International fashion weeks have started unfurling with in-person as well as digital shows, underscoring an irrepressible feeling of optimism and purpose. Those of us observing from afar are left longing for maybe just a fraction of that tenacity.
The interdependence of fashion and life has never been as significant as it is today. The post-pandemic world highlights clothes as expressions of everything it means, or should mean, to be alive. Think of what all has happened in the past 16 months since Covid-19 exploded to unfathomable proportions, and you’ll end up wondering about the values of existing in the world today.
Fashion is, in very simple terms, the most visual expression of who you are. That vision, here in Pakistan, may be clouded by the stark realities of life where load shedding, gas shortage and natural disasters are still a stifling reality, but the rest of the fashion world has emerged with a very concrete concept of what it wants to express. Fashion’s shifting landscape is not just about making pretty clothes anymore but about making pretty relevant statements too.
Featuring both in-person and digital shows, appearing as solo presentations as well as fashion week schedules, the shows in Paris brought fashion back to life. Whether you were looking at menswear, ready-to-wear or haute couture, fashion reclaimed headlines. And in this return to life, fashion found a new purpose. Those of us observing from afar were left with a longing of maybe just a fraction of that tenacity finding its way here.
With fast fashion firmly crossed out as a dirty word, the emphasis was on the value of craft, especially in couture. Nowhere was this more prolific than at the Dior Haute Couture offering, held at the Rodin Museum in Paris. A 340m-long gallery, created on a canvas of silk, hemp, linen and cotton, was hand-embroidered with 400 different colours by students of the Chanakya School of Craft in Mumbai, India. The House of Dior has been training women at this school for several years now. Conceptualized by French artist Eva Jospin with Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri, the landscape and backdrop to the collection was their way of connecting couture to the craft and craftsman.
Just as impactful, the Valentino show was held at Venice’s ship building yard which, in Renaissance days, was the hub of trade and these days hosts the city’s art Biennales. Guests, requested to wear all white for the show, were seated between ancient architectural columns, camouflaged with white stone and bricks. Surrounded by water, this made for the most poetic setting for a collection that was nothing short of a masterpiece. Pierpaolo Piccioli, Valentino’s creative director, had worked with 17 painters to reinterpret their work. The resulting 84 looks varied from puffball micro-minis to voluminous ball gowns, dresses and menswear that could just as easily cross over.
If the Dior show was all about textiles and textures, Valentino was about art and architecture.
Pakistan has a rich tradition of craft, evident and kept alive in the country’s bridal couture. There are couturiers and revivalists like Bunto Kazmi and Faiza Samee who are keeping traditions from all four provinces alive but it is fashion’s loss that these couturiers rarely show or exhibit their mastery. You may find a Bunto Kazmi tapestry at the Mohatta Palace in Karachi or once a Faiza Samee at the V&A in London, but businesses are limited to private clients. Would these masters, and others like Nilofer Shahid, ever wish to step beyond exclusive ateliers, one is confident the result would be nothing short of magnificent. The few shows they’ve participated in over the past two decades are proof enough of it.
Back in Paris, fashion stepped beyond the obvious. Couture came forth with an aspirational value of inclusivity for street wear and clothing that was functional. Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga aimed “to give equal value to a black turtleneck, pair of jeans, utility jacket, or T-shirt as to a grand ball gown or skirt suit”. Over in New York, Marc Jacobs’ vision for 2022 spring/summer ready to wear was a post-pandemic new generation that was gender non-specific, body positive and all-inclusive. Oversized outerwear could be stripped for layers of wearability, and added for inclusivity for just about anyone. Irrespective of man, woman, race, belief, culture or climate, it was all thrown together and it came together cohesively.
The same values were reinforced at the Kenzo show, where head designer Oliveira Baptista gave an artisanal value to sportswear. Again, bold, bright and almost iridescent, the styles were cross cultural and comprehensive. These was a certain kind of freedom in the collection’s appeal, be it freedom of movement or expression. Isn’t that what we’re most in need of today?
Realities of climate change played a big part in several collections. Schiaparelli, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano for Maison Margiela put life back into old denim. There’s nothing obviously luxurious about denim but the way it was handled gave it renewed purpose and appeal.
“Schiaparelli artistic director Daniel Roseberry put a surreal spin on old jeans via a dramatically sleeved denim jacket embroidered with gold lips, ears, and ceramic eyes. ‘Here’s what I want: No more cookie-cutter fashion,’ Roseberry wrote in his show notes. ‘I hope this collection reminds everyone who encounters it of the sheer delight that fashion can bring us in hard times, and with it, the promise of more joy when the clouds part. Give me more fashion. Give me more hope’.” (Harper’s Bazaar)
There was a lot of talk of upcycling, a process that involves using deadstock. It’s also a situation that designers found themselves in while in lockdown; they had to use and incorporate whatever they had on hand. Thus the use of faux fur, left over beading, redyed crystals, fabrics etc. The idea, and one that everyone should be thinking about, is waste reduction.
Again, environmentally friendly fashion isn’t really a term that figures big in local markets but it should, especially with water shortage looking over our heads. Pakistan has an advanced and celebrated denim manufacturing industry but the water strain it comes with is definitely water over the bridge. On an average one pair of denim jeans can take around 1800 gallons of water to manufacture; the average is so high because of the water supply it takes to grow cotton, dye, chemically process and wash the final product. One is aware of steps being taken to reduce water wastage; maybe it’s time to make the information more public.
That’s a lot to digest but it didn’t end there. One saw plus size models on the runway, one saw variations of the face mask created as fashion’s newest accessory without taking costumery proportions. If cultural disparity and divisiveness is what we see playing out in politics, then the clothes – with their head coverings, hats, hoods and snoods – blurred all lines. To truly accept is to not label it as one thing or the other (as is often done with ‘modest’ clothing) and that’s what fashion did. It was all there, from the cover-ups to the barely-there clothes, for anyone and everyone. Collectively, it was a statement-and-a-half and one would hope that beyond the necessity of lawn and bridal couture, Pakistan’s fashion industry will emerge inspired too. It really does need to.