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24 Mar

A fashion week for Lahore

(Dawn Feb 2010)

Though not the first, it has to be said that the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week was the most organized Pakistan has seen so far.

The graceful Iman Ahmad of Body Focus takes a bow at the debut PFDC & Sunsilk Fashion Week in Lahore. She has not shown since.


As a trade event, the fashion week held in Lahore last week had its vital statistics in place: there were buyers in the front rows and a hustle bustle of media all over the place. The four-days scheduled 32 collections – some great and some atrocious – with the sole purpose of generating business and building a professional profile for Pakistan’s fashion industry, something only fashion weeks can do.

But first things first. Contrary to what was repeatedly announced, this was not Pakistan’s first fashion week and the Pakistan Fashion Design Council is not Pakistan’s only fashion council. The first, Karachi Fashion Week – an event that one would rather forget ever happened – took place in Karachi in 2007 and it was government supported too. KFW returned to haunt fashion last month. The second, however, won Karachi over as Fashion Pakistan Week (under the aegis of Pakistan’s other fashion council) last year in November. Therefore this one was only the next in an exhausting series, though the first in Lahore.

It must be said that it was the most organized Pakistan has seen so far.

Hosted at the lush Royal Palm Country Club in the heart of the city, fashion week featured all the right spaces: a smart marquee featuring a straight white ramp and photographer’s pit, a VIP Lounge for buyers and select members of the press, a registration booth and media centre for everyone. The swanky Palmer’s Café came alive after hours for post show parties and an entire food and beverage kiosk was set up for service during show time.

Though all these units were inconveniently spaced out, one believes it is merely a matter of time and finances that an area exclusive to fashion week can be developed. It just needs to keep happening consistently, which it will thanks to the two-year contract PSFD has signed with Unilever. And while it does evolve, the golf buggies at hand were a good enough alternative to covering the area. Also, while collections were displayed a day later at the PFDC Boulevard, they must instead be featured at the venue as stalls for the buyers’ and media’s convenience.

Event logistics, follow up and back end work and administration – managed fabulously by Catwalk, Lotus PR and members of the PFDC and Unilever – can only help facilitate an already sailing ship. And as that ship, a fashion week can sail only on the steam set off by designers and their collections.

Out of the 32 collections shown, the ones with incredible energy were Kamiar Rokni, Body Focus, Sublime, Khaadi, Nomi Ansari, Ammar Belal and Sadaf Malaterre. Feeha Jamshed’s collection was brilliant had it not been so similar to what she had shown at Fashion Pakistan Week last November. The similarities diluted the impact. Following closely were Tazeen Hasan, YBQ, Yahsir Waheed. Together they were a multi-facted, diverse face of Pakistani fashion. Priceless.

In the immensely popular bridal ‘couture’ pool, Elan was refreshingly eye catching whereas HSY, Rehana Saigol, Asifa & Nabeel, Nida Azwer and Nickie Nina found their own niche following (That doesn’t mean they were all critically sound collections). It must be explained that while bridal couture has always been disregarded as a thing of studios and not catwalks, when you have buyers flying in from Dubai, there will be a market for bridals and that should be catered to. The criteria for impressive bridals, however, stand similar to those for ready to wear. It involves aesthetically sound, well-finished pieces that ideally tweak tradition one way or the other. Around ten labels, a rung of wannabe couturiers feeding off popular original designs, were a complete waste of time. Given approximately twenty minutes per show, that was three hours and twenty minutes down the drain. And that’s exactly why the showings must be streamlined and spaced out, held with intervals for better designer-buyer-media interaction. Pret must be separated from couture and all collections must have consistent time slots. One saw a bit of favouritism playing out in the selection of show openers, finales, designers who got to open with extended audio-visual advertorials etc.

The remaining four designers – Ali Xeeshan, Muse, Rouge, Saai – had hits and misses but a hint of emancipation and while students of the PIFD displayed a coherent design sensibility, those of AIFD walked on an equally confused path.

