“The show must go on,” a senior member of the Fashion Pakistan Council (FPC) said to me when we met at the venue for this year’s Fashion Pakistan Winter Gala (FW21).
The red carpet was certainly laid out as was the catwalk. Some of the country’s best models had been enlisted to walk the ramp and the team of stylists at Nabila’s innovated well with hair and makeup. Unfortunately, there was still a sense of jaded weariness, a lack of glamor that is so necessary at a fashion event. The show was going on — but sometimes it seemed to hobble.
Blame it on the coronavirus. Blame it on the crumbling economy. Or on the fact that sponsors are no longer as eager to invest into fashion as they are in endorsing celebrity events. Or the sad reality that Pakistan’s fashion industry has become so fragmented by warring egos that many don’t want to work with each other or even turn up on the red carpet as a show of support.
I have attended Fashion Pakistan Weeks (FPWs) in Karachi where people have fought for front row seats, where the city’s rich and famous have turned up in their designer wear and cheered through the show, where there has been a vibrant, infectious energy thrumming down the catwalk. At this year’s FW21, the energy was low while the catwalk valiantly tried to hold its own.
Were there some good collections? Yes. A few trends to be spotted here and there? Certainly. There were also some very strong debuts made by brands that I hope to see again and again on the catwalk. The buzz, however, was gone. I can’t say that the FPC hadn’t tried. But how much trying can a council do when industry players want to march to their individual drumbeats and are no longer interested in supporting their own?
This winter, the council skipped out on planning out a ‘week’ of sorts, restricting the event to a single night’s shows. The venue was also very visibly sized down, with a catwalk that really didn’t look exciting, set up under ageing chandeliers and fans in a hall at Karachi’s Beach Luxury hotel. Hardly the razzling dazzling ramp of yore.
It was coined as a gala, nevertheless, which was started off by a red carpet where well-known designers sent out their muses in statement wear. It was a great idea especially considering how, struggling from the devastation wreaked by the pandemic, a lot of mainstream designers do not currently want to invest in avant-garde fashion week collections. Instead, they could just dress one or two muses and make a red carpet statement and simultaneously help build clout for the event.
There were certainly some standout muses. Anoushey Ashraf looked amazing wearing a couture creation by Maheen Khan. Farah Talib Aziz sent out a trio of models in luxe wedding-wear. Shamaeel Ansari was her own muse — pretty convenient but then again, who better could carry off that fiery aesthetic than the designer herself? Ayesha Omar brought on a whirl of ethnic colours wearing the Pink Tree Company. Nosheen Shah looked elegant in Delphi by Nida Tapal. Fahad Mirza came wearing a tux by Humayun Alamgir.
Actor Urshia Hussain was Boheme by Kanwal’s muse and came trussed to the hilt: an ethnic three-piece paired with a multicoloured umbrella, a pouch, a nose harness (nath) running all the way back to the ears, multi-tiered necklaces, the whole shebang. It almost seemed like she was headed off to a wedding right after fashion week. Certainly not a good look for a red carpet supposed to put forward cutting edge designer wear.
Sadly, Iman Ahmed of Body Focus Museum did not send out her muse even though the council had announced her as a participant in the gala’s ‘Pink Carpet’. Also sadly, many of the designers taking part in this initial segment did not deem it necessary to step into the venue and see the fashion shows. Their names glared out from empty chairs in the front row. Truly unfortunate.
But moving beyond these worrisome beginnings, there were a slew of interesting shows up ahead. Here’s a rundown …
A Maheen Khan show starting off an event is always a great idea. The veteran designer — and Fashion Pakistan Council chairperson — played to her strengths with classic silhouettes, cut impeccably, set off by minimal, elegant details. There were two-pieces accentuated by buttons, sharply cut collars, frills and laces and the quintessential Maheen Khan cowl neckline.
This range of casual wear was followed by statements for the evening — pant-saris in eye-popping prints, draped perfectly. Maheen Khan does have an eye for the little details that make an outfit stand out from the crowd.
Accessorising the clothes very well was a range of handbags by Jafferjees which extended beyond the brand’s generally austere designs and dabbled with bright, young colours, shapes and sizes.
Individualistic, with restrained elegance, pushing boundaries rather than simply pandering to a bling-smitten mass mentality, a Maheen Khan show invariably serves as an example of what a designer collection should be all about. It also exemplifies what a fashion event should be all about. Unfortunately, not every designer venturing on to the runway manages to understand this.
