Is it Time to Rethink Fashion Week?

September 27, 2015

The PFDC L’Oreal Bridal Week had all the markings of a success - most importantly a stellar lineup - and yet it fell short of being sensational. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the elements

Is it Time to Rethink Fashion Week?

How does one stand out at fashion week?

That’s a question Vanessa Friedman, Chief Fashion Critic at New York Times asked after New York Fashion Week, which was unraveling in the Big Apple around the same time as fashion week was taking place in Lahore. Friedman tossed the answer between concepts, ideas, celebrity appearances, gimmicks and ultimately, better collections. There may be a good seven decades of experience between NYFW and PLBW but the issues, uncannily, are the same.

So, how does one stand out at fashion week when there are almost two-dozen collections vying for attention, season after season?

The easiest way, it may seem, would be to pay for your exclusive little posse of IT girls to promote you on Instagram but that’s not a very credible way. Let’s turn to the ethical options. Ali Xeeshan is infamous for pulling out the theatrics and this year it was a guest appearance by Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The gentile may have been appalled at the blow to their aesthetics - the gimmick did reduce his otherwise strong collection to comic proportions for a moment – but it was unforgettable nonetheless. Purpose served.

While NYFW can afford to play with nudity or sexual transgression for a headline, the knee jerk answer to attention in Lahore, as Friedman would put it, is celebrity. So Ali Xeeshan roped in celebrity appearances by Sohai Ali Aabro and Meesha Shafi. Celebrity appearances, of course, are always a crowd puller at fashion week and we saw Ali Sethi lip sync for Fahad Hussayn, Meera Sethi walk for Nickie Nina (many of us wondered why) and Uzair Jaswal, Mehwish Hayat and Humayun Saeed all turn up the heat for Nomi Ansari. Sara Haider rendered the Coke Studio version of ‘Aye Dil’ for Mahgul; it would have been nice had Ali Zafar joined her. Day One had Fawad Khan and Farhad Humayun in the front rows, possibly courtesy Samsung Galaxy, a sponsoring brand whom they are ambassadors of. Bottom line: there was no shortage of stars at fashion week. And they twinkled away.

Was the venue a befitting arena for those stars and bedazzling collections to shine?

It wasn’t. As pretty as the Falettis property may be, the weather forecast nudged the red carpet indoors and created a haphazard mess, which it was impossible to navigate through without getting stepped on or shoved around. If the space was cramped then the ‘creative chaos’ of logos on the backdrop caused even more visual confusion. Why must sponsors insist on being ‘in your face’ at an event when only style should shine? It’s a mystery only advertisers or their handlers (like Mindshare) can solve.

Back to locations, it’s time PLBW rethought the venue. 22 designers showed at fashion week this year, out of which at least seven were a sheer waste of time to sit through. Time really is too precious to waste anymore. That said, all these designers have a market and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have a slot to show. There also is no reason why we are subjected to their monotonous and unexciting versions year after year. Their shows should benefit their buyers only. The solution? Customized locations.

The Bryant Park tents in NY packed up in favour of customized locations years ago; it’s time PLBW followed the same course. New York Fashion Week features approximately 300 shows each season. Only a dozen or so are critiqued in mainstream media and the rest are documented on the numerous directories online. Likewise, Fashion Week in Pakistan must have the capacity to accommodate whosoever wishes to show (it’s not a sorority, after all) but media and buyers must have the choice to attend whichever show they please. Mandatory attendance has to discontinue. Please, we’re not in high school anymore.

Also, customized locations will take creative showcases to new levels. Givenchy held a fashion show on Pier 26, ‘in the shadows of the New York skyline,’ Oscar de la Renta took it to an iconic ballroom. Even couture shows in India are conceptual. Lahore may not have the budget to go all out (even though the number of Birkins per square foot may suggest otherwise) but being confined to your seats for three odd hours - whether you love or loathe what you see – is also very pedestrian. The creative process must evolve. It’s time to move on. Quite literally.

So, are designers moving on, creatively?

Yes and no.

