio-politically charged climate such as the one we live in. People who think fashion is just about pretty clothes and designers who cannot think beyond superficial gorgeousness, are myopic in their vision and don’t really figure in the larger picture. At an event like fashion week, one ‘pretty’ collection after another can get monotonous unless it manages to make a statement, in design or in purpose. Fashion, especially couture, has the resources to express itself beyond the shimmer of crystals and pearls. It needs to flex some muscle. It needs to save the craft, say something and make a statement, achieve either one or all of the above. With television channels backing fashion weeks in Pakistan (the viewership is immense) fashion has a huge audience and to limit it to selling bridals is to trivialize it.
While Ali Xeeshan was the only designer at the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week who made a social statement with his collection, there were several who made conscious efforts for craft revival. The House of Kamiar Rokni, as always taking pride in their Punjabi roots, brought rustic design to the runway. There was a lot of gotta, traditional resham and zardozi, which is being lost to the greed of commercialism. Trendy, disposable clothing is rapidly overtaking the painstakingly crafted couture that our foremothers kept as heirlooms.
Devotion to the revival of ethnicity could also be seen in collections by Sania Maskatiya, Zara Shahjahan, Shamsha Hashwani and Mahgul, amongst others.
“Our collection comprised of aari and zardozi work with hints of handcrafted gotta,” Sania shared details. “We have also used marori in the collection. However, we have tweaked the craft in ways where old traditions have been given a modern look and feel fresh and new.”
“We really focused on fabric, which wasn’t even visible on the runway,” explained Zara Shahjahan. Hers was one of the most romantic of all showcases and she shared how it was woven together. “We wanted to focus on the revival of kamkhwab since we’ve become too dependent on fabric from China. Even fabric made in Banaras is not designed exclusively for designers but all our fabric was hand made in Karachi. Our kamkhwab had our own motifs and it will not be available anywhere else.”
Zara added that she felt embellishment had generally become too contemporary and therefore she tried to focus on old stitches and decorative elements like the sitara and tilla and dabka, which has been replaced by beads, pearls and Swarovski crystals.
“Our workers have started to forget how to do the old taankas,” she reiterated. “Even the kiran on our dupattas was sourced from the few men left (in Anarkali Bazaar) who still make sachchi kiran.”
“We tried to create progressive fashion with silhouettes derived through classical lines with a slight edge,” Mahgul weighed into the conversation. “In terms of craft we have tried to revamp traditional chikankari by using baroque motifs. We have also crafted (garments) in antique dabka and kundun work to create an old world charm using modern tankas across surfaces primarily printed with our bespoke marble prints.”
It is these finer details that made Mahgul’s collection stand out; bridal fashion has to be so distinctive in its craft that it becomes impossible to imitate. This is a big problem in the industry where top designers are replicated in mass markets all the time. Imitation is a problem Nomi Ansari deals with quite frequently and ironically, there was one outfit in another designer’s collection at PLBW that looked identical to an outfit from his 2015 couture collection.
Shamsha Hashwani made a strong PLBW debut with a collection featuring intricately embroidered silk shawls; she is known for her impeccable taste and sophistication and her use of craft (one shawl takes six months to create) is priceless.
HSY, who opened fashion week this year, may have imported his fabric from Italy but he paid homage to Pakistan’s rich traditions with his bridal as well as groomswear. One of his strongest collections in recent years, it was the treatment of surface embellishment paired with his bird’s eye view on international trends that would make many of his pieces, that feathered bomber jacket for instance, work anywhere in the world.
Fashion week, one feels, is the best platform to create awareness around craft revival but then the platform also has a subsequent responsibility to project fashion in the best possible way. PLBW has established itself as the most coveted, credible and sought after stage for wedding wear in Pakistan but six years down the lane, it needs to be ready to take a turn for some serious evolution.
The three-day event was short and sweet; refreshingly quick and well timed. The glaring deficit, however, in fashion week’s lack of evolution as an event, is the fact that it has not progressed from its original format. It’s time designers were allowed to apply creative process to their shows. One ramp for 16 designers does no justice to couture; the setting has to be customized and shows curated creatively, independently. It is because of this limitation that designers like Elan and Faraz Manan have decided to go solo and did not show this year. Khadijah Shah will be hosting her couture show in the sprawling gardens of her home on October 23 and Faraz Manan will be flying his couture collection to Park Lane, London on October 29.
Fashion Week is still being treated like a social event where people dress up after hours and look for a good time. More has to be done to ensure it’s not treated like a gala evening rather a trade event targeting growth of the fashion industry. Many may argue that clients attending shows are buyers and collections receive orders and bookings almost immediately (it is true) but the scope of success has to be higher. The vision has to be stronger for fashion week to not hit a plateau. It’s important for the growth of the industry. Nabila and her creative team do a fantastic job of styling the models but we need a bigger pool of makeup artists as well as models, choreographers, event managers etc.
Coming back to fashion one senses an anxious sense of commercialism seeping into the creative process but designers must be urged to think out of the box otherwise fashion will suffer a sort of sordid stagnancy. Only the fashion council can assert that incentive and one way is to diversify the shows. Allow designers to go wild with their ideas the same way that Karl Lagerfeld goes wild at infamously ingenious Chanel shows at the Grand Palais in Paris each year. One remembers shows by Karma, Ammar Belal, Nomi Ansari being brilliant executions of a designer’s creativity; now we mostly see plain old shows churning out practical collections. This should not happen to couture at least. The couture experience has got to be more thrilling.
Unfortunately, many of the expected regulars who elevate the credibility of PLBW – Sana Safinaz, Elan, Misha Lakhani, Karma, Fahad Hussayn and Shamaeel – did not even show. New names to the platform were just that, new. They were by no means bad but they lacked the oomph that comes with either experience or daring youthfulness. The Bank Alfalah Rising Talent Showcase was a depressing reflection of what students are actually learning at fashion school these days. Was the selection wrong or are things actually that bad, one would like to know and see the council fix it.
The Pakistan Fashion Design Council has taken all the right measures to create stable and credible parameters for the fashion industry to grow within. But it is time to break the barriers and live a little dangerously. It is time for change, evolution and progress that may bring Pakistan’s fabulous fashion industry some international attention that it deserves.
– Photography by Faisal Farooqui at Dragonfly
This article was first published in Instep, 9th October 2016.