You win some — as in Maheen’s case — and you lose some — as in the case of the show that followed…
High-street brand Zaaviay splayed out a range of celestial bodies on to fabric with planets, crescents and sequins glittering on dark blue canvases on long skirts, saris and dresses meant to look like gowns. The embellishments were pretty — although not particularly innovative — but the brand’s greatest shortcoming was in cutting a neat silhouette.
I suppose that some of the clothes will be very well-liked, given the mass predilection for wearing desi bling on long dresses that are supposed to be gowns but are really just ‘goans’. On the catwalk, though, they don’t impress. There is nothing wrong in sticking to variations of the shalwar kameez or the lehnga, silhouettes that are intrinsic to the Indo-Pak subcontinent and that most tailors and designers can craft with finesse. There is no need to inch towards anglicised lines, especially when you don’t know how to cut it and stitch it right.
It’s bad enough that local celebrities make a beeline for 'goans' every time an awards ceremony comes along. We don’t need it to masquerade as ‘fashion’ on the runway. The piece de resistance was Mushk Kaleem, dressed as Miss Sunshine in the finale outfit, a multiple-layered yellow creation. But even the talented Miss Kaleem, with her catwalk panache, couldn’t save the show.
Menswear designer Sameer Sain was absolutely thinking ‘winter’ with his range of thick jackets, blazers and suits. The collection, mostly in black monotones, had some winners, such as the fitted sequined jacket worn by model Sachal Afzal, a buttoned up blazer and a classy black jacket with matching lapels.
The only design that I truly didn’t understand was a jacket with fur lined along its collar, and a bit of fur sticking out from one end of the jacket at the hemline. One of fashion’s little mysteries I suppose.
Hina Mirza’s debut show served as a surprise — and a very welcome one at that. The brand is generally associated with affordable ready-to-wear, easy breezy kurtas for day-wear that can be bought right off the rack. Setting her sights on the catwalk, the designer now chose to get experimental with silhouette and styling. Working with traditional plaid in dark winter hues, the Hina Mirza collection consisted of shirt and trouser sets belted at the waist, nipped and tucked in interesting patterns and amped up with colour blocking and patchwork.
It was generic cotton beating out the fashion drum with young, standout design. Very impressive.
Following up was Amna Aqeel who refreshingly chose to eschew mundane embroideries and opted instead for bright, ebullient colours and modern silhouettes. There were little dresses with pleats down the back and exaggerated sleeves with the skirt splaying out prettily when the model twirled on the catwalk, oversized pleated collars, a hot pink off-shoulder multi-tiered dress worn by Mushk Kaleem as the finale outfit and — my favourite — a two piece in eye-popping yellow with an exaggerated collar and sleeves, cut on crisp straight lines.
It was evident that the designer had played to her whims while coming up with this collection. Some of the clothes may not sell well considering the morality brigade that tends to stifle Pakistani women’s sartorial choices. There were others that could be bought right off the runway and worn as is. It was a mix of design that was sellable and some that was there because the designer wanted it to be so.
It was colourful, nonchalantly glamorous and such fun to see.
The second catwalk debut of the night was by young menswear designer Zohaib Jubileo who shows immense promise. Zohaib’s aesthetic leaned towards elegant pastels and what one enjoyed was observing the little tweaks that he made to staid men’s silhouettes. Waistcoats and jackets were paired with sleek kurtas and shalwars, there was an asymmetric cut sherwani and collars varied from round necks to the understated Mandarin design.
The soft tailoring, colours and details made for a very interesting debut and one looks forward to seeing more from Zohaib Jubileo.
The official mandate released by FPC described the clothing as ‘spiritual’ and in accordance with the theme, theological motifs were embroidered on to the free flowing silhouettes. One spotted embroidered Buddhas, the tree of life, the lotus flower venerated for its healing power, the circular black and blue pattern of the evil eye. It was pretty enough although long cotton kaftan shirts can hardly be considered fashion forward.
Helmed by ex-model Atiya Khan, I do think that Arizai Clothing must have its market, given how we love baggy, easy-to-wear designs that are very forgiving of a few pounds gained here and there!
It was not a bad ending to the fashion gala at all. And fashion wise, the catwalk held its own. Nothing can be done, though, about the energy that’s fast fizzling out of Pakistani fashion. If designers don’t want to stick together and support their own, if they can’t be bothered to show face and praise newcomers who show promise and if they are happier showcasing via their individual social media platforms, then perhaps the catwalk is simply going to go redundant eventually.
And we will be destined for a future where all we’ll have in the name of fashion showcases is a same-looking cloud of ‘fashionable’ clothing on Instagram.
All photos by Nadir Toosy