(Published in G.L.A.M, November 2012)
COUTURE is spelt DECADENCE. Whether you’re talking of haute couture that inspires Dior to bring a million flowers on stage (literally) or you’re talking bridal couture that drives designers and artisans around the bend in putting hundreds of hours into crafting one single ensemble. Couture spells decadence, opulence and unapologetic glamour. It needs and deserves a stage just as grand.
The world’s most magnificent couture shows are held in Paris. “These clothes are for a world of privileged people,” Karl Lagerfeld said (quoted by Tim Blanks) after his Autumn/Winter 2012 showing this July, in which he wove silver into his ‘tweed’ (right, image). If that seems excessive, then excessive it is.
While the stage at the recently held PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week shied away from grandeur, deliberately opting for simpler settings, the clothes by no means compromised on the ethos of the event. Elan’s Khadija Shah, who undoubtedly showcased the most impressive collection of the four-day show, flaunted pearls, semi precious stones and Swarovski crystals in her embroideries. Ali Xeeshan, whose was a funky fresh take on bridal wear, claims to have used sucha kaam (real silver thread) in his embellishment. Craft is the core of bridal couture in Pakistan, and designers who manage to excel in craftsmanship, excel in couture. It’s that simple.
Things aren’t as simple in the developed world, where traditions for organized couture go back to the mid nineteenth century when the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Paris was established. Today, the term ‘haute couture’ is protected by law and is defined by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris based in Paris, France. In 1945 the organization outlined standards and principles to ascertain whether a designer qualifies as a couturier or not. In a nutshell, to classify as a couture house a designer must produce 50 new and original designs of day and evening wear for each collection. They must show two collections a year. They must employ a minimum of at least twenty full-time technical people in at least one atelier or workshop.
Not many designers in the world qualify, which is why from the original count of over 160 couturiers in 1900 there are less than a dozen qualified couturiers left in Paris today. The Chambre has granted membership to only five foreign designers including Azzedine Alaïa (Tunisia), Elie Saab (Lebanon), Giorgio Armani (Italy), Valentino (Italy) and Versace (Italy).
Out of the known fashion houses in Paris, only Dior, Chanel, Givenchy and Gaultier are on the list of twelve couturiers. It is highly exclusive and unfortunately, with the market for haute couture waning, the list is thinning out every year.
Fortunately, couture around the world is not so fussy. In Pakistan and even India, couture mostly refers to the hybrid term, bridal couture, which refers to the time-consuming, customized and pricey ensembles that are designed as wedding wear. These are the highest grossing segment of every designer’s business and the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week and Style 360 Bridal Couture Week are platforms that were created to give this creativity a boost.
On the other side of the border, Couture Weeks in India began three years ago with the HDIL India Couture Week (held in Mumbai) and then Delhi Couture Week (organized by the FDCI), the due aim to showcase the highest level of luxury available in the country. Top designers showcase at Delhi Couture Week, runways are customized and the front rows guarantee the who’s who of society and above all, Bollywood.
The HDIL India Couture Week, which lasted three years, set a fine example of how couture weeks should be organized in Pakistan too. At a Varun Bahl show, for example, a Japanese theme would be executed with a wooden runway scripted with Japanese brush stroked letters. The hair and make-up would be typically Japanese too. In a Being Human show, Salman Khan would bring out a band of young, homeless kids or then plan six decades of Indian cinema featuring a different heroine dancing to each decade’s hit songs. Six tiny cupcakes, given out as goody bags, would be numbered for the decades too. A Karan Johar fashion show at a couture week, would construct an entire film set and bring Amitabh Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan as show stoppers.
The way this was made possible was by building two main show areas and keeping only two shows a day, one after the other. That allowed the designers time and space to execute their ideas effectively. A hospitality lounge with a separate VIP lounge would cordon off the celebrities whereas the rest of the guests – mainly the media, buyers and clients – could mingle over champagne and canapés. The air was always high-end and luxurious, with almost no corner cutting or expenses being spared.
The celebrity quotient was slightly low at the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week. There were hardly any memorable ‘moments’ that would go down in history. Save for Meesha Shafi-Rehman, who perked up the front row with her zany dress sense every day, there was a dearth of stars. The only two to make it to the runway were Qurat-ul-Ain Baloch (for Fahad Hussayn) and film star Resham (for Nida Azwer). It was nothing like last year that had Meesha Shafi singing live on stage for Damas, Naheed Siddiqui performing for Kiran Fine Jewellery, Mahira and Fawad Khan walking out as showstoppers for Umar Sayeed (TV serial Humsafar was at its popular peak) and so on. One hopes that PLBW will regain its glory next year.
At the end of the day, a couture show needs to be as high end as couture itself: creative, customized and flawless.
Craft is the core of bridal couture in Pakistan, and designers who manage to excel in craftsmanship, excel in couture.
AW2012 Bridal and Evening Wear Collection
The only truly fashion forward collection in the four day showcase, Misha Lakhani put up a case for luxury separates that could be dressed up into wedding wear or toned down for a fashionable night out on town. In no way did the nonchalance of the collection impair the fineness and flawlessness of the ensembles as the detailing was all very fine: pure silks, chiffons, karandi, satins and even velvets used as a canvas for traditional craft such as wasli, gota and marori. It’s good to see a young designer eyeing the future while romancing the past.
Elan by Khadijah Shah
Unanimously voted best collection of fashion week, Elan put up an impeccable display of bejeweled wedding wear that was no less precious than 22 karat gold. She played with silhouettes and hemlines while remaining within couture limits and went all out on luxury when it came to the bride. The outfits, as elaborate as productions, featured izaars and farshi shararas as lower favourites whereas the rest of the garment favoured heavily crafted jackets, angarakhas and Luckhnowi ghararas. Executed with finesse on a unique colour palette, this collection had a winning streak.
Cinderella after 12
Young at heart, Ali Xeeshan’s designs are just as spirited. He loves drama, which is perhaps he chose PLBW to launch the Ali Xeeshan Theatre Company, that too with a collection that more like a folkloric fairy tale. It was refreshing to see a young designer depart from the mature palette than one gets to see enough of and dive into bold, often brash, styles.
The Chibhali Collection
Nida’s ode to Kashmir brought out her signature styles: the flared angarakhas, ornamental jackets, the floor length kurtas and they were all developed in a wonderful mesh of gold and silver created with kamdani, wasli and various other intricate techniques. While Nida’s silhouettes may remain loyal to her, it’s the detailing and the colours that she plays with that make her designs covetable. Shown on the last day of PLBW, this was undoubtedly the strongest collection of that day.
(Official PLBW photographs by Faisal Farooqui)