Why are Pakistan's hottest designers heading to London this week?

Why are Pakistan's hottest designers heading to London this week?

Similar international projects in the past have never really boiled down to generating business for fashion. Will this?
04 Feb, 2017

A large number of the Pakistani fashion fraternity is just about to shake out their furs, board flights to London and share some airport selfies with us. They will also be carrying heavy luggage with them, laden with designer creations.

And while their Instagram accounts may lead you to believe that they are merely having a ball, they’re really out on proper business trips. It’s all apparently carefully planned out so that they’re back home when fashion week season and its unfortunate counterpart, lawn season, kicks in.

What’s in London, though, to have so many of fashion’s finest troop out there en masse? Is this yet another instance of local fashion’s fall from glory where some of our best, most creative work is put into a show that serves as ‘entertainment’ at a high society ball or at a glorified Meena Bazar of sorts?

Apparently not. Slotted into the upcoming fashion calendar is Fashion Parade (FP), orchestrated by Mustang Productions, and purported to present Pakistani fashion on a high-end platform to an up-market audience. Following up is the Fashion Scout contingent of London Fashion Week where the British Council will be bringing in Pakistani designers for the second year in a row.

It all sounds very promising but one is aware of similar international projects in the past that never really boiled down to generating business for fashion. We dig deeper…

A parade for fashion

“This is FP’s fifth year and I think we haven’t left any stone un-turned when it comes to presenting a high caliber show at an illustrious venue with a very select guest list,” says Sadia Siddiqui, the CEO of Mustang Productions. “Initially, the event was focused more towards prêt because we wanted to harness the interest of the international market. Now, I feel that we have built a brand name and an audience who are eager to see some of the best in Pakistani bridal fashion on our runway.”

The designer lineup set to participate this year certainly does boast some very prestigious names: Nilofer Shahid, Faiza Samee, Shamaeel Ansari, Nomi Ansari, Maria B., along with younger labels like Tena Durrani, Saira Rizwan, Rani Emaan, Seher Tareen and jewelry designer Sherezad Rahimtoola.

Highlights from last year's show
Highlights from last year's show

The show this year is going to take place at One Marylebone, a church dating back from the 1800’s. It was apparently the grandeur and historical significance of the venue that convinced designer Nilofer Shahid to join into this year’s FP entourage.

Nomi Ansari, a regular participant at FP, says, “My forte lies with bridal design and there’s a huge demand for our bridals in the UK. It makes sense to show at FP. Also, as a Pakistani designer, I only want to take part in an event that places my country in a pedestal. FP manages to do this with a slick, seamlessly produced show."

“I didn’t want to be part of a substandard show but I had heard that FP was not your usual shoddy production,” explains Maria.

"I would never want to undermine my brand by taking part in the many other events that frequently take place, with garish lineups and a lack-lustre audience. They may still manage to build business but I just wouldn’t want to belittle my country and my own brand by endorsing such shows.”

Nomi may not be saying it out loud but we’re guessing that he may be alluding to Pakistan Fashion Week London, a biannual affair by Riwayat Events that features some stellar designers along with other not-so-stellar ones.

Designers like Sonya Battla, Maheen Khan and Shamaeel Ansari have often supported the event, professing that it has been instrumental in strengthening their business in the UK.

“It’s important to be visible in a market every season in order to maintain business,” observes Shamaeel. “My London clientele plays a significant role in my business and as a rule I try to show new collections at least thrice a year in London, as well as in Dubai, Singapore and within Pakistan. To that end, participating in FP makes sense. Later, in the summer and again, in the autumn, I can continue with showcases at PFW London.”

Shamaeel has considerable clientele overseas so to show at FP makes sense for the designer
Shamaeel has considerable clientele overseas so to show at FP makes sense for the designer

This year’s FP will also have Maria B. taking part in a show in London for the very first time. “I didn’t want to be part of a substandard show but I had heard that FP was not your usual shoddy production. It was also high time that we showcased a collection in the UK market,” explains Maria. “Based on our online sales, our second biggest customer-base after Pakistan is in the UK, particularly in the case of wedding formals. I have designed a collection specifically for the show, with a lot of East-West fusion and contemporary embellishments.”

We’re sure that some very glossy images are going to filter in from FP but aside from raising media mileage, will the show be lucrative for designers?

Designer Tena Durrani feels that the platform is more about making a statement and being associated with a high-end affair. “We’re also taking part in the Asiana show which is taking place around the same time,” she explains. “FP is exclusive with a limited guest list while Asiana has an audience of about 10,000. The designers in the lineup may be unknown and the show may be mass-oriented but it’s great for business.”

