Eight years into the program, keeping an eye on global standards and the socio-politics that drives fashion worldwide, one felt that most fashion designers participating in PLBW - while steady in terms of content – fell short of being sensational.
The PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week (PLBW) took place in Lahore last week; the three-day showcase celebrated its eighth year and 24 designers, a pleasant combination of both established names and debutantes. PLBW really has accomplished a lot in terms of credibility, which has come with years of consistent shows, displays of both creative thinking and commercial acumen. That’s all very well but eight years into the program, keeping an eye on global standards and the socio-politics that influence and in fact fashion worldwide, one felt that PLBW - or more specifically the fashion designers participating - while steady in terms of content, fell short of being sensational. Barring a select few, it was a line-up of pretty, or you can say, pretty repetitive collections.
While issues like inclusion, gender impartiality, equality and activism define the world’s fashion stage like never before, a prime example being the shows at New York Fashion Week that represented the complexity of fashion as part of a socio-political ecosystem, these issues have yet to even skim the sequinned surface of fashion in Pakistan. Okay, maybe it’s unfair to compare the 75-year old NYFW to our adolescent runway, but one has to ensure that we are at least looking (not even walking) in the right direction.
It’s understandable that designers in this part of the world, Pakistan most specifically, struggle with business growth and planning; there aren’t too many investors to oil the financial wheels while the creative minds explore new ideas or take innovative risks or make relevant statements through their designs. Designers struggle with making commercially lucrative albeit innovative collections that will sell in a constantly evolving market where half-price knock-offs retail quicker than their original designs however, and one says this with sympathy not scorn, there have to be more sparks of genius, if not fireworks, to prevent fashion week from settling into a comfortable, complacent, post-retirement kind of pace and space. Making ‘nice’ clothes is simply not enough even though it’s much better than making ‘ugly’ clothes, as we have seen in the past.
There were a couple of names that spelt magic in terms of aesthetics. Kamiar Rokni’s Moonrise was the ideal contemporary wedding wear collection; it was diverse, experimental in playing with shape as well as colour and it was borderline edgy. It used craft and techniques of the region to create clothes for the current times. This is as close to couture as bridals can get. Nomi Ansari’s Maya was fireworks of colours; the perfection of skill in putting each ensemble together - the precision of coordinating a multitude of colours in one look and making it work - is the designer’s forte and he works it to his advantage season after season. Faraz Manan returned to the PLBW platform after seven years and his return was well worth the wait. Why this designer has gone international is evident in the level of luxury that he achieves in his ensembles; they are intricately worked with the kind of finesse that has earned him every accolade he has received.
‘It’s the same thing over and over again,’ is a comment you get to hear when speaking of Nomi Ansari’s silhouettes, Faraz Manan’s sequinned pastels and even Misha Lakhani and Nida Azwer’s ethos (they too showed solid, impressive collections) but one would call that signature. Recurring elements in these designers’ collections are their trademark, leitmotifs of their brand.
Progression within a signature style is certainly desirable but to question a designer’s signature style would be akin to asking Picasso why he continued to paint abstract over and over again. Designers are artists; they create what is close to their heart, at least ideally. The problem arises when they compromise the artist within to make money but then there’s a reason why the Great Masters lived in poverty and died in misery.
Fashion must strike a balance because it is as much a necessity as it is an art form and one designer who has managed, through his love for theatrics, to make a statement while running a successful business, is Ali Xeeshan. Ali was the only designer to create a separate space for his solo show; he must have felt the need for creative liberties to project his collection, Ijaazat, in the best possible way. Kudos to him. Just the fact that he makes a statement with his fashion week showing, makes him a little more relevant than the next person. He has worked with themes like child brides and education for girls in the past; this collection was a cheeky take on the millennial obsession with social media. One appreciates the fact that he makes his work memorable via message.
Messaging, one would say, is an integral part of any public platform, which is why the half hour that Mahira Khan and Mehreen Syed took the stage as L’Oreal’s official spokespersons, was so significant.
Mahira Khan recapped the last one year of her life and the historic trip to Cannes where she became part of the global ‘Worth It’ campaign driven to strengthen and empower women worldwide. While no one spoke of the recent death of upcoming model Anam Tanoli, one felt the need for someone influential to address the issue of mental health, depression, cyber bullying and body shaming, which Mahira did most sensitively and effectively. She particularly emphasized on the need for women to support women, a point that desperately needed to be made for a fashion and entertainment industry that thrives on the air-kiss-back-stab philosophy.
"I strongly believe that empowering women with better education, being sensitive towards their wellbeing, health, happiness, ensuring equal opportunities and respecting their rights will go a long way in transforming Pakistan," she said. "Here’s to all women knowing that they truly are worth it!"
Mehreen Syed spoke about her work at iCare, an initiative she mentors in collaboration with L’Oreal Pakistan. She paid tribute to her mother who had singlehandedly given her the strength, courage and confidence to be who she is. Pregnant with her second child, Mehreen Syed was perfect representation of how the runway can get ‘real’.
"I feel lucky in life to be associated with a brand like L’Oréal which genuinely believes in empowering women worldwide to feel confident to control their own lives through education, employment and economic uplift," Mehreen said in her brief address. This year’s ‘Beauty For A Better Life’ program will enable 500 women from underprivileged socio-economic background including women who are challenged by physical disabilities to gain free of cost beauty training, provide employment opportunities and regain their self-esteem."
A round of applause for both Mahira and Mehreen for being role models.
Speaking of models, there was a new pool at PLBW that despite being very rough around the edges, had the promise of diversifying the existing pool. The usual round of Chinese Whispers regarding why established models were sitting fashion week out were doing the rounds but the modelling industry at large - its highs and lows – is another story for another day. One would like to say, though, that despite there being a standard look for a standard fashion model (young, tall, slim), we are looking for regulations in terms of size (the council needs to vocally ban the unhealthy size zero standard) and diversification in model pools. It
wouldn’t hurt - every now and then - for some brave designer to make a statement for real women, the middle-aged kind and curvy-almost-rotund type that actually buys the clothes. Rihanna’s SavageXFenty finale at New York Fashion Week, of course, is major inspiration. One is looking at Ali Xeeshan and Nomi Ansari with hope. They can do it.
Between all the hype and hoopla, PLBW successfully launched four new brands on the platform - Zainab Salman, Hira Ali, Hussain Rehar and Rema & Shehrbano. Young but relatively newer brands like Jeem by Hamza Bokhari and Farah & Fatima also showcased collections that had potential to evolve. Bridging the gaps were solid collections from Saira Shakira (who braved a full-length solo show quite impressively), Hassan Sheheryar Yasin (with the finest, freshest collection one has seen in a long time), Nickie Nina tapping into their roots quite effectively and Republic by Omar Farooq, who manages to get menswear right every single time.
There are points to ponder over and thoughts to think over, but such will always be the case. What’s important is that the show must and is going on and it has managed to create a space for fashion to shine on. What one looks forward to is some diversity in the shimmer; one hopes that designers will manage to push it out of the box.
Watch this space for a comment on the early evening shows at fashion week.
- Fashion week’s backbone: All photography by Faisal Farooqui and his team at Dragonfly, Show Direction by Sadia Siddiqui, Show Production by Production 021 & Restart and finally, Hair & Makeup and styling by N Pro and N Gents.