Mushk Kaleem has quickly become one of the primary choices for designers as a model to work with. From her powerful expressions on the runway to her ability to carry both traditional eastern and edgy contemporary looks with complete ease, she is likely to work her way up to supermodel status fast.
Overall, it’s been a good year for Mushk Kaleem – a Lux Style Award win and a powerful walk at Milan Fashion Week 2019 that was further cemented by her position at the recent PFDC L’Oreal Bridal Week as the showstopper for almost all designers she walked for.
Instep caught up with the young talent about her journey to modelling, the issues that plague the industry and her experience in the fashion capital.
The model was spotted at Nabila’s salon by stylist and image-maker Tabesh Khoja – like many other models who have similarly been discovered there. She had come in while working for Red Bull and sampling cans at the salon, when Khoji convinced her to give modelling a shot. That was in December last year and since then there’s been no looking back. In this time, she’s worked with some of the best photographers in the industry today, including StopStyle and Nadir Firoz Khan who she counts as favorites as well as MHM, Alee Hasan and Rizwan-ul-Haq. She’s also been a muse for designers like Sania Maskatiya who shoot almost all her local campaigns with her and Zara Shahjahan, who shot a campaign for her collection in Kashmir and ended up naming it ‘Mushk’ after her. She also regularly shoots with the likes of Shehla Chatoor and Elan – of which Khadija Shah also made her a striking and memorable LSA outfit. A maroon high-low dress that showed off the models’ long legs and cut a flattering silhouette on her.
For a brand like Elan to make a dress for an emerging talent nominee shows faith in her winning the award.
Mushk has also walked for every major runway in the country including the Lahore-based PFDC, the Karachi-based FPW, Hum Showcase and BCW.
A definite career high although had to be her walk at Milan Fashion Week and we were curious to know how it worked out for her. She shares that Haitian-Italian designer, Stella Jean had planned on creating a Pakistan-inspired collection after her visit to Pakistan earlier this year as she is known for her artisanal textiles and prints. During her time here, she was impressed by the design elements and the embroidery style that is native to the women of the mountainous regions of Chitral, Kalash and Hunza. Once she was connected to these women, they hand embroidered floral motifs in chain stitch, which she incorporated in her Spring/Summer 2020 collection into colourful stitching wrapped around dresses, adorned belts and decorated the hemlines of Jean’s summer dresses. When Jean visited Pakistan, Zahir Rahimtoola asked her to include Pakistani models in her showcase to pay homage to the place of her inspirations and make sure it fully came off as cultural appreciation rather than appropriation.
How do international shows as prestigious as MFW compare to our local fashion weeks? Comparing her experience in Milan to local fashion weeks she shared that their timings were impeccable. Once she reached Italy for the show, she had fittings next day where they also practiced hair and makeup on her. “They wanted to practice on my skin because they’re used to either very dark or fair makeup so they wanted to make sure it’s done properly,” she explained. The day after, she had rehearsals one hour before the show and then walked the ramp. “The show started at 5 pm and we were called in at 3 pm and our hair and makeup was done in that time – I wish our industry could work as efficiently [in such hours] as well.”
What’s further cemented her position in this very ‘woke’ time is that she has always been one to speak up against what goes against her beliefs. A while ago the model hit back at colourism in the industry, saying: “If you need to whiten me up, don’t consider me for your shoots.” She was referring to a brand that wanted her skin colour lightened to ‘better highlight’ the colour palette of their clothes. Colourism is a huge problem, even in 2019 with darker models being lightened and lighter models being darkened for shoots whereas they should be picked for their own skin colours, especially since Pakistan has all types of skin tones.
Mushk’s Instagram bio reads; self-made hustler and once you find out her story, one would realize that it’s an apt description. “I want people to know that I take modelling very seriously and as a proper job,” stating a fact that should be quite obvious. “I come from a house where four families were living in a three bedroom rented apartment so it’s been a big jump and one that I have earned. I supported myself through my college by working three jobs and have always been used to working hard for anything I wanted. Now, I support my two younger brothers with my income so, for me, this career allows me to be my family’s breadwinner.”
There have recently been conversations about unity amongst creatives in the fashion industry being the way forward. She agrees with being united in theory but believes we’re still far from it practically because everyone comes from very different backgrounds. “I would stand up for what’s right but wouldn’t do it at the cost of causing harm to personal relations or my work. Controversial statements can be interpreted as making someone appear ‘troublesome’ and that can hamper earnings and I wouldn’t want that because I support a family,” she said. She therefore measures her statements carefully before saying anything publically.
Mushk has however, been quoted in interviews where she’s said a model’s height is crucial. With her being 5’11”, other models have felt attacked in an industry that isn’t very particular about height. When asked about it, she said, “I understand different body sizes and plus size models, I’m purely talking about what designers require at their shows. I saw at MFW that models were taken out because of a difference of a couple of inches and the competition was very cut-throat. I’m not saying that models shouldn’t be big, all I’m saying is that the need of the designers is generally that models are tall.”
We like that Mushk is opinionated, her confidence and communication skills make her come across as even more attractive as a model. That and her ability to carry off anything she wears effortlessly are all attributes that will take her far. When asked what she’d like to do next, given the fleeting nature of modelling, she said she’d love to delve into making perfumes. How apt, considering Mushk is Arabic for musk and it basically means fragrance.