In its seventh season, the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week manages to demarcate designers who are valid and those who are a waste of time.
(Originally published in Dawn Images on April 20, 2014. This is the unedited version)
The overall scale of the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week (PSFW) today has the vibe and drive of a serious platform revolving around the business of fashion. In just seven seasons it has grown exponentially, from its debut as a socially hyped event in 2010 – enhanced by sizzling star power, gimmickry and everything but relevant content – to the current four day lineup that focuses on nothing but strong and streamlined fashion. Out of the 38 collections featured at PSFW last week, at least 25 were designed and projected for serious business and that speaks volumes on how the platform is being perceived today.
“Fashion week is very important for the creative process and it’s important that designers show, whether in Karachi or Lahore,” Shamoom Sultan spoke to Dawn Images after his successful show. “It may not impact businesses directly right now but the platform is growing and that evolution is inevitable.”
Maria B, with her numerous nationwide stores, distribution in India and exports to UAE, UK and USA, is another designer who thinks in numbers. The collection she showed – a tribute to her Kashmiri lineage – was her strongest collection to date and she confirmed that production would be in time for Ramzan and Eid, the busiest season for designers. Speaking further on quantifying fashion week, Maria explained that the 30 garments in her collection would be reproduced at an average of 800 (per cotton design) and 250 units (per silk suit) and retailed at approximately 2000 and 5900 rupees respectively. It cost Maria around two lakhs to make this collection. Add the one-lakh participation fee and do the math to understand the potential this equation has.
“When I design for fashion week, I want to be able to produce for masses, not just a hundred people,” Maria B shared. “Every designer has his or her own identity but I think in terms of retail and ready to wear. That said, fashion week is great for marketing and also the way it nudges you to think out of the box. It pulls you back and pushes you to experiment and think. That’s important.”
Other designers who upheld the validity of fashion week by showing innovative yet viable collections were Karma, Sania Maskatiya, Deepak Perwani, Nida Azwer, Zara Shahjehan and Body Focus Museum. Karma’s take on Rajasthan offered trussed up cottons, ideal for summer weddings. Sania Maskatiya’s Kuamka found inspiration for this season’s prints and patterns in Africa. Deepak Perwani, inspired by women of the world, showed a variety of silhouettes inspired by Paris, New York and London. Nida Azwer’s Urban Jungle was an interpretation of wild animal prints on a very chic, subliminal palette. Zara Shahjehan made creepy crawlies covetable. And Body Focus Museum, with Iman Ahmed’s sophisticated display of deconstruction, was absolutely brilliant. There’s reassurance in the fact that all these collections will be as accessible as they were impressive.
For luxury wear designers, fashion week has instant results. “Fashion week does directly endorse sales,” said Shehla Chatoor, who showed her glamorous luxury pret in Lahore for the second consecutive year. “Initially I may have been restricted to Karachi but this platform has been great for publicity and expansion in Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad.” Shehla Chatoor’s designs do find their way to red carpets, parties and weddings all year round but that said, it would be ideal if she started retailing ready to wear versions of what she designs. The beautiful jewellery and accessory line that she launched, at least, should immediately be made available.
There really is no point in showing at fashion week if you don’t have a business model, which is why collections that don’t fall into stores make their brands redundant. Elan’s ready to wear or luxury pret – no matter how glitzy to look at – seldom makes an appearance beyond the catwalk, barring the few friends and family members who endorse the elite label. Akif Mahmood, albeit very talented, is another example of a firebrand that has failed to launch effectively. Mohsin Ali was lucky to collaborate with Libas for his innovative pastel collection but then how far will this collaboration take him?
Ali Xeeshan, one feels, is the PFDC’s biggest success story. From his runway debut in 2010, when his first collection made it to the cover of Libas, the young and quirky designer has been growing from strength to strength. Overcoming initial obstacles, he now has a studio in Lahore, a flagship store in Karachi and a massive production unit.
“I started with one room and a couple of workers in 2010,” Ali explains his path to success. “And today I have a three storey plaza with workers trained for specific tasks and crafts. I would say a new designer needs 15 to 20 lakhs plus unlimited hard work to succeed.” Ali has endless supplies of that and following in his footsteps is Arsalan Iqbal, who successfully debuted at PSFW last week, just days after inaugurating his retail outlet in Lahore.
Unfortunately not everyone has the same level of commitment. Mini Bindra, the Indian buyer who sources labels from Pakistan for the PFDC Boulevard in Delhi (also a by-product of fashion week), has had a tough time stocking Pakistani brands.
“The platform is great but it’s up to the designers to make proper use of it,” she spoke from her experience. “What they show and sell is very different and what they take orders on and send is also very different. I came to PFDC for Pakistani fashion not western; there is enough western in India. But the biggest problems I face are with garment construction, quality and deliveries. Who would want a garment four months after its promised delivery date? Of all the brands, I love doing business with Karma because they are committed. Mrs Saigol is committed. Sania Maskatiya and Umair are excellent. If I promise someone a kurta delivery in 48 hours they make sure it happens. I don’t want to name anyone else.”
Undeniably, the PFDC has put up a consistent and strong platform for the benefit of designers. For a participation fee of just one hundred thousand rupees (a fraction of what a solo show would cost), designers are given an opportunity to regularize their creativity, market their brands and kick start retail for six months, if not the year. It’s a platform that puts approximately 30 million rupees (according to sources) into the economy, directly fuelling livelihoods of hundreds of people involved. Models alone earn an average of 50,000 per day. From flights, hotels, food and beverages to lights, sets, backstage management, hair and makeup and much, much more, the rigmarole of fashion week makes it an extremely important forum. One can only hope that designers taking it casually, or those not showing at all, wake up to the opportunity they are wasting.
Notable notes at PSFW
The grandest finale: Impressive on the runway this year was HSY, whose collection Sher – worked in collaboration with the Anjuman-e-Khuddam-e-Rasul Allah (AKRA) in Shergarh, Okara, and crafted by women of the district to empower and educate children (especially girls) through poverty alleviation – had symbolic strength. It was a grand finale that struck the right (patriotic) cord.
Political impresario: Hina Butt, who debuted with a forgettable collection several seasons ago, made a PSFW comeback with a more poignant agenda. Now an MPA, her involvement and interest in fashion promises of collaborations between designers and craftsmen in rural areas.
Hair, makeup and model management: an unprecedented reserve of over 50 models were engaged for fashion week this year, cast in two pools for quick and easy turnover between shows. Nabila and her creative team flawlessly executed the looks for all four days, developing hair and makeup trends that are just as integral to fashion week as trends in clothing.
High Street shows: Swapping three days of lawn with high street ready to wear clothing was a great idea and added to fashion week’s business agenda. While lawn rings the till like no one’s business, it is not fashion until styled. Brands like Kayseria, MK Nation, Generation, Bareeze Man and Gul Ahmed impressed while Coco, Bonanza and Working Woman were missed.
Strong debuts: Saira Shakira, made a very impressive entry with a harlequin inspired collection, which was actually better than some of the tired veterans that we’ve seen (and would preferably not see again) over the years. Speaking of debutantes, the Alfalah Bank Rising Talent show presented a great initiative in sponsoring young talent. Of all four capsules shown, Seher Tareen and Amina Malik were most exciting. They both showed maturity and aesthetic in their themes and it’ll be interesting to see who wins the award.
All photographs by Faisal Farooqui @ Dragonfly