For Pakistan’s growing industry, award shows are especially important; each and every award show is not just a chance to celebrate talent and reward excellence but an opportunity for celebrities to establish themselves as larger than life beings.
No matter how new or well-known an artist is, their red carpet appearance is the first chance for them to appear in style to promote their projects of the past year and hopefully leave a lasting impression on the millions watching. On screen is where they play a character but off screen, the red carpet is one place where they promote themselves. This is why it’s particularly heartbreaking to see talented actors and actresses, who should be celebrated on their big nights, being torn apart for their fashion choices.
Our case in point is a recent award ceremony where the red carpet flaunted Pakistan’s biggest stars making the most unimpressive fashion statements.
Can we blame them?
Film and TV stars don’t know how to work the red carpet well because it’s still a relatively newer concept for them. If one takes a walk down memory lane, the Lux Style Awards launched the first proper glamorous red carpet in the country. They came in around almost 18 years ago and as the name suggests, style quotient was integral to the event.
When the industry was smaller, it was easier for Nabila’s team to manage the stars, and they did for a long time. But, with a growing industry and social media’s ever expanding and equally unforgiving reach - a practical solution needs to be found for celebrities, to save them the heartache of worst dressed lists and also dealing with their fans’ disappointment.
What these award shows have shed light on is the fact that our celebrities need professional help getting dressed for the red carpet. Stylists need to swoop in to help stars manage the flood of free gowns and to commission custom ones. When celebrities go on their own shopping/borrowing spree, they run the risk of looking the same and not necessarily their best. The trick is to look the part, take your stylists input while maintaining a certain sense of individuality. Without stylists, the only stars that end up standing out are the ones with really strong personal style - the likes of Meesha Shafi or Kiran Malik come to mind.
Ayesha Omar is another celebrity who has been well dressed at almost all of her recent promotional outings and red carpet appearances. Omar is known to work with different stylists including Sana Anver, who styled her for the latest awards in her customized Elan sari look. Sana is a stylist stars like Sonya Hussyn, Mawra Hocane and Ayesha Omar often turn to for their red carpet looks. Anver shares, "I feel people used to make more of an effort before but over the years, the red carpet has gotten worse. Celebrities should work with stylists for their looks but it should always be a team effort as it is with me and my clients."
Beyond bridal wear
One of the biggest challenges that celebrities generally face when preparing for an awards show is to choose between a desi and a foreign look. One means appealing to a mass audience in their home country and the other means possibly appealing to a global audience. It’s not an easy choice to make because if they go western and wear risque outfits, the moral police can come down on them and if they wear eastern wear, it can look like they’re a wedding attendee.
These days, we see a glut of gowns on the red carpet, so when someone wants to stand out, a solid eastern look might do the trick but the secret to that is subtlety, not shaadi looks and there are many local designers who can facilitate that if told in time.
Sana Anver talks about how important the Western vs fusion decision is for her when working with celebrity clients. "I like Western and fusion both - if I’m pulling something I don’t have a choice but if I’m customizing something then I start out with whether it’s Western or fusion. I did fusion this time for Ayesha but only because the last was Western."
Ayesha herself shares that she always has a say in her outfits and while the western versus fusion confusion does arise, it is easy to decide based on whether she’s performing or hosting for which she focuses on comfort. For award shows she prefers fusion for film and television awards, whereas something more experimental for style and fashion awards and events.
One can go for a fusion look without looking over the top if the bridal aesthetic is kept at bay - minimalist to no embellishment, sari silhouettes, form-fitted, asymmetrical tunics teamed with pants and jackets or crop tops paired with skirts of varying lengths. If celebrities work with designers and stylists in advance to design their looks, they can get cuts most suited to their body type and personality.
The possible impact of women-led roles
Ayesha Omar shares, "I’d like to see outrageous fashion on the red carpet and I’d like to see elegant fashion on the red carpet. I wish I could do stuff that Lady Gaga does."
Pakistani actresses who do want to push the bar have a tight rope to walk where there’s a fine line between edgy and ‘too much.’ We wonder when our leading ladies would be able to pull off experimentation of that nature without being labelled.
In Hollywood, for a long time women were wearing poofy dresses and ball gowns but that started changing and the change was led by the roles women were getting in film and television. An explosion of female-led, women-driven and more diverse shows started leading to innovation on the clothes we saw onscreen and on the red carpet. There were quirky, strange, complex women characters on TV now and that allowed actors to be more adventurous on the red carpet.
Two characters who used their on screen personas to develop their off screen personalities are Taraji P. Henson who became a style star for playing the flamboyant Cookie Lyon on Fox’s Empire and Jodie Comer of Villanelle success on Killing Eve. Their sartorial successes show how a new class of female-led shows with complicated characters and covetable wardrobes could elevate their status on the red carpet as well. Since they’re used to playing these characters, there’s a familiarity and comfort level there and people are used to seeing them as trendsetters on the show so they’d be willing to experiment on the red carpet as well. The characters written for our actresses are more conservative and that naturally translates to their red carpet appearances.
Ayesha Omar doesn’t feel that characters on TV need to have anything to do with an actor’s fashion expression on the red carpet. "If I was on the red carpet of a film premiere, I may want to do something slightly similar to the character I was playing but I don’t think the two are co-dependent or should be."
We do agree that the red carpet is not an extension of an actor’s on screen persona but film, television and fashion have a symbiotic relationship and stronger female characters onscreen can definitely allow actors to push the sartorial bar just a little bit more.