Regardless, enterprising designers could possibly cash in on the mileage raised by FP by making designs available promptly and taking orders. Also, FP has aligned itself with Studio By TCS, an e-shopping venture that will upload designs that have been part of the show, allowing online buyers to make purchases.

While Studio By TCS, as a brand new fashion e-store, plans to stock other designer-wear in the near future, they will be launching for the time being in alignment with this year’s FP.

A very interesting designer lineup and business plans in the pipelines. Should this work out, it will certainly take things forward for FP. Placing Pakistani fashion on a glossy pedestal is a step in the right direction; hauling in profits for the fashion that is showcased takes things many steps forward.

Ahoy, London Fashion Week!

Meanwhile, there are six other ateliers with their sights set on the prestigious domains of London Fashion Week. They’re not taking part in the main event although we hope that someday they do.

Rather, Maheen Khan, Sonya Battla, The Pink Tree Company, Munib Nawaz, Zuria Dor and Jeem By Hamza Bokhari are all going to put their best foot forward as part of the Fashion DNA contingent selected by the British Council Pakistan. All six labels have been mentored and guided by the Council on precisely what to show to the global market and come LFW, they will be part of the Fashion Scouts segment.

“To be honest, it would be great if some business arises from our show but realistically, we’re just happy with the confidence and guidance given to us as part of the Fashion DNA project," says Mohsin Sayeed.

Sounds exciting? Let’s just hope that it really is. In its first year in 2016, the Council had handpicked Zaheer Abbas, House of Kamiar Rokni, Akif Mehmood and Wardha Saleem to head off to LFW. Unfortunately, due to visa issues only Zaheer had managed to go to the event and while he had networked to the hilt and won rave reviews, it didn’t turn out to do much for his business.

“For any designer to make an impression in the international market, consistency is required,” explains Zaheer. “I went just once and had I been able to go twice or thrice I could have possibly managed to strike a business deal. The British Council is certainly making an effort but it needs to work on further developments.”

Zaheer Abbas at London Fashion Week 2016 (L)
Zaheer Abbas at London Fashion Week 2016 (L)

Apparently, the Council has realized this. “The first year was a test run of sorts,” says Talha Mufti, Manager for the British Council’s Arts programme. “Now, we have more cohesive plans. We made sure that the designers applied for their visas well in advance so that we could step in if a problem arose. Like last year, the designers have been mentored extensively by a range of fashion experts including business consultants, stylists and traders. They have been guided upon what works on an international level and have researched on what particular shops could stock the kind of clothes that they design. We have a stylist in London who is currently reaching out to them, asking them to mail head to toe looks of every design they will be showcasing along with details so that the styling for their shows could be devised.”

“Once they are in London, we have a busy schedule lined up for their trip which will include networking with designers, PR people, media, sales agents and stockists. Given the mentorship and the exposure made available to them, it is now up to these brands to forge connections and follow up on them once they are back from the event. Should they manage to do so, we hope to continue helping them. This is the only way business ties can be built in fashion between Pakistan and the UK.”

“It’s important to understand what to present to the UK market,” points out designer Maheen Khan. “They don’t want to see Western cuts – they already have plenty of those. We need to show them something that is inherently our own, indigenous, exotic.” The clothes will later be featured in a special Fashion DNA segment at Fashion Pakistan Week scheduled for the end of February.

Mohsin Sayeed of the Pink Tree Company surmises, “To be honest, it would be great if some business arises from our show but realistically, we’re just happy with the confidence and guidance given to us as part of the Fashion DNA project. We have been mentored extensively by industry experts like fashion business consultant Toby Meadows and entrepreneur Safia Minney who we probably couldn’t have managed to access on our own. Once we are in London, we are going to have a jam-packed schedule and will be visiting places like the London College of Fashion. We’re very happy with how its adds prestige value to our label and having been given the opportunity.”

One hopes that it turns out to be an opportunity for business also. Designers may manage to enamor the anglicized fashion set and if not, London boasts a strong Indo-Pak diaspora that has a penchant for good ol’ Pakistani bling.

Far too many times, Pakistani fashion’s trysts at international shows have merely culminated into a whole lot of brouhaha with nothing concrete to follow. It’s good to see some designers – if not all - beginning to think business. We love the photo ops and the Instagram travelogues in swanky winter wear but it’s all getting quite old.

Let’s hear some good, strong fashion success stories now.