By Aamna Haider Isani
The strongest bridge connecting Pakistan and India has been culture, which takes fashion, music, television, theatre, food and film under its wrap with the aim to promote a common point of interest. For years efforts have been made on both sides of the border, with India welcoming Pakistani actors and musicians in various realms of entertainment and Pakistan initiating collaborative events, especially those using fashion as the hook.
The Carnival de Couture, organized more than a decade ago in Karachi, comes to mind as one of the most high profile and successful annual galas that invited designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Manish Malhotra and Rohit Bal to Pakistan, alongwith superstars such as Shilpa Shetty, Arjun Rampal and Urmila Matondkar. India has been hosting events like Bridal Asia, attracting Pakistani designers as regular participants. It wouldnâ€™t be wrong to say that fashion has truly acted as a binding force.
So it isnâ€™t surprising that new platforms emerge every now and then, each one of them attempting to curate an exclusive set of ideas to generate good will and eventually, some sort of bilateral trade between the two countries. The latest to surface is Shaan e Pakistan, an event that began last year with its first program in Delhi.
Shaan-e-Pakistan is the brainchild of entrepreneur Huma Nassr, who runs her own boutique by the name of Braahti in Karachi and (with an Indian partner) in Delhi. She has been in the clothing business for over a decade and having a strong contact base both sides of the border, initiated this event in attempt to create good will as well as provide a platform for trade of ideas, music, food and fashion.The first edition was a three-day event, incorporating music from AmjadSabri, a culinary experience spearheaded by Chef Gulzar and finally, alongside an exhibition, a gala evening featuring a range of names from fashion including Ali Xeeshan, Zainab Chottani, Asifa Nabeel and Umar Sayeed.
This yearâ€™s show, titled â€˜KyaDilliKya Lahoreâ€™, is scheduled to take place in Lahore at the end of this month (March 20-22)and its programming is underway with Mai Dhai and Asrar performing alongside RekhaBharadwaj at the musical evening, ChefMujeeburRehman bringing flavours of India to Lahore and finally, fashion featuring names such as FahadHussayn, ZainabChottani from Pakistan, several successful Indiab brands such as JyotiSachdevIyer from India and Bibi Russell from Bangladesh.
Sitting down in an informal chat, HumaNassr explained the concept behind Shaan-e-Pakistan and where she planned to go with itâ€¦
Aamna Haider Isani: First of all, what is USP of Shaan-e-Pakistan?
Huma Nassr:I consider this platform different because itâ€™s not like a normal expo. We think of this as a high-end platform in which we associate with very high-end fashion designers. We have started with Pakistan and India as the core regions but we will definitely explore more regions and make this platform more global. What I want to emphasize is on the high-end nature of fashion we project because we want to show the very best of Pakistani fashion to the world.
AHI: That said, you barely have any high-end designers on your lineup this year.
HN:I always like to work out of the box and I want to give people a cutting edge platform. Umar Sayeed is definitely a guru but he must have started off somewhere. Now if we only focus on big names like Umar Sayeed and HSY then how will new, young and upcoming designers ever get a chance? We want to give new names a chance. These designers may be relatively unknown but we are fussy in selection and choose only 5 out of every 100 that apply. Iâ€™ll give the example of ZubiaMotiwala, for example, who we have accepted and who has a very refined product. When someone like her shows on a platform with big names then I feel I am giving her a great opportunity and this is my moral responsibility to do so.
AHI: Donâ€™t you feel that the term Shaan e Pakistan suggests at the very best of Pakistan and not people aiming to be the best?
HN:Â Both, I want both. My first aim would be taking names like Nomi Ansari, HSY and Umar Sayeedâ€¦they have no doubt done a lot of work and they are gurus. If I bring newcomers to show alongside these people then the upcoming get a chance to grow and thatâ€™s what I aim to do.
AHI: Can you share some names that you feel have potential to be the next big things if given a chanceâ€¦
HN: Thereâ€™s Jyoti Sachdev, whoâ€™s a very big name in India. Then thereâ€™s Prasad Buddhapa, whoâ€™s an established choreographer and works in the craft industry. He has roped many interesting names in, in fact Bibi Russell is coming because of him and she knows me personally as well.
AHI: Itâ€™s exciting that Bibi Russell is coming to Pakistan again. Will she only exhibit or will her product be available at the exhibition as well?
HN:She can if she wants to but I feel that the big designers are not always interested in sales. They have a vision to promote their brand and thatâ€™s what they do. But weâ€™ve invited a lot of exhibitors from India and when they put up stalls alongside Pakistani exhibitors then everyone will get the exposure. Itâ€™s a win-win situation. Secondly, there is a lot of in-house buying. The exhibitors barter amongst themselves.
AHI: What is your long-term plan for Shaan-e-Pakistan?
HN:Â I want to do at least two shows a year, one in Pakistan and one In India. We want to be consistent so people can maximize the imprint they make. I myself am a fashionistic person and I would want the right people to associate with me. I donâ€™t claim to be a council or a trade body; I canâ€™t do what they do. But I have immense respect for them and I would want the councils to support us. I would want Sehyr Saigol and Maheen Khan to come to our event and support it. We begin with music on day one and the music is enjoyed alongside a feast of good food. Last time we took Chef Gulzar to India and this time we have invited Chef Mujibur Rehman from India to Lahore and I want to create a food walk. Our exhibition opens on day two and our fashion event on day three will be very high end, with designers from Pakistan, designers from India and a tinge from Bangladesh. Weâ€™ll have strong celebrity presence as well; Zeenat Aman is coming from India and weâ€™re trying to get Babra Sharif to come from Pakistan.
AHI: Your music content certainly is quite strong. The last event featured Amjad Sabri and this season you have Rekha Bhardwaj from India alongside Mai Dhai and Asrar.
HN:Yes, I actually have a passion for music. Rekha Bhardwaj has a very unique voice, as do Asrar and Mai Dhai. Theyâ€™ll gel very well. We need voices whoâ€™ll stir the audience, as this is not a concert but a musical evening, which we term, â€˜Ek Sham Dosti ke Naamâ€™.
AHI: This is quite an ambitious plan; who finances it?
HN:I finance it personally; Iâ€™ve put in a lot of money to create this brand. Of course, designers onboard also pay a participation fee. Last time my brand, Braahti, was a major sponsor and we had several commercial sponsors, like Pakola that represented the â€˜greenâ€™ drink in India. This time we have been blessed with support from Lux. We must be doing something right for a brand as significant as Lux to come onboard. I am confident that by the next season we will be even bigger.
HumaNassr does come across as a woman with her heart in the right place. The branding for Shaan-e-Pakistan is indeed quite slick and she has the resources to ensure that the event grow with time. Huma shared that her visas (itâ€™s always a nightmare to arrange for foreigners, especially Indian delegates) are already sorted and logistics are in place according to plan. This has the intention and potential to go places. The weakest link, however, is the fashion quotient. I just found out that HSY and Nida Azwer have been added to the lineup (and I do hope the event will manage to include more) but there are mostly mid-level retailers and the event doesnâ€™t reflect the high-end standard that Nassr hopes it to be seen as. The music selection is the very best but Shaan-e-Pakistan must also bring onboard designers that are reflective of the grandeur that the event suggests.