Something Haute looks over the rising number of ‘Pakistan Fashion Weeks’ held around the world and whether they do justice to the title.
By Maliha Rehman
Pakistani fashion is at an interesting turn point. Designers are striving to push boundaries, fashion weeks are wielding heavy doses of glamour and there is consistent critique directed towards improving standards and promoting originality. And yet, there is a multitude of ‘Pakistan Fashion Weeks’ unfurling about the world that hardly have similar ambitions.
‘Pakistan Fashion Week’: an official-sounding name for events that are hardly as illustrious. In recent times, PFW’s have made appearances in Dubai, Doha and most significantly, in London, where the events have featured consistently for the past four years.
With Adnan Ansari of Riwayat at its helm, PFW London has sporadically boasted some exciting designer names. Deepak Perwani, Maheen Khan, Ayesha Hashwani, Zaheer Abbas, Maria B., Zainab Chottani and Sonya Battla have all been part of its designer line-ups. Among these, only Sonya Battla continues to be a mainstay.
“I haven’t been part of the last two seasons of PFW London because it wasn’t generating any business for me,” explains Zaheer Abbas. “The production standards have gone down and with tickets being sold at £10 apiece, the audience hardly consists of London’s crème de la crème. It just isn’t the market that my brand caters to and I am not interested in serving as entertainment to an expat desi crowd.”
Despite these rather bitter assertions, PFW London continues to attract a bevy of local ateliers. And amidst a range of not-very-well-known, lackluster designer names, this October’s line-up also included promising new designers Saira Shakira, Islamabad’s Sobia Nazir and regular Sonya Battla. Handling hair and make-up was Nabila’s enterprising N-Pro team. What draws this lot of successful Pakistani fashion entrepreneurs to London’s PFW?
Consistency is the key
Credit has to be given to PFW-L for being very consistent, ever since its inception. The same, in fact, can hardly be said of certain local fashion weeks that frequently postpone dates and even skip seasons. “PFW London is a privately run, business-oriented trade event and with this in mind, consistency has been one of our main objectives,” claims organizer Adnan Ansari. “This time, we also refrained from using a small-scale venue, opting to hold the show at the Central Hall Westminster.”
It is a dubious matter of opinion whether PFW-L’s most recent location or even its previous venues – hotels dotted about London – are really as prestigious as Adnan professes them to be. Much more impressive than the venues are some of the supporters the event has managed to win over.
“I have come on board PFW-L this season simply because I have observed Adnan struggle singlehandedly to make something out of it,” says stylist Nabila. “I found him very professional to work with, the venue was very good and I want to help him build his brand. Internationally, the perception of Pakistani fashion is of bling-infested, untidy ‘Anarkali-market’-like creations. I want to help by teaching the world better. PFW London suffers because most top-tier designers don’t put their faith in it. I hope my involvement with the event will encourage others to follow suit, so that we can project the right identity of Pakistan to the world.”
Sonya Battla, certainly a designer whose constant participation in PFW London somewhat redeems the event’s content, observes, “PFW London serves as a valuable platform as I try to gain a footing in a new market. I don’t care if I am showing alongside relatively newer, less established names. As long as I am able to showcase my designs and follow it up with a successful exhibition, that’s all that matters.”
Similarly, Secretary of the Trade Development Authority Pakistan (TDAP), Rabiya Javeri Agha, who attended PFW-L earlier this January as a Chief Guest, says, “While we are not supporting PFW in any way financially, we do acknowledge the work that they are doing in promoting Pakistani fashion in the UK.”
But is this the Pakistani fashion that we want to present to the UK, and the world in general? Designer Deepak Perwani says it doesn’t matter, as long as sales are generated. “It boils down to business and they are definitely generating profits for some of their participating designers. Besides, how many recent fashion weeks within Pakistan have presented cutting-edge, exciting fashion? Mediocrity prevails often at even our local council-lead fashion weeks – why pinpoint just PFW London?”
‘Pakistan’ on the line
Deepak makes a valid point and local events certainly do need to get streamlined. But given the promising recent growth of Pakistani fashion and the country’s murky global image, isn’t it all the more important to put our best foot forward internationally? Adnan Ansari can be applauded for regularly providing trade opportunities to local designers and when crowds buy tickets for an event, it means that they come with the intention of buying. Must this be done, though, with a name as official as ‘Pakistan Fashion Week’?
This conundrum prevails in the case of other countries too: there are ‘India Fashion Weeks’ dotted about the diaspora and the occasional ‘Bangladesh Fashion Week’ pops up on the online media feed. Regardless, why should Pakistan’s name not warrant a credible, scintillating platform for fashion?
Maheen Khan, also an earlier participant at PFW-L, weighs the pros and cons of generating business and maintaining standards. “I understand that when designers undertake the effort and expense to participate in a show abroad, they take clothes that can sell. It’s why more typical designs dominate PFW-L rather than exciting ones. This is fine but now that they have reached some semblance of organization, Riwayat needs to work out some system that raises the bar at PFW-L.”
Perhaps offering free slots to entice established designer names could improve the line-up. Another option could be collaborating with local councils.
“The name of PFW is registered with the UK government and I feel that we’re doing it justice. We’re constantly providing a trade avenue to new Pakistani designers and our event gets attended by mainstream international media and enthusiastic buyers,” says Adnan Ansari.
These are manifestly glorified claims – one sees very little coverage of PFW-L in credible international publications – and Adnan needs to begin backing his claims with concrete measures. As Maheen Khan puts it, “When the country’s name is involved in an event, it has to be taken seriously.”
– Photographs by Shahid Malik