The international dream

November 24, 2013

The international dream
Fashion Parade 2013 set out to make a mark in London and it did so with panache at Asia House, an appropriately cultural and cosy venue to host an intimate show in the sprawling metropolis that buzzes 24/7. Unlike many Pakistani events in London (one has witnessed a number of disasters over the years) it was smooth sailing in terms of timing, with Friday evening kicking off with drinks and canapés, and guests availing the opportunity to purchase the finest in Pakistan fashion ahead of the catwalk. It really was a thrill to sample the artistic talent from Pakistan, putting on a proud display of intricate embroideries, dazzling colours, sharp tailoring and the finest of fabrics, in an array of authentic styles to suit all tastes and cater to a fusion market. Fashion weeks back in the homeland seem to have taken up designers’ vision by leaps and bounds.
Maheen’s tribute to the Maharanis of Hind gave a 21st century twist to tradition.
Maheen’s tribute to the Maharanis of Hind gave a 21st century twist to tradition.

Perhaps it’s the rising profile of Pakistani fashion and indeed of Pakistan itself that the evening attracted a number of high profile guests, such as James Caan, famous entrepreneur and former judge of popular British TV programme, Dragon’s Den. Also in attendance were Lord Noon, Ahyla Fateh, Kamel Hothi, Pinky Liliani, Dr Ghazala Hamid, and Deputy High Commissioner of the Pakistan Embassy, Nevid Ahmed and Imran Mirza, among others. Several leading Pakistani businessmen and women were also present at the show, including leading socialites of the British Pakistani London scene. It was a mixed crowd, with many enthused English faces. They were quite bowled over by the aesthetic display on show. And then there is the fascination factor: fashion remains a face of Pakistan that many in the West are unaware of. So it was an education on Pakistani culture, a veritable ambassadorial feather in the cap, this showcasing of Pakistani talent.

The event organised by Mustang Productions and Encylcomedia PR, with Ammara Hikmat professionally and elegantly steering the showboat. Media support came from GEO Tez and Jang Group of Newspapers, and the evening took off to a stylish start with a well renowned name in Pakistan, Maheen Khan. Her collection was named ‘Nostalgia’; it evoked the decadence of the majestic rule of the maharanis of Hind. A medley of chiffons and silks in blazing reds, mustards, and more muted tones of mauves and beiges leant Maheen’s signature cutting edge to the historic era. Her sharp, elegant cuts were perfectly accessorized with 1920s headwear from a Hertfordshire based milliner, Lisa Jayne; especially the feathered head dress and white pearled parasol emphasized the regal portrayal magnificently and kept it current. Lisa also created eye catchingly dramatic headpieces for a number of the other designers. Shoes for this segment were provided by Nicola Savage Boutique, in soft creamy colours.

Next up was the immensely popular young designer from Pakistan. Sania Maskatiya showcased her Hazan Autumn Eid Collection 2013, which took inspiration from Turkish ‘gomleks’, combining traditional Ottoman scripts and Islamic patterns, interpreting traditional art into the modern era. Liron, a jewellery graduate from London College of Fashion, provided the funky earrings to offset this segment. Sania Maskatiya wasn’t able to make it to the show, but the clothes spoke for themselves about the very modern direction Pakistani fashion is taking.

Mashaal, a young upcoming designer from Lahore, presented her collection, ‘Reflections of a Woman’. A melange of fusion wear and Eastern bridals, she explained that this is a collection for the woman who is rooted in tradition, but faces the world on her terms. She told Instep that her vision is of a Pakistani woman who “is bold, beautiful and intelligent and that is reflected in the clothes she wears. The colour palette ranges from emerald green, shades of red, blue and gold.” Lisa Jayne also fashioned peacock jewelled fans for Mashaal’s collection.

Layla Chatoor, who came with her husband Mansoor to the UK, displayed her collection of fusion dresses, in the exhibition, including a beautiful long golden dress, in which she dressed Humaima Malik. On the catwalk, her collection, entitled ‘Garden of Eden’ continued with the theme of fusion wear, featuring Western cuts with Parsi (and very Asian) ‘Gara’. True to theme, her motifs were articulately embroidered birds, flowers and vines, in French tulle, with gold and silver threads, creating a visually tantalising delight. She stated that her collection had a Western sensibility to it yet the embroidery and cut is all Eastern. Layla stated that she felt that people in the UK would be able to relate to her designs over in London and felt it was a good platform to show what designers like her are doing in Pakistan. Hers was certainly formal evening wear, which can appeal to a Western market that is increasingly opening up to the idea of ‘bling’.


