Lights, music, fashion. It had never seemed more surreal. It had also not seemed quite as special until now.
For people like myself, consistently working within Pakistan’s fashion industry, attending fashion shows had been a norm before the coronavirus came along. We would wax lyrical about shows that we loved and others that weren’t as appealing – but we would also gripe about having to attend too many events, the late late hours, the inevitable delays.
It was only when live fashion shows came to an unceremonious halt and the months yawned on that we began to miss them. Certainly, we didn’t miss the more ghastly fashion but we did pine for the time when our daily-wear consisted of more than just a basic change in PJ’s. We missed the buzz of fashion week, the gossip that filtered out from backstage, the models, the designers, the social media commentaries, even the hit and miss red carpet.
In a brave move, Elan’s Creative Director Khadijah Shah decided to bring back some of that buzz. Maison Elan, the brand’s flagship retail-point in Karachi, was lit up as the crowd started pulling in. The guest list was limited, in an effort to keep Covid-19 at bay, but it was a glamorous, exclusive mix of Karachi’s designer fraternity, media, celebrities and Elan’s clientele in the city, all there to see a presentation of the brand’s wedding-wear line, 2020.
The guests had been told to mask up and most of them did - although one did want to take off the face masks when posing for photographs. To be honest, while the evening turned out to be a pleasurable one, a more stringent check on the wearing of masks would have made the experience better.
We are all tired of the coronavirus but it is still out there and for more events to take place, the potential outbreak of mass infections needs to be avoided with greater vigilance. It’s the only way to survive in the ‘new normal’ as life inches back towards social gatherings; dinners, concerts, fashion shows and, the raison d’etre spurring on this particular show, weddings.
“I always bring out a new line of wedding-wear around this time of the year, defining trends for the coming season,” Khadijah Shah explained to me. “I decided that I should showcase it. Weddings are still happening, people are still ordering clothes and there is no point in not bringing out this collection because by next year, we will be coming up with new trends.”
The new collection had a very French name - ‘La Mariee Royale’. Much to my amusement, it even came with an invite in French, accompanied by a convenient translation in English for the many living in Pakistan who aren’t proficient in the language. This is a classic Elan move, of course. The brand’s seasonal collections have often been coined names in foreign languages, difficult to pronounce, usually incomprehensible, but possibly exuding an international feel that perhaps the clients appreciate.
True to their name, the designs also came with an anglicized touch, meant for the Pakistani wedding but certainly not your typical ghararas and lehngas. Place them on a bride in an exotic destination setting and they would fit right in.
Long shirts in net came twinkling with sequins and thick layers of embroidery, cascading over shararas. There were beaded tassels and dupattas worked with scallops of embellishment, shirts with heavily embroidered bodices, sparkling cholis, backs that swung low, snug necklines in net and sleeves with beads streaming down their length.
The showstopper for the evening, actress Sana Javed, came out with her face veiled by a thickly embellished net dupatta – the ‘ghoonghat’ – wearing an elaborate shirt and lehnga in powder blue. You could hear the rustle of beads on fabric as the models moved – most of the clothes were very heavily embellished – and the palette was quintessential Elan: muted tones of pink, blue, champagne gold with the occasional splash of crimson.
The collection overall, in fact, was very decipherably Elan. Presented against a lavish setting of florals, chandeliers and the Maison Elan’s modernist glass walls, it was more of a homage to the intricate craft and subtle colors that are the brand’s forte.
There were no new trends. Then again, most customers for wedding-wear in Pakistan prefer sophisticated beauty over avant-garde cuts and colors. Seen up close, there were details that could be appreciated: the exceptional finishing and the artistic swirl of filigree and florals, laden in multiple layers so that you knew, instinctively, that these clothes were targeted towards the niche customer and a high price bracket.
This makes sense particularly since Khadijah has just launched a bridal line with Elan’s sister label, Zaha, aiming for more affordable price points. The elaborate, heavy duty designs can be set aside for Elan.
What I saw, then, was an exquisite presentation rather than a trendsetting show. You could say that I was attending a live viewing of Elan’s latest bridal catalog. There wasn’t even a catwalk; the models simply drifted through the crowds before converging at a vantage point, where a few male models also stood, wearing menswear by Humayun Alamgir. The jewellery was by Sherezad Rahimtoola, styling by Nabila and the images have come out beautifully.
I expect that Khadijah is expecting a heavy deluge of orders to come in for the weddings that, according to her, are coming up this winter.
But in putting out a show while the coronavirus is still running lose, Elan has taken a risk. It is a risk that was inevitable and one that major brands across the world have taken – many of the shows at this season’s Milan Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week have been live ones. The brand may have also set a precedent; life must go on and the business of fashion must to. Fashion shows will have to take place and you can choose to attend them virtually or mask up, sanitize and observe them up-close.
Following this very first step taken by Elan, it does seem that many more fashion brands are now willing to take similar risks. Many of Karachi’s designer fraternity’s most noticeable names formed part of the audience; among them, Deepak Perwani, Maheen Khan, Maheen Karim, Safinaz Munir and Shamoon Sultan. This was the first time that Khadijah had diverted from her home-city Lahore and staged a show in Karachi and it is a positive sign that so many of her peers turned up in support.
It is also a sign that the local fashion fraternity is hoping that life normalizes over the next few months, despite the coronavirus, and collections can be launched, shows can take place and business can get rolling again.
It may, it may not. Life is unpredictable and so are the oscillating spurts of the coronavirus. Masked up at the Elan show, trying to make muffled conversation through a face-mask, life still seemed a bit more normal, just for a short while. And fashion, for those few hours, was glamorous, exclusive, covetable once again.