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Vaneeza Ahmed, model and actress. – Dawn Images on Sunday Photo
Vaneeza Ahmed, model and actress. – Dawn Images on Sunday Photo

Vaneeza Ahmed’s fierce integrity, hands-on control and inability to delegate have not dimmed but have merely been re-routed

Pinning down former supermodel and indubitable mega mum Vaneeza Ahmed Ali is akin to chasing Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit in Wonderland —it’s challenging and trying. Recently, she was on frequent visits to Karachi from Lahore to finalise the design and production of her V Lawn prints and prêt wear for a solo exhibition in Lahore, and most nights was stuck till 10pm at the Site factory with just-turned-one daughter Inaaya always in tow.

As we begin the interview at 11pm at the home of her close friends, Asad Tareen of The Designers and his wife, Fawzia. Vaneeza or Vinnie as she is known to friends and fashion insiders grouses at the sight of my tomato-red, slim-fit jeans and says she yearns to lose weight so she can wear the season’s on-trend brightly-hued pants.

“I’m so depressed that I can’t fit into some of my clothes and wear bright jeans,” she says half-facetiously, fiddling with her ubiquitous and stylish eye-glasses, adding that she went from 110 to 170 lbs while pregnant. “Friends and family asked me if I was having twins. But my husband (Ali) says I should put on more weight from what I am now,” shares the former runway star once known for her wraith-like figure.

Vaneeza’s marriage in July 2010 to Islamabad-based businessman Ali Afzal Malik is a tale of fairy dust, celestial alignment and the right timing. The couple dated for two years in the early 1990s when Vaneeza was 23 and Ali was 25. They had spoken of marriage then but were both too young to commit: he was headed to New York for studies and work, and Vaneeza was moving to Karachi, and they lost touch for 18 years.

“We disappeared from each other’s lives. I did think about Ali and wondered what he was up to and where he was. Then his name came up as a ‘friend suggestion’ on Facebook and I thought ‘Huh! Where did this guy pop up from after all these years?’ We reconnected and fell in love again.”

Does she feel that by getting married and having a child comparatively later than the norm, she is better equipped to ‘fit’ work and family and not be mired in compromises? “Oh yes, definitely!” she says. “If I had gotten married earlier, when I was young, ambitious and driven by work, I might have ignored my family life because I wanted to do it all. Now is the perfect time. I am older and ‘have done it all’ with fashion, celebrity and going to parties and dinners. I now want to spend time with my child and husband at home. If I were a younger mother I don’t think I would be able to give as much time to my child. Usually younger women and mothers have a problem about not being allowed to work and not being given ‘space’. I don’t want that and I don’t want to work. What I do want is to be a begum and sit at home. I didn’t have to give it all up. I was ready to move on. Now I tell everyone that my full-time job is being a mother.”

Vaneeza is quick to add that her husband has no issues with her working. “He is older and more understanding. My relationship with Ali has compatibility, chemistry, respect and synergy. We love each other a lot.”

Bringing up a baby

Vaneeza says she does not believe in leaving her child in the care of a nanny. “My poor child has been dragged to the factory since she was a week old. The first time I came to Karachi with Inaaya was without a nanny. It was a nightmare as I couldn’t work. She is at that age where she wants attention and wants to open up closets and put things in her mouth. She is curious.”

Vaneeza moved back to Lahore after living in Karachi for many years because she feels the city is not a place