PLBW boasted a stellar lineup this year, with maybe just a couple of names inducing an ‘oh-no’ kind of creative coma in the mind. Most of it was solid, with strong trends emerging in the shape of crop tops (a toned mid riff is the most important fashion accessory this season in Lahore), baggy 80’s style tunics replete with empire sleeves and boat necklines and skirts. The skirt most definitely is the new ghagra. Disturbing, however, was the obsession with badly constructed can-cans, murky colour palettes, shoddy workmanship with beads and baubles dropping off and a regurgitation of last year’s mood boards.

"In the end, what sticks with you are the ideas," Vanessa Friedman said in an interview with Times Insider after NYFW this year. "It’s like going to a host of modern art galleries: a lot of what you see is derivative or silly, but then you see one show that makes you reconsider what you thought you knew, and suddenly it’s all worthwhile."

The House of Kamiar Rokni is what made it all worthwhile. But if Alchemy was an explosion of brilliant ideas, then most of his contemporaries coloured safely and conservatively within the lines. While Sana Safinaz and Sania Maskatiya kept their designs modern and wearable, their competitors preferred to weigh their models down in cumbersome tradition. One model even pulled a muscle in her back as her gown weighed an unbelievable 30 kilos. Almost as much as she did.

Wedding wear is revivalist in essence but while Elan paid a glorious tribute to The Jasmine Court, her imitators could only make it to the dark shadows of the gullies. While Nomi Ansari presented an immaculate, picture-perfect palette of colours (his craft is impeccable), many of his fellow designers playing with colour ended in a muddy mess. Shamaeel and Misha Lakhani played with their signatures but there were just as many designers who didn’t have one. For every awe-inspiring collection there was one that let itself down.

What about the new designers and rising talent?

Not all of them will rise. Let me first stand up and salute Bank Alfalah for putting up such a valuable platform where one deserving candidate wins a 500,000-rupee stipend for starting his or her business. This year’s winner, Hamza Bokhari of Jeem was my personal favourite as you could see him thinking like a designer and not a pretty socialite whose network of fawning fans would assure she succeeds even if her surname doesn’t. That was the Bank Alfalah Rising Talent. But what was the ‘PFDC Introduces: New Bridal Designers’ segment. Rather why was the ‘PFDC Introduces: New Bridal Designers’? It was unnecessary. Mahgul is established enough to have her own segment and Suffuse should have been in Rising Talent. Or not, judging by what we saw.

Last(ing) impression: the look

It’s amazing how pretty fashion week looks in Lahore and that lasting impression of glamour, that feel good factor will always be its biggest strength. Front rows flourish with well heeled fashionistas who seem to have tumbled out of their bed in Louboutins. Good looks are in abundance whether it’s the IT crowd or the media; Lahore does host some of the prettiest young things on the circuit. And then there are the fashion creatures: Ali Xeeshan in his beastly white beard (this season), HSY who continuously refers to himself in third person and has three bulky body guards shadow him everywhere. They even inhale and exhale in unison. There is Fahad Hussayn, who seems to have returned from Hogwarts and there is the Kamiar Rokni – Rehan Bashir designer duo, who always look like they’re on their way to Akbar’s Court. The women - whether Maheen Kardar, Nickie Nina, Ammara Khan, Saira and Shakira, Khadijah Shah or the perennially well styled Sara Shahid - are simply beautiful. What would fashion week be without them all?

Lahore even has the best models in the country and when they are made-up by the whizzing wands of Nabila’s creative team, they bring magic to the runway. All this gorgeousness comes together under the watchful eye of Sehyr Saigol and to the average bystander, it is bloody impressive. Seriously, if fashion week in Lahore were to be judged by looks alone then it would be stuff dreams are made of. The reality, however, is lacking ideas, concept, innovation. There needs to be more that is said and expressed at fashion week. Where are the statements, the political reflections, the shocking expressions … where is the novelty of ideas? The PFDC L’Oreal Fashion Week has established itself as a solid platform but to go from good to great it has to rewrite the plot and pick up the place as well as the pace. As Friedman says, "In the end what sticks with you are ideas."

Photography by Faisal Farooqui

Is it Time to Rethink Fashion Week?