On a cool evening in Lahore this past weekend, designer Khadijah Shah transformed her home into a veritable enchanted garden and made it the stage for beautiful, intricately worked bridals.
There were fairy lights, tastefully lit gazebos, an explosion of florals and cocktails that flowed endlessly. The Sachal Studio Orchestra played live music in the background and amidst it all there were Elan’s quintessentially grand bridals: swathes upon swathes of embroidery and silhouettes that ran the gamut from layered lehngas to short shirts, tapered shalwars and embellished jackets cinched at the waist.
The spectrum of colors extended from Elan’s characteristic gray and ivory worked with silver onto lemon yellow, turquoise, all-black and the traditional bridal red. There was also menswear, printed and embroidered sherwanis, teetering ever so slightly towards the edgy. The designs took center stage, for this was a solo show.
And with this elaborate, grandiose evening, Khadijah Shah set bridal trends for the coming season but may also have hailed in the trend for flying solo in local fashion.
Why go solo?
Faraz Manan initiated the concept three years ago, shifting away from the madding crowd at fashion weeks to take charge of his own show. Staged at a hotel or farmhouse, Faraz’s shows quickly became famous for having a guest list that comprised the city’s crème de la crème, the designer’s regular clients and a smattering of celebrities. Last year, upping the ante further, Faraz even opted to stage a show of his own in Dubai, marking the opening of his flagship store in Dubai.
Also, merely a few weeks ago, Indian brand Diva’ni announced its retail presence in Lahore with a lovely solo presentation at Lahore’s Haveli Barood Khana, accompanied by a live performance by Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and celebrity showstoppers Ali Zafar and Mahira Khan.
According to Sanya Dhir, Diva'ni's Creative Director, the solo debut was planned to maximize mileage. “Participating in a fashion week is, of course, far more convenient but we wanted to introduce ourselves much more prominently to the Pakistani market. It required a lot of planning and the risk of it not succeeding was higher, but it also ensured a larger impact for us.”
Now that yet another heavyweight designer – Khadijah Shah – has followed suit, many others may get similarly ‘inspired’.
"In joint shows, you can’t have complete creative control. There are time constraints, a generic set, almost generic hair and make-up and a limited number of people that you can invite. With this solo show, we have worked on everything, from the designs to the ambience and the hair and makeup and all of it is geared towards putting forward that one image that we want to define for the Eastern bride this season."
But what made Khadijah opt to go solo when she could have taken part, as she had hitherto done, in the PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week that took place less than a month ago?
For one, she missed the deadline for submitting her portfolio to the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC) but even so, Khadijah says that she had been ‘dabbling with the idea of a solo show’ for some time now.
“This is Elan’s 10th year in the business and we are known as a sought after bridal and couture brand,” explains the designer. “We just thought that a solo show would resonate well with our brand image and celebrate our journey thus far. We have had great experiences showing our designs at the PFDC’s fashion weeks and we may opt to do so again. There are quite a few advantages to being part of a fashion week.”
“Still, in joint shows, you can’t have complete creative control. There are time constraints, a generic set, almost generic hair and make-up and there are limits to the number of people that you can invite. With this solo show, we have worked on everything, from the designs to the ambience and the hair and makeup and all of it is geared towards putting forward that one image that we want to define for the Eastern bride this season.”
Why we love a solo show
The event was in stark contrast to the clutter than tends to pervade fashion weeks these days, where sponsors’ friends and family drift in merely for a night of ‘entertainment’. Instead, the audience for Elan’s prodigiously titled ‘Palais Indochine’ consisted of Lahore’s top-tier of socialites; fashion aficionados who would actually appreciate what was shown on the catwalk and had the wherewithal to buy it.
Earlier, one had seen similar audiences walk into fashion weeks expressly to see Elan’s latest collection and get up and leave as soon as the show ended. Now that she was going solo and not restricted to a certain number of guests, Khadijah flew in key media figures from Karachi and Islamabad and invited family, friends and clients in multitudes.
Ostensibly present were major players from Lahore’s fashion fraternity, turning up to show their support; among them, PFDC CEO Sehyr Saigol, Maheen Kardar Ali, HSY and Faraz Manan. Everyone had a front row, with a grid-like seating arrangement coursing the venue.
Yousaf Shahbaz conceptualized and directed the show, the N-Pro team were taken on board for hair and makeup and Sherezad Rahimtoola custom-designed a range of statement traditional wear to complement the apparel. A selection of society favorites walked for the show: Fatin Gondal, Maryam Mahmood, Natasha Monnoo and a radiant Maheen Ghani Taseer.
It was very exclusive, quite the ‘it’ place to be that weekend and a throwback to the days of yore when fashion was elitist in its essence, available to a select few and becoming aspirational for the rest of the milieu. Given Elan’s clout in Lahore’s fashion sphere, images of the show quickly went viral over social media and are likely to be littered through a plethora of social magazines.
Also working very effectively was the livestream option on Elan’s website, zooming in on the detailings and featuring every garment extensively. In contrast, audiences sitting through the show were sometimes confused by what was on the catwalk due to dodgy lighting. The livestreamers, though, had the perfect view!
One also remembers how, at fashion weeks, Khadijah Shah would end up sharing the platform with a number of designers who would clearly be plagiarising her designs. At her solo show, at least, similar problems could not arise.
But here's the catch...
But does this mean that solo shows are the way forward for all brands? Not really. Elan’s first lone outing has been a success and time and again, Faraz Manan has spoken about how he enjoys being in his own zone, showing to his particular clients. “It’s great for business because these are the people that actually buy my clothes,” Faraz has explained.
Aesthetically, a solo show is so much more delightful to attend. And of course, internationally, the same visuals are created at fashion weeks which are, essentially, independent shows bunched together around a certain time-frame. Chanel may choose to show at the Grand Palais in Paris, transforming it into an IT hub while Dior may cruise outside of Paris to the historic Blenheim Palace. In security-stricken Pakistan, a similar format would be a logistic nightmare. Aside from the one-off solo show, fashion weeks make better sense.
Fashion weeks, for all their faults, manage to generate mileage that moves beyond social media and print onto television coverage within the country and abroad. Besides, not every brand can fork out the kind of investment that a Faraz Manan or Khadijah Shah can pour into an independent platform.
And so, the solo show bangwagon can really only be for the minority that can afford it. It is certainly not a concept that can put fashion weeks out of business.
Also worth considering is the prestige attached to being singled out as one of the top collections at a multi-brand fashion week. That alone, is an impetus that can draw designers towards the fashion week omnibus. In the ego-centric world of fashion, being queen bee matters - big time. For truly talented designers, that’s an ambition that they can endeavour to achieve more easily by being the sole highlight at a fashion week as opposed to an extravagant solo outing.
All photographs by Faisal Farooqui and his team at Dragonfly
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