Technically almost all collections, with the exception of the super eight, were flawed in one way or the other. But acknowledging the fact that this was Lahore’s first fashion week one will avoid getting under the seams of things. It’s the bigger picture of everything Pakistani fashion is capable of that was impressive.

Karachi versus Lahore: the million-dollar question!

The inevitable question on everyone’s mind after the PSFD & Sunsilk fashion week was this: Which fashion week was better? Unfortunately there is no singular answer.

How does one evaluate opulence versus elegance, discipline versus design? They are all integral to the success of a fashion week. While Lahore had the resources to give its event wings to fly (which it did) Karachi had the design sophistication to give fashion a backbone. That is equally, if not more important because though Karachi can improve its event with time, Lahori designers will find it difficult to improve their designs. Designers who have been creating rubbish for decades are not suddenly going to morph overnight.

Lahore’s strength, it must be said, is dictated by one woman: Sehyr Saigol. Take her out of the equation and there probably wouldn’t be a PFDC or a PFDC fashion week. Saigol’s clout pulled in the sponsors and she had the vision to put Catwalk and Lotus PR in places of strategic relevance. But she was in the control seat all the time. Many people have vouched for the fact nothing, not even the colour of the curtains, was approved without her consent. It was a one woman-show. She pulled it off so hip, hip hurray but the flip side is that had there been no Sehyr Saigol, there also wouldn’t have been a second council. It’s a classic catch 22. Without Sehyr, HSY certainly would be able to pull the council ahead, but not for very long. Fashion is inhospitable terrain and even a smooth operator like HSY would find himself up against anti-elements. No one in Lahore dares to go up against Saigol and that is the power one needed to pull this off.

The answer to everything now is an urgent need for one fashion week: a Pakistan Fashion Week instead of the tongue twisters these councils are coming up with. One fashion week will be able to profile Pakistan as a country that creates diverse fashion and this current divisiveness only creates loopholes. Foreign observers in Lahore don’t know who Deepak Perwani, Rizwan Beyg, Maheen Khan, Sonya Battla, Ismail Farid, Ather Hafeez or Nilofer Shahid are and those who make it to Karachi will miss out on Kamiar Rokni, Sublime and Body Focus amongst others. Add Lahore’s best to Karachi’s best and you have an eye-popping line up. Who’ll bring Karachi and Lahore together is anyone’s guess but there are several power players who are expected to intervene.

As for now, the foreign press will be interested in Pakistani fashion as long as the Taliban angle applies. It’s a stereotype but it has also raked out the publicity. These stories and this interest will fizzle out unless the fashion industry grows strong enough to sustain itself. The strength is in numbers. They have to add up.

The highs and horrors of fashion week

High: Front rows were labeled for buyers, members of the press, PFDC VIPs and of course, sponsors and the shows were all seemingly well organized and on schedule.
Horror: An unsightly and exhausting string of advertisements that continuously featured between showings had fashion week appear more like the nine o clock news on TV. They should have been edited out.
High: The venue was smashing, especially the VIP Lounge that featured high-end branded furniture (Versace, Kenzo, Fendi) as well as a custom made cocktail/sushi piano bar designed by Hamza Tarar himself.
Horror: Domestic electronic appliances including washing machines, microwave ovens and refridgerators on the red carpet, a very in-your-face approach, were too much of an eyesore to pass off as tasteful branding. It was more like the red carpet to Neelam Ghar not fashion week!
High: Designers had gone into the finer details of showing at fashion week and had invested in look books, brochures and customized gift bags for the media and buyers. Very plush!
Horror: While conceptual boundaries can be stretched to define fashion, what no buyer or critic will overlook is shoddiness. Flyaway threads, breakaway beads, badly tailored fits, slipping straps (and in some cases, precariously perched corsets) and visible plastic undies just break the impact of any outfit. And while we’re on the subject of perfecting the finish, can all designers putting their models in skirts please provide pantyhose?
High: Pakistan will come up with a unique format of creating hype at fashion weeks, and in Lahore that hype came from musicians, Lahore’s answer to Bollywood. Three of the strongest celebrity appearances were by Hadiqa Kiani (for Asifa & Nabeel), Strings (for Saai) and Ali Zafar for HSY.
Horror: As far as celebrity appearances go, some were horribly mundane and didn’t even qualify as ‘celebrities’. Do the maths (and the art) and figure out who they all were!
High: The PFDC’s first order came in as a milestone: HSY proudly announced that PSFD labels will be stocking at 42 Hang Ten outlets nationwide very soon and that Carma India had placed an order of 100 outfits from 5 different designers.

