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24 Mar

Strike a deal, there’s nothing to it!

Fashion has historically collaborated with popular artistes, striking deals that have benefitted both, but in Pakistan this equation is a little too complicated for credit.
(Dawn Images, June 6 2010)

Pop icon Ali Zafar poses for the SS 2011 Stoneage campaign

We all love to talk about fashion but in reality, fashion exists in an elitist bubble that not many of us are privy to, especially not in Pakistan where the fashionable middle class is stripped to a minority. Fashion designers are still catering largely to the slim margin of elite society that can afford to splurge thousands on clothes. And there are only a few designers who are taking the leap of faith and jumping out of the limited pool into bigger, unknown terrain. These designers are the ones seeking a more credible identity. It would help if they had star power to ride up on but unfortunately there aren’t many popular icons around.

Fashion designers all over the world have historically collaborated with pop artistes, be they musicians or actors, for easy recognition. Vivienne Westwood is remembered by many as the first designer who commercialized her designs by association with London’s underground music scene. She created ‘anti-fashion’ punk styles for the Sex Pistols, Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant back in the early seventies. It was a relationship that benefitted both designer and pop star and eventually led to further associations like the infamous Madonna and Jean Paul Gaultier partnership in the nineties. Gaultier met Madonna when he was launching his cheaper, Junior Gaultier line for the youth and she became his ideal poster girl. When Madonna wore his conical corset on her Blond Ambition Tour she made headlines for the fashion statement while Gaultier got popular exposure like never before. International fashion’s favourite new phenomenon is Lady Gaga, well known for her brand of music as much as her unique sense of style. And she has endorsed like-minded designers like the quirky McQueen as well as the conservative Giorgio Armani. These are matches made in heaven.

As fashion gradually spreads its wings in Pakistan, one looks and hopes for similar catalysts but much to fashion’s disadvantage, there aren’t many when you go looking. Forget fashion, a soap that constructs campaigns around beautiful film stars has run out of icons (locally) to project as its new face of the year. Having used everyone from Babra, Reema and Meera in previous campaigns Lux has put up Katrina Kaif billboards, much to the disdain of locals. What is the alternative? In the absence of a lucrative film industry, there are no stars big enough to bank on.

It’s not like we have no stars at all. But strangely, our celebrities are on a trip of their own. Pakistan’s first pop icon Junaid Jamshed went down the religious route and started his own label. Atif Aslam chooses to wear only his brother Shahbaz Aslam’s clothes despite the fact that the older Aslam’s label never got big enough to cater to Atif’s mass following. Zeb and Haniya endorse the popular Ego brand in a smart marketing move but Hadiqa Kiyani has never really stepped up for anyone in a calculated campaign though she did make catwalk appearances for her friends Asifa & Nabeel and Huma Adnan (FnkAsia) at fashion weeks. Our other favourite celebrities, the cricketers for instance, are hardly style savvy. One cannot imagine Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Amir or even Shaoib Akhter model high-end or even high street fashion. Even Shahid Afridi is passable at best, a fact ostensible when comparing his current ads to Imran Khan’s advertisements of the eighties and nineties.

What’s happening in the absence of stylish stars is almost incestuous. The fashion industry is looking inward, labeling photographers, stylists, event managers, even designers as celebrities. It’s killing the purpose of branching out to a bigger market while creating a false illusion of fame for so many. The Ponds billboards are the best example; they feature Sana Safinaz, Tapu Javeri, HSY and Frieha Altaf as brand ambassadors. Meanwhile, the real ‘stars’ are looking at fashion as a next best money making option. Humayun Saeed, Aijazz Aslam, Shahid Afridi all have (or have had) boutiques of their own and even Hadiqa Kiyani is dabbling in styling on the side.

Out of the few designers who have managed to squeeze some star power into fashion are Deepak Perwani, who has done complete campaigns (and not just random shoots) with Junoon and Ali Azmat and Munib Nawaz who has endorsed almost all popular musicians. Actor and VJ Mahira Hafeez Khan is affiliated with Teejays, a collaboration that has made most sense for the popular appeal at both ends. But beyond these names, fashion’s marketing strategy has been lukewarm, inducing nothing more than a front page visual for the designer and perhaps a pat of publicity for the designer. It has hardly ever spiked sales or interest.

In fashion, the problem lies in the lack of star power as well as a lack of affordable product. This candle is burning from both ends. There are too few designers catering to the masses and in return, even fewer popular stars that come with even an ounce of style. This landscape is very arid.

True icons usually emerge from films and the film-fashion relationship has existed all over the world. In the west it has been subtle, a popular medium gently nudging a label into the limelight. We saw it with Audrey Hepburn popularizing Givenchy (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Nicole Kidman showing a red carpet association with Chanel, Sarah Jessica Parker breathing new life into Manolo Blahnik shoes and so forth.

India has taken it to another level altogether, making Bollywood the lifeline on which fashion thrives. Though Indian fashion is maturing with India’s huge middle class, it is designers like Manish Malhotra and Rocky S (who design wardrobes for films) that enjoy nationwide fame. Sabyasachi Mukherjee may have made it globally big when he showed at New York Fashion Week in 2006 but he had already won the heart of the Indian market when he designed Rani Mukherjee’s clothes for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black in 2005. It’s an equation that would have worked wonders for Pakistan, only there is no cine-blitz to rely on.

Our heir apparent is Shaan. He did recently make a celebrity appearance in a Carnival de Couture fashion show, but as he explained in an exclusive conversation with Images, “I wanted to support our designer because the platform also presents Indian designers who are always supported by their stars. Our crowds always support their stars but I wanted to prove a point that even if you don’t support us, we will work for a higher cause, which is Pakistan. The charity element was also there and I donated whatever I would normally charge to the Teachers’ Resource Centre.”

Other than Shaan we have Fawad Afzal Khan, made famous by rock band EP and more so by Khuda Kay Liye. There hasn’t been much to propel his fame post KKL though advertisers are milking him for all he’s worth. His association with fashion has been negligible. One also looks forward to upcoming projects that aim to revive the film industry. Once Juggun Kazim appears in all the films she has signed up for, she will be a bigger star. As will Ali Zafar, who will be making it much bigger once Tere Bin Laden releases worldwide. The same applies to Mahirah Khan, who is appearing alongside Atif Aslam in Shoaib Mansoor’s next film Bol. These are all stylish, savvy stars and should be harnessed and tied up in fashion collaborations once they hit the limelight!

The Haute Team