It felt surreal to walk into Karachi’s Expo Centre and see a red carpet milling with fashion journalists and designers. And then, to enter a hall where a curved catwalk took centre stage, flanked on both sides by seats labeled with designated name tags. I was reminded of how, once, it was all in a day’s work to enter such venues at least twice a year and witness an entourage of designer showcases. At a time when fashion weeks have more or less faded out, credit goes to the Trade Development Authority Pakistan (TDAP) for including a two day fashion show as part of this year’s Textile EXPO (TEXPO2023), rolling out the catwalk and bringing together a designer lineup which consists of some very exciting names.
Looking at that catwalk before the show started, one hoped that this was a harbinger of the return of fashion weeks and of fashion moving out of its retail rut and becoming exciting again. One remembered fashions weeks before the onslaught of the coronavirus and some very memorable collections that had been seen on runways in Karachi and Lahore.
Unfortunately, not many such collections were part of the first day of the TEXPO2023 fashion show. The show was very well-organised and moved smoothly enough. Nubain Ali choreographed well and the styling by team Nabila working backstage was a treat to see. The fashion, though, started off on a high and then quickly began to oscillate between the good, the bad and the ugly.
One had thought that Pakistani fashion may have had miraculously upped its game now and become focused on putting forward stellar, edgy collections. Instead, like it used to at those fashion weeks in the pre-Covid era, the fashion at TEXPO2023 won some and lost some.
Of course, one has always known that there is more to Rizwan Beyg’s prowess as a designer than just the detailed, intricate hand embroideries that emerge regularly from his atelier. One has seen him work beyond the realms of embellishment, turning his needle and a gimlet eye entirely towards silhouette and patterns.
One was aware of this but perhaps it had moved to the back of the mind, especially since Rizwan’s most recent tryst on the runway and his fashion shoots on social media have been dominated by embroidery and bling. This show, then, was Rizwan’s way of reminding us — and what a reminder it was!
On an ivory canvas of viscose fabric, he tweaked and pleated and draped, fashioning a flouncy skirt or a wispy summer dress or a light cowled shalwar or an easy breezy men’s shirt. The fabric flowed in seamless layers, the only accessories being smart leather belts, leather bags and an assortment of chunky silver jewellery.
It was minimal, exquisitely tailored, effortless high fashion. And in a world churning with embroidery, glitter and over-designing, it was a breath of fresh air.
Why has Adnan Pardesy been taking such a long break from fashion? How could he do so, when he is capable of crafting such standout fashion, of taking a generic fabric and moulding it in exciting new ways? How could he do that to himself — and to Pakistani fashion itself?
The designer had expertly played with denim back when he had just started his career, wowing critics and establishing himself as one of fashion’s most promising new names. This was back in 2011. Now, in 2023, Adnan made a return to the fabric, treating it, dying, washing, bleaching, weaving, adding pin-tucks, pleats and applique, tweaking it into 50 shades of blue and making catwalk magic. The sleeveless shirts and the kurtas, the layered skirts and the laser-engraved hot pants, the shoulder-less dress with the long trail and the cowl shalwars, all accessorised by OTT metal jewellery designed by Adnan’s wife Rija Miabhoy — this was dressy meets casual, couture meets street-wear and generally, very, very cool.
What a collection. What a designer. One hopes he doesn’t recede into the shadows again.
You could have been looking at the clothes in a J. store, sifting through the racks of men’s kurtas, deciding upon the ones that you like. A collection for the runway, however, should not be similar to the designs stocked in a high-street store. The runway requires oomph, a bit of eccentricity and adventure and interesting accessories or styling. There were some interesting designs in the J. show but not too many. The menswear also lacked finesse, the tailoring wasn’t neat and certain silhouettes weren’t flattering at all — the short kurtas paired with baggy white pyjamas are a case in point.
Then again, perhaps the brand simply wasn’t interested in oomph and adventure. J. is unarguably a heavyweight in the high-street, with a phenomenally huge clientele. Perhaps the brand simply wanted their target market to watch the show and zone in on the kurtas that they liked. From that perspective, the design worn by model Sachal Afzal caught the eye, with its multiple shades of blue. The tie-and-dye kurta and pant set also had retail potential.
It was generally, though, a forgettable, humdrum collection.
While we’re on the topic of menswear, though, could male models consider wearing socks with their shoes? It looks very untidy and moreover, unhygienic.
Could they also make sure that the sticker tags on the soles of their shoes are removed before they march off into the spotlight? Just to make the show look a bit more polished?
Huma Adnan has always had a predilection for tribal design and the most appealing looks from her collection incorporated colourful traditional embroidery on free-flowing silhouettes. Skirts and jackets were worked with indigenous embroideries, accentuated by layers of chunky jewellery in dramatic ways.
The one design that I found unfathomable was the off-shoulder dress surrounded by a cloud of white. Perhaps it was included in the lineup to add drama?
Glamour has always been a Sana Safinaz hallmark. From their fashion shoots to their runway shows, the brand’s been a pro at creating imagery that is aspirational and very luxurious. At the same time, the SS brand has mushroomed into a major shopping destination on the high-street. The collection on the TEXPO2023 runway, to my mind, seemed to be a convergence of the different branches that now encompass Sana Safinaz — the couture and the high street, the elaborate luxe and the easy breezy pretty designs, two ends of the design spectrum under the umbrella of a single brand.