Who said what at fashion week…

“It’s the first fashion week for me in Pakistan and a great start. Even in India fashion weeks started as a social event and then gradually became more trade oriented. That needs to happen in Pakistan and it will, with time. As for the collections, I think the USP of an Indian or Pakistani designer is clinging onto the craft of the region and Kamiar Rokni had a great collection in terms of finish and the local accents of ajrak. There were several issues that need to be addressed – streamlining collections, cue sheets for buyers and media, stalls – but apart from the technical snags it was a good start.” - Irum Mirza, CNN-IBN, India

“It was great to come to Pakistan and see Pakistani fashion as we never get to see so much in Dubai. I liked Khadija Shah (Elan), Asifa & Nabeel, Kamiar Rokni and of course, Hassan (HSY) is already there at Studio 8. Body Focus’ fashion week collection was black and white but when I went to the PFDC store and saw the rest of their clothes I loved them. We’re interested in taking what women would wear in Dubai. I am dedicating an entire room in Studio 8 (which stocks Indian designers) for Pakistani designers and plan on taking these labels there.” – Sarah Belhasa, buyer for Studio 8, Dubai

“I think Pakistan is a cut above Indian fashion; Sana Safinaz are always a sell-out within half an hour of coming into our store. Here, Nomi Ansari’s collection was brilliant. It did seem inspired by Manish Arora’s Fish Fry label at first but then it evolved with a life of its own. We are very interested.” – Nader Mohammed Sharif, buyer for Designers Lounge, Dubai

“This was all so beautiful that I don’t believe this was Pakistan and Lahore. This happened for the first time and defies the western concept that Pakistan is a terrorist country. I am proud to be a Pakistani and will always support my country.” – Mahmood Bhatti, Pakistani designer, Paris

“This will generate a lot of business even for us at Casa Hamza as there’s so much traffic and everyone’s been appreciating our work.” – Hamza Tarar, owner Casa Hamza and creator of the VIP Lounge at fashion week

“The only people I have really liked are Kamiar Rokni and Feeha Jamshed. I have met them and look forward to doing business with them. I hope trade opens between both countries but if it doesn’t then we will have to figure out some way to work together. We can do business and I hope that governments help facilitate this. That said, I do feel that a lot of designers need to move out of the time warp and beyond what they were designing ten years ago.” – Shagun, buyer from Ogaan India

“This is going to be a learning curve as it was in India. Some of the collections were great but some were god-awful. What can they do to improve? Not show us ads between collections! I felt like we were watching a TV show. It will get better and some designers are terribly talented: Sadaf Malaterre, Feeha, Kamiar Rokni. My question is that can the designers making beautiful traditional clothes evolve and streamline into what the world can relate to? I feel that fashion in Lahore right now is a bit self-indulgent and whatever certain designers made was put up. It needs to be tightened.” – Hindol Sengupta, author Indian Fashion and Ramp Up

“My advice to Pakistani designers would be not to try doing Parisian as we get enough of that in Paris. What we want to see is a sensibility of the Pakistani culture.” – Michelle Stockman, Videographer AFP

“I’ve been to Indian fashion weeks and while India is edging towards complete western design, I loved that Pakistan had more indigenous elements to show. It will be important to retain them to keep the world interested.” – Mary Bowers, The Times, UK

– quoted to Aamna Haider Isani


The Haute Team

This article is written by one of our competent team members.