Bling, bling! The sequins rustle down the runway, twinkling amidst flora and fauna, running down the length of shirts and lowers, razzling dazzling… or blindingly boring.
Bridal fashion isn’t always truly ‘fashion’. The local market for wedding-wear is extensive with lucrative potential but it is also one that tends to shy away from the spectacular. Customers have a penchant for traditionally ‘pretty’ – though forgettable clothes – and designers rein in their creativity and happily haul in profits.
This means that fashion weeks dedicated to bridal fashion can easily slump towards the utterly mundane. With the focus so ostensibly on conventional design, the shows can drone on in an exhausting lineup of clothes that all look the same. There are, however, a valiant few within the fashion fraternity who stand apart, a rare breed that dabbles with colour, craft, technique and silhouette and manage to set a trend or two.
Fortunately, the first day of the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week (PLBW) featured the work of some veteran designers while simultaneously introducing some promising new ones. The shows started late and appallingly ended well beyond midnight and even as exhaustion settled in, it was undeniable that some great collections had saved the day…
What would a Nomi Ansari collection be without colour, splayed out on a canvas of immaculately constructed silhouettes, romantically sprinkled with twinkling sequins?
One looks forward to the designer’s fashion week trysts for it’s a chance to simply sit back and be transported into his quintessential kaleidoscopia, crafted with such evident love.
His ‘Maya’ was the first show at PLBW this year and one after the other, the clothes streamed out, spinning out variations of the color wheel: floral embroideries in multicolors, gold on gold handwork, fuschia embellishments over a brilliant red. The fitted cholis paired with voluminous lehngas were followed by trailing Dhaka pajamas, sleek cigarette pants and culottes with some sleek menswear complementing the clothes.
These are, of course, silhouettes that tend to dominate every show by Nomi Ansari and his critics often coin them as ‘predictable’. But how can one deny that Nomi is an expert at crafting these silhouettes or that he, unlike so many of his peers, can take a conventional, easy-to-wear silhouette and transform it into something utterly magical?
Actress Maya Ali walked out as the celebrity showstopper but this show didn’t really need any star power at all.
Having seen Hussain Rehar’s luxury-wear, one knew that the young designer likes to walk off the beaten track. It was very brave of him to continue to do so with his debut bridal line especially since taking the safer route tends to result in more profits.
It was his individuality that made his PLBW collection, inspired by tribal elements, stand out. Hopefully, it will also attract actual clients for Hussain – rather than just the slew of celebrities that are perpetually seen borrowing and wearing his clothes.
As debuts go, this was a good one. Hussain worked romantic floral prints with bead embroideries, placing them intelligently rather than merely sprinkling them all over the fabric. Tassels and sequins dangled down hemlines and backs and shirt lengths varied from floor lengths to just above the thighs, masquerading as highly embellished short dresses that would have fared better had they been paired with fitted pants.
There was a perceptible leaning towards the risque: a halter necked sari with just an embellished border, a bare-backed choli criss-crossed at the back, a cut-worked, embroidered short blouse paired with a lehnga, revealing a sliver of toned midriff.
As far as wedding-wear goes, it was minimal and well-conceived. What truly could have made this collection better was the finishing. Hussain’s take on fashion is refreshing but he could become truly impressive should he work on cleaner cuts and neater embroideries.
Watching Rema & Shehrbano’s catwalk debut, one was reminded of how fast this young brand has grown, having started off with retailing their luxury-wear via astute advertising followed by trunk shows and then opening up their own store in Lahore.
This eye for commerce was visible in ‘Sophia’ that traversed an aesthetically pleasing palette and wearable silhouettes. Particularly catching the eye was a ruffled orange sari and a deep red angarkha worn with a shocking pink Dhaka pajama.
It would have had been great had Rema and Shehrbano opted for one particular signature and allowed it to dominate the entire collection; playful, perhaps, like the sari or absolutely feminine, like some of the pastel-coloured wedding wear. Greater innovation could have really worked for this debut collection. Regardless, ‘Sophia’ is bound to sell well.
Saira Shakira presented heavily-worked wedding formals with ‘Fairuza’ and ran the gamut from traditional silhouettes to slightly more contemporary ones.
The latter were more interesting given that the designers have always had a penchant for modern design: sleeveless tunics paired with shalwars and pleated saris, a knee-length shirt with rectangular panels worked with florals, another shirt with pointy hems and a vermilion jacket that glistened with sequin-work.
What could have helped the collection along was embroideries with finer detailing and better finishing.
This was Ali Xeeshan’s first solo outing – a proud moment for one of fashion’s most eccentric, who has quite literally built his career via the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC) platform, starting off with a much-noticed debut, trundling through a few erroneous showcases and finally developing a distinctive signature of his own.
His ‘Ijaazat’ was showcased under the PLBW umbrella but in a completely separate hall with décor and ambience a la Ali Xeeshan – crystal chandeliers, metal horses on shelves and an all-white carpeted ramp.
“This is my show under my rules,” he had told me prior to the show, “and you will see how I have evolved.”
The evolution was evident in how Ali, eternally flamboyant, was now eyeing commerce more seriously.
It was an extensive lineup and quite a bit of it could easily appease the traditionalist. There was a powder pink design with silver florals swirling upon it, traditional red and gold lehnga and choli sets, a long shirt worked with gold on white, heavily embroidered saris and black on black embellishment on men’s sherwanis.
And yet, the ‘Ali Xeeshan twists’ were visible in the embroidery which was typically bold, flashy, unabashedly indelicate. Adding variety were the more playful pieces; the orange, white, green and yellow pieces that were showcased initially, the sari paired with a tube top and the capes.
The designer has long had a penchant for giving out socially relevant messages and this particular collection was themed around the modern-day obsession with social media. The introductory video, featuring Rabia Butt and Hasnain Lehri, was hilarious, depicting a bride and groom constantly taking selfies during their nikah ceremony.
Following the video, the models walked out with the Maulana who had been conducting the nikah. Quite tongue-in-cheek – but the theme really didn’t follow through with the rest of the collection except for a few props here and there with the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram logos on them. In contrast, one remembers Ali’s earlier showcase ‘Khamoshi’, tackling child marriages, where the theme was continued throughout the show via props and styling.
Regardless, it was a good first solo show. A bit more of flashy colour and Ali’s typical three-dimensional overlapping embroideries in the clothes wouldn’t have hurt. A show that would have started earlier – instead of at midnight – would have definitely improved matters.
Even the promise of Ali Xeeshan’s theatrics is no excuse for a business-centric fashion week to end well beyond the witching hour. And while this was a day that started off well and ended well, it was a day that could have been better had commercial concerns not ruled all the collections. Or perhaps that’s too much to ask for in bridal fashion?
All photography by Faisal Farooqui and his team at Dragonfly