Working with a brilliant medley of colours, the SS show mixed cutwork with embroidery and applique. There were long dresses, skirts, capes and an elaborate sari. It was all very pretty and crafted with an expertise that one expects from one of the country’s longest-standing ateliers.
Having said this, if one was to compile a list of SS’ most outstanding work on the runway, this particular show would not be in the top five.
The financial constraints inflicted by the pandemic had pushed Wardha Saleem squarely into the territory of Eastern formal-wear. But earlier, one remembers her as a designer with a whimsical take on print, an eye for vivacious colour and a penchant for design that was fun.
With this show, I feel that Wardha was having fun again. She created dresses, jackets, skirts and pants with brilliantly psychedelic prints. She selected shades of neon, sprinkling them with floral embroideries and bursts of sparkle.
It was bold, eye-catching and pretty — and a throwback to Wardha Saleem’s pret lines that used to frequent the runway so regularly.
Salt by Ideas
The ‘ideas’ presented by Salt by Ideas could best be described as hit and miss. The bursts of bright colour, on a mostly black canvas, could have had been appealing but I feel that the collection got lost in translation while trying to meld smart casual design with high-fashion Western wear. There was athleisure, for instance, and then there was a high-collared blouse with huge three-dimensional florals at the neckline. Pink scallops acted as sleeves over black pants cinched at the waist by a wide white belt. Also, pink ruffled organza was wound at the elbows of an off-shoulder dress — like a giant scrunchie! The designs just seemed to be trying too hard but ended up lacking a certain je ne suis quoi.
Finer tailoring would have had certainly helped this collection. Western-wear has to have a certain fit and requires fine-tuning that perhaps Salt by Ideas is yet to understand.
Asian Institute of Fashion Design (AIFD)
Student shows have to be assessed in a different way. These are young designers who are keen to try out the new techniques that they have mastered. They want to experiment and even make shocking sartorial statements. The students at AIFD were no different. The show exhibited a variety of fabrics and embellishment techniques mixed together to make off the wall statements.
However, students — especially final-year students and fresh graduates looking forward to launching their own businesses or joining established design houses — need to understand the importance of creating clothes that are appealing to look at. Even costumery can be beautiful. Even eccentric statements can have a charm. I did admire a cape worn by the young Parishae James and a long, scarlet short in velvet could be considered regal — however, there was a lot in the show that was unfathomable.
One hopes that the students see sense.
Having said this, it is commendable of AIFD to make an effort towards giving their students exposure and experience. Recently, this collection was also part of a show in Paris. And at the TEXPO2023, it rubbed shoulders with the designs of some of the country’s most esteemed designers. Perhaps now that they have gained more experience, these very students will be able to devise lineups that exhibit their skills while also winning praise.
You can’t go wrong with timeless leather, in a varied palette, stitched diligently in an assortment of handbags and travel bags.
And so, at TEXPO2023, M. Jafferjee’s didn’t go wrong. At all.
Model Hasnain Lehri opened the show, wheeling out a leather trolley bag. A very diverse range of bags followed — envelope clutches, cross-pleated laptop bags, attache cases, document bags and delectable handbags for women. While one tends to associate austere shades of brown and beige with leather, this particular lineup dabbled very frequently with colour, among them, forest green, bright pink, golden and butterscotch yellow!
It was a great show, particularly if you’re a handbag aficionado. The models’ wardrobes, womenswear created by designer Wardha Saleem and menswear styled by Nubain Ali, followed minimal, basic lines, allowing the bags to shine in the spotlight.
The girls in Amna Aqeel’s show were all set for a party. On a monochromatic canvas of black and white, the designer played with three-dimensional florals, sequins, cutwork and clusters of beads. A heavy dose of sparkle on a single shoulder of a black shirt caught the eye.
Amna Babar wore black co-ords with a blingy neckline and pink ruffled florals at the pockets. In another design, the cuffs of a sleeve were bordered by thick white 3-D florals.
There were other designs that were not as memorable but overall, the collection had its interesting aspects.
Deepak Perwani wrapped up the day with ‘Starry Night’ and true to its name, the collection had plenty of shimmer and glitter to it. There were off-shoulder shirts, long tunics, jacket and pant sets, flirty little dresses, long skirts and even the pant sari. It was all exceptionally well-tailored. Deepak Perwani is a veteran at design and the finishing and stitching of his clothes is always impeccable.
The collection could have had definitely benefitted by being more cohesive. The collection moved from one design aesthetic to another and wrapped up with actor Sonya Hussyn twirling on stage as the showstopper, wearing a short dress from Deepak’s ‘Frida’ collection from 2013.
Considering that we were witnessing a show dedicated to the ongoing TEXPO, there is also the question of which of the collections were targeted towards export and which ones were just collections that designers rustled out from the backs of their workshops and scattered out on the runway. Honestly, I am not sure. I am not quite sure if the foreign delegates attending the event could have had taken a liking to the synthetic silks and sequinned chiffon and wanted to order them in dozens for their respective countries.
That’s a long, long analysis that we’ll save for another day.