When the catwalk gets laid out after a long, long time for a three-day multi-designer extravaganza, you tend to scrutinise it with great interest. Even if it’s from the vantage point of the internet.
This was one of the main factors leading up to the waves made by the 18th edition of the Pantene Hum Bridal Couture Week (BCW) which took place in Lahore last week.
There was a deluge of stars, designers and song and dance on the catwalk — and occasionally, there was fashion. Herein lay the key to BCW’s successes this year and also, its failures.
There’s no denying that BCW is a force to reckon with. It has been the launch-pad for many brands that have proceeded to become forces to reckon with: Zainab Chottani, Tena Durrani, Ali Xeeshan Bridals come to mind. Designers all over the country profess that they haul in huge profits every time they showcase a collection on the platform. With regular coverage on one of the country’s most popular TV networks and massive social media mileage, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that BCW has been one of the major wheels pushing forward the business of fashion in Pakistan.
Having said this, with 18 shows under its belt now, the platform needs to give as much importance to fashion as it does to commerce. Showcasing within the BCW umbrella, this year, was a motley crew of new brands and old, big players and plagiarists, commercially beautiful collections and sadly, clothes that should never be allowed on the runway.
It’s quite alright to support young brands and to give them a chance. Truly, they will never learn unless they are placed in the spotlight and get critiqued. Nevertheless, at least in the case of some collections, the platform needs to value itself and exercise some sort of editorial control.
How can a brand called ‘Noman and Bhaiya’, based in Karachi’s Clifton area and well-known for plagiarising designer Nomi Ansari, be allowed on any catwalk at all? How can Kashee’s, the massively popular salon heavyweight, be allowed to make his runway debut with a collection that was gaudy at best, ghastly at its worst?
Most bridal design featured on Pakistani runways is so safe that it is forgettable, commercially friendly to the core, sticking to a meek, mundane pastel palette. I have often been told by fashion councils that they don’t have a choice but to include such collections, since it’s all that most designers want to showcase because it sells so well.
Showcasing within the Bridal Couture Week umbrella, this year, was a motley crew of new brands and old, big players and plagiarists, commercially beautiful collections and sadly, clothes that should never be allowed on the runway
I’m sure a similar dilemma is faced by BCW. But they can still, at least, add more clout to their platform by foregoing the designs that are irrefutably bad.
On the upside, certain line-ups stood out. The finale by Zaha Couture had the designer’s, Khadijah Shah’s, characteristic finesse, presenting prettily embellished bridals that would sporadically veer towards unconventional colours.
Ali Xeeshan also made his mark on the last day with ‘Numaish’, aimed towards discouraging the practice of giving dowry. A child bride came out walking with model Hasnain Lehri, tugging a trolley laden with dowry behind her. In another visual, Hasnain Lehri was the dulha walking out in a makeshift car prop, surrounded by the female bridal entourage.
Looking beyond the socially relevant message, the collection was indicative of how Xeeshan’s design acumen is progressing, dabbling with unique foliage, sequined chevron patterns, peacocks, parrots and beautiful mixes of gold, silver and pink.
Haris Shakeel, a commercially successful Karachi-based brand now vying to be included in the ‘designer’ genre, showed promise — until designer Farah Talib Aziz called him out for plagiarising one of their most popular designs. Sable Vogue also made an impressive debut, with some modern, edgy collections.
Fahad Hussayn’s exquisitely beautiful ‘Sao Banjara’ started off BCW — I had already been smitten by it when the designer had showcased it in his solo show in December last year. The colours and intricate embellishments stood out in all their glory on the runway but sadly, so did the bad fittings. Several outfits in the collection, including the one worn by showstopper Ushna Shah, were untidy, with folds visibly forming at the choli and on the shoulders.
Evidently, live fittings had not been allowed by the administration as a precaution against Covid-19. Nevertheless, the designer could have worked with measurements and adjusted the outfits accordingly. The fact that he did not was glaringly obvious, and did not reflect well on a brand that is in an absolute league of its own.
Then came the plethora of celebrities, one after the other, sometimes in groups of threes and fours, often dancing and doing a bit of jumping about. The videos and images went viral all over the internet and while one does love star power, the dhol dhamaka was a bit too much. The onus lies on the designer to at least invest as much in design as in paying celebrity showstoppers. And the platform itself needs to rein in some of the festivity.
Addressing the elephant in the room — a lumbering, infection-laden one — how did BCW even manage to take place in an enclosed space while the coronavirus pandemic is still at loose? The Hum TV Network ostensibly stressed that SOPs were being followed to the tee. The health hazard was, of course, still there and it was up to the audience’s discretion if they wanted to come and see the show live.
On a personal note, I chose not to take the risk. This overview has been written solely with the help of extensive online scrutiny.
What did BCW then achieve, taking place despite the coronavirus pandemic, allowing the catwalk to trend all over media after a very long time? It pushed the business of fashion forward with its extensive mileage, spotlighted some promising names (and alas, some unpromising ones) and it hinted that better times may be round the corner.
For a platform that is now 18 shows old, better fashion also needs to be making an appearance at BCW.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, February 14th, 2021