After the first segment of the show finished, the thus far professional flair of the evening was somewhat let down by a compère who simply didn’t know what to say, or how to fill in the blanks, as she rather embarrassingly admitted to a bemused audience. With lines such as ‘I should have had a co-host" and then turning to, "Don’t worry, I have the voice of God"… I’ll just spare the readers from cringing further by stopping here. The slipshod hosting just didn’t complement the finesse of the evening…

Sadia Siddiqui, CEO of Mustang Productions with designer Nazneen Tariq
Sadia Siddiqui, CEO of Mustang Productions with designer Nazneen Tariq

The second half of the show commenced with relative newcomer, Sara Rohale Asghar’s collection, entitled ‘Aroos Zeba’, which drew inspiration from ancient Persia, fitting the popular regal theme of the evening and transcending it into bridal wear that will look extra grand in London. Her cool pastel peaches and bold embroidery created a stunning effect and will go down well with the desi crowd.

London based designer Nazneen Tariq’s collection was a more subdued Western collection, showcasing an entirely different look. Hers was a collection of short black dresses and tops, catering for the Western market. But as Sara Rohail Asghar commented, ‘The West is best at doing Western clothes’. Perhaps Nazneen’s was an attempt at showing that Pakistan can keep up with the West, but it failed to show what sets Pakistani fashion apart, as being unique, vibrant and colourful. It is difficult to break into the Western market with Western clothes. To do so, one has to be ahead of the local market, in terms of sharp cuts, finer fabrics, quality control, but marketing and distribution is tricky goal to achieve.

Another talented, edgy designer, Fahad Hussayn showcased his ‘Print Museum’ collection, which featured live digital prints in ten different designs in beautiful silks and chiffons. Between him and Sania Maskatiya, they really showed the modern face of Pakistani fashion that is showing up in something the nation has historically loved – prints! ‘The ‘Ethereal Collection’ from Mariam Najmi infused rich colours and elegant design, which was aimed at being a celebration of all women.

Last but not least, came top Pakistani designer Nomi Ansari’s vibrantly bold and eye-catchingly colourful collection. It really was the perfect finale. Visually, it was the most memorable and dramatic, with a playful jigsaw of cuts and colours in fun patterns on silks and chiffons with adorning velvet borders. Lisa Jayne provided 10 stunning head pieces to accompany Nomi Ansari’s collection. Two of the more notable headpieces were of a perfectly shaped shoe and another of an owl on the head. Nomi stated that he felt this had been a very enthused audience and he had been encouraged by the response he received. Indeed Nomi’s collection was a mesmerising and a truly stunning collection which fittingly ended the evening, with a firework of colours. It was entirely appropriate that his explosion of genius talent that kept the West in mind while sticking to Eastern techniques and love of detail was kept to the end.

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Lord Noon & Mrs. Weikfield
Brit-Asian influence Lord Noon with Mrs Weikfield

It really is about East meets West in London. For this Pakistani Fashion Parade, jewellery was provided by Jolita, a quirky label from London and from Chi22, and Liron. Kovvuri, based in London and Dubai, provided the shoes, with unique designs, kicking off with Swarovski encrusted heels. NK Collection provided a selection of jewellery to four of the designers, from pearl earrings to long antique haars.

The makeup and hair was faultless; UK based Asia Glam Academy teamed up with Iffat Raja from Fashion Parade to provide a stunning look. Iffat is born and raised in London, but takes her influence from her Pakistani background and having just been styling for over a year, she is making quite a name for herself by being featured in a number of top magazines.

The models were professional and elegant and carried off the designs effortlessly. The clothes draped beautifully on the stunning models and the background music chosen for the catwalk was uplifting and set the mood perfectly. Former Miss England, the drop dead gorgeous Persian UK based model, Hammasa Kohistani was the showstopper.

Mustang Productions CEO, Sadia Siddiqui, who facilitated the show, told Instep that she plans to shorten the gap between Pakistani and British fashion industry and hold another event for Pakistani designers very soon.

Picture perfect Ammara Hikmat of Encyclomedia PR

"It’s important that we do our best to promote Pakistani talent in every possible way we can. Pakistani fashion designers are heading for the cutting edge of global fashion but they need promotion and recognition. It was heartening to see that so many Indians came out when they heard about Pakistani designers showing at Asia House. They love Pakistani fashion." She said they had called both Indian and Pakistani buyers and Asia House as an institute was an appropriate venue for it promotes Asian art, culture, literature and fashion.

Both Indian and Pakistani elite had been invited and this was in an attempt to put Pakistani designers on the map. It is clear that there is a market for Pakistani design, not just amongst the British Pakistanis, but also amongst the Indians and in UAE and the Middle East. So many Indians openly admit to preferring Pakistani ‘libas’ (clothes). The embroidery is more intricate, the fabrics are richer, the silhouette more relaxed and flattering. We are seeing Indians follow Pakistani fashion with greater interest.

Success story: Kamel Hothi, Director at Lloyds Banking Group

It is clear that there is wealthy Indian elite in the UK, who are able and willing to spend their money on high-end quality fashion. If the Pakistani designers offer a more tempting alternative to their own designers, there is no sense of misguided loyalty and the Indians will certainly buy from the Pakistani market. The task at hand really is to project and market Pakistani designers on an international level and certainly a small stride was taken at Asia House. What is required is sustainability and follow up and let’s face it, we need to be bolder and bigger. It is not simply enough that the designs were stunning, the fabrics luxurious, the vision futuristic. These designers need a marketing edge and cannot simply rely on PR companies and so forth to sell for them. They need to team up with big players in the UK fashion industry and attract a larger audience and launch at bigger venues to make more significant impact. Fashion Parade 2013 was a success but these are small strides.

The English market may not quite be ready for shalwar kameez, but British Pakistani and Indians still love Eastern glamour, they dress in Asian clothes for cultural events and will mix Asian pieces with their own. Not many have the accessibility of a trip to Pakistan or India every time they need a new outfit. This why the impending opening of Khaadi at Westfield shopping centre has caused such a stir amongst the ex-pat community. There is a distinct buzz of excited anticipation.

Fahad Hussayn and Sania Maskatiya put a whole new spin on the Pakistani love of prints
Fahad Hussayn and Sania Maskatiya put a whole new spin on the Pakistani love of prints

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Faiza Butt and Ayesha Mustafa of Fashion Compassion

The few English faces at Asia House were fascinated by the display and one English gentleman asked me if women are allowed to dress like this in Pakistan. He perhaps imagines Pakistani women in purdah. It’s an education for the average Britisher to learn that the Pakistani woman is elegant, liberated and feminine. Some of the more traditional outfits and bridal wear will fail to appeal to the wider market, but fusion wear is certain to cut inroads into mainstream fashion. Pakistani designers certainly have the potential to outclass other Asian designers, if they play their cards right. And that means greater finesse, targeting the correct clientele and most importantly profiling on a larger scale. Much of Pakistan’s fusion fashion, if marketed in the right way, can certainly appeal to the European market. Many high street brands, including Monsoon and top English designers, are certainly taking inspiration from the East.

A popular reality TV programme here, Made In Chelsea, recently showcased a Bollywood themed party, where the British cast were dressed in bridal wear by Ekta Solanki. Indian designers are better known and promoted far more successfully, but their fashion is not necessarily as elegant and delicate, as Pakistani designers, and I say this without bias. My Indian friends tell me Pakistani outfits are superior in many ways. The outfits worn on the programme were quite garish, with brash colours, unflattering cuts and clumsy embroidery. The Asian Wedding Show 2013, took place in November at the Excel centre, with over 10,500 people paying to attend and two more UK dates are set in early 2014, which demonstrates a healthy interest in Asian fashion abroad. However, it is not bridal wear, but fusion, smart, elegant wear which can attract a larger clientele. The more serious designers should perhaps consider, coming on their own expense in future and thus investing in their designs.

British Pakistani entrepreneur extraordinaire Lames Caan with Michael Lawrence, CEO of Asia House

So Asia House attempted to provide a small platform to showcase Pakistani fashion. It was a small, intimate affair, with some 120 invitees. There was no doubt that the styles on show made an impact. One Indian lady, a renowned top banker, certainly looked impressed and people were seen to make purchases, in the short time available.  Many left with business cards and pamphlets for future reference. There was insufficient time to browse and buy at leisure, but it was a tempting introduction for many.

The night ended too early, so I ventured to another fashion show nearby in the heart of London, this time held by Indian fashion stylist Pernia Qureshi, famed for dressing Sonam Kapoor. It was certainly on another level. Five star venue, with various buffet corners, food to gorge on and flowing drinks, delightful goody bags

Karachi’s Layla Chatoor with Lahore designer Mashaal Moazzam
Karachi’s Layla Chatoor with Lahore designer Mashaal Moazzam

to take home and music to rock the night away to. A real live mannequin sat

behind a large window displaying the dresses. Over 500 guests partied as they took fashion in, lounging on luxury leather white sofas or bopping away on the dance floor. There was no expense spared to launch Pernia’s Pop Up Store in London for Masaba, an up and coming name in Indian fashion. After the flamboyant, colourful, vibrant, long, flowing

fabrics witnessed at Asia House, this collection was lifeless and dull in comparison. It was more muted and understated and so perhaps in that way would appeal to the more sober Western market.  No matter how much more stylish the Indian party, there was a smug realization in knowing Pakistani fashion wins hands down when it comes to individuality. There’s just a lot more pizzazz needed in the promotion of it.

Sara Rohale Asghar’s dramatically desi bridal, Mashaal Moazzam’s elegant evening wear and Layla Chatoor’s dress brings home the Asian aesthetic, Nazneen Tariq’s is like any other LBD

The writer is a family law barrister based in London. She tweets at @aisha_jamil

The international dream