Can Pakistani designers make an impact on the world stage?
Pakistani craftsmanship certainly got a big thumbs-up from fashion insiders in Dubai this week at Sparkling Couture.
The event was part of Swarovski’s 120th anniversary celebrations, aiming to put the spotlight on Southeast Asian fashion. The upscale exhibition showcased 36 regional designers and nine accessory labels, placing them on a world-class platform.
The bling brigade
The fashion presentation encompassed a wide variety of regional fashion, ranging from 'modest wear', that is, abayas, to evening gowns and ethnic bridals. Designers used the brand’s crystals and pearls in a startling array of techniques.
The fashion standard generally ranged from the sublime to the ho-hum. Kuwaiti designer Ziad Antoun’s structured white pleated gown was a stunning piece of art, whereas none of the footwear brands managed to impress at all.
A personal favourite of mine was Indonesian designer Sebastian Gunawan. He placed multi-coloured crystals on a structured gown in a pattern than resembled cross-stitching.
From next door, JJ Valaya took a very different approach, focusing on impact rather than elaborate embroidery on his bridal offering. He showed a stunning pale lehenga embellished with crystal peacocks. This was offset by a stunning draped shimmery teal dupatta, worn over a spaghetti strap blouse.
Pakistan's strong foot forward
Six designers from Pakistan participated in the event, four of them flying in for the exhibition. Maria B, Elan by Khadijah Shah, Faraz Manan and Tena Durrani all showcased elaborately embroidered, modern ethnic bridals.
Designer Tena Durani elaborated on the thought process behind her design, "I wanted to showcase the Pakistani techniques that aren’t widely used abroad and give visitors a true sense of Pakistani bridal fashion."
“Showing in the ethnic bridal category, our creations are of course much more heavily embellished than any other category," she added.
Faraz Manan’s was perhaps the most striking, with an avant-garde bandage style blouse that acknowledged the fact that this was a celebration of fashion rather than a commercial bridal show.
While Tena chose to dispense with a dupatta to give her ensemble a more international feel, Khadijah Shah showed a very traditional silhouette, one that might actually be worn by a fashionable local bride.
“The outfit is a classic Elan jora – opulent and ethereal, with the sort of intricately worked dupatta an Elan bride would wear,” Khadija said to Images.
While it was intricately worked and very beautiful, the ensemble lacked impact on a dummy. The embroidery needed breaking up and the outfit would have worked better on a live model. Khadijah is more than capable of playing with structure and, in this sort of company, she needed to do so.
Maria B showed a relatively lighter piece that lacked some of the intricacy of workmanship that others displayed, but her outfit was not the disappointment that Sumeet Verma’s was. His pink outfit had neither the intricacy nor the originality to impress.
Neither Saira Shakira nor Fahad Hussayn were at the event but both contributed outfits. Saira Shakira’s chiffon and crochet lace creation was interesting enough, but it was Fahad Hussayn’s tunic that turned heads. His was undoubtedly the most talked about Pakistani offering, with both local and international visitors commenting on the beauty of his dramatic short tunic.
More than just razzle-dazzle
With its VIP guest list, mileage at an exclusive event like this is priceless. Swarovski is a brand with serious fashion credentials, working with most of the world’s top brands. They were the ones that created the “perfect pearl” for Coco Chanel, way back when she wasn’t a household name.
Andrew Mojica, MD of Swarovski Middle East, said, “We want to work with brands who are as passionate about fashion as we are. We work with all the leading couturiers and are at the forefront of trends, working with designers for coming seasons. While we work with the best brands in the fashion capitals of London, Paris, New York and Milan, this event has shown how vibrant fashion is in this part of the world too."
He went on, "We’ve seen some great work from Pakistan, and this year with PFDC, we launched colours that were previously not available. Our crystals are not only the most technically advanced in the world, we collaborate with designers to produce original material to enable them to execute their creative vision.”
Sparkling Couture wasn’t just about creating fashion fantasies and most of the designs have a market as the designers presenting generally already have a name in their home countries. Designers like Elan will undoubtedly sell many versions of their creation back in Pakistan. The same applies for labels from other countries.
Emirati designer Dar Sara showcased a slinky evening gown with a billowing, detachable bridal train. Encrusted with 600,000 crystals and priced at Dh245,000, the gown sold before the exhibition even began, with Swarovski aiming at up to ten more orders for the designer.
Whether these actually materialize or not, Sparkling Couture gave designers a platform for international recognition. It introduced them to fashion insiders from around the region, enabling networking and an exchange of ideas as well as giving them global press coverage. It’s the type of forum that our designers should fight tooth and nail to be part of, and one that hopefully will help our fashion industry grow and evolve.