Claimer: None of these events are fictitious and a resemblance to any person – dead or alive – is absolutely intentional. However, let children be warned that lawn exhibitions are attended by professional fashion followers and in no way should minors be brought into the style arena. This is not entertainment; this is serious business!
I drove past The Imperial at precisely eight thirty on Saturday morning, March 20, the day Sana and Safinaz’s lawn exhibition was to begin. There was another hour or so for the gates to open but women and wallets (meaning men) had started assembling outside, facing the big wooden gates like a crop of sunflowers leaning towards the sun. Talking about the sun, it was hot, the temperature slowly rising to set record as one of the hottest day (yet) of the season. But nothing could have dissuaded these determined buyers from making their essential purchases.
I wasn’t there to witness the gates’ grand opening at ten, but I made way (with great difficulty given the traffic jam and human wall outside) to the red carpet that very evening to hear tales of the flood waters that had passed. Ten thousand joras had been sold in the very first hour, and to buy them, hundreds of women had poured in with the determination of a herd of oxen. They had brought down security barriers, one had assaulted a guard with a water bottle and another had even slapped ground personnel. Pushes and shoves were the norm; thank God the stampedes fell a little short of life threatening. No one died, but I did hear ambulance sirens outside…possibly for the women fainting of lawn dehydration caused by sold out styles.
“This year we’re not expecting the same kind of response we got last year,” a delightfully humble Safinaz had told me a day before the opening. You see, that’s the difference between class and crass: women (or men) with class will never blow their own trumpet no matter how successful they are. Sana and Sanfinaz are the most successful fashion designers in Pakistan – by every barometer of the word – and yet they shy away from shouting it from rooftops.
Safinaz was right when she said this year wouldn’t be the same as last year. It was better. Twelve prints in two colour-ways each were produced in a bulk of 60,000 joras to be sold over three days. A board was put up after the second, thanking the patrons and declaring the exhibition officially ‘SOLD OUT’. Saturday and Sunday had gotten the proverbial HOUSE FULL response.
So what exactly is it about Sana Safinaz that send women in a euphoric, manic spin cycle? It really is like a feeding frenzy for starving sharks. Skeptics (most of whom are those who didn’t manage to get their hands on anything) are of the opinion that it is just women behaving in herd mentality – bhed chaal, as they say in Urdu.
I think that theory is pure hogwash. In this time of economic recession, when the price of sugar and wheat is climbing by the minute, not many women can afford to pump out 2850 rupees per jora ONLY to satisfy a whim. We’re talking about the middle class masses here, not the elite. True, fashion followers and victims do tend to fall prey to the herd mentality theory but I think it is a deeper satisfaction most of them are after. It is the (guilty) pleasure that only clothes can bring home. It is the absolute bliss of self-indulgence and retail therapy. As someone with a passion for fashion, I can vouch for the fact that nothing brushes away the blues like the perfect outfit. Fashion is like Prozac for the style conscious. And I’m proud to say that describes so many Pakistani women, on so many different social levels.
No matter how bad times are, women will be women, and they will keep their eyebrows well-plucked, their nails painted and their hair dyed. While men are thinking mangoes, women will think of their summer wardrobe as the most important part of summer. What designer lawn has done is help these women feed a fantasy of buying high-end fashion. Not many can afford to buy an 18,000 rupee Sana Safinaz outfit, but many of them can derive equal pleasure in picking up a Sana Safinaz lawn jora for one-sixth the price.
And what these designers have done is redefine the three-piece jora. It is no longer a three-piece jigsaw puzzle of mind numbing colours that can only be worn together. Their joras came in packets of treats and surprises: a chiffon dupatta that can change into a shirt, a shirt that can be worn as a flaired kurta thanks to extra fabric provided, patches of different prints and patterns for design experimentation and even embroidered necklines and hemlines to spruce a basic lawn into something more formal. A treat indeed; no wonder women were behaving like starving children in a candy store. For the price – and I will be taken to task for saying so – Sana Safinaz lawn was free.
The madness that followed was explicable, one empathizes, but it needs to evolve into a more methodological chain of supply and demand. Women who had spent hours and hours at the exhibition without managing to purchase anything left absolutely shattered. Not fair. Many of them had traveled across town with bundles of cash (I saw a woman wearing burqa pull out a swad of fifty thousand), risking their lives on the name of fashion. I salute them.
But I also think that organizers need to predict this kind of hysteria and plan the event better. The exhibition should open at several different venues simultaneously. Joras should be bar coded and the confusing four-step process should be eliminated. The supply should be constant and instead of restocking every day (inconveniently telling women to come back if they wanted a particular print), they should just sell and put up a SOLD OUT sign once all stock is gone. All these measures were being discussed and we were assured that they would be implemented next year.
So hold your breathe, ladies, and save up for next year. There is no crime too serious in the name of fashion. If you have nudged, elbowed, abused or even slapped your way in then you are justified in doing so. It reflects well on the great demand for SS lawn, but that said, it doesn’t reflect very well on you.
Photographs provided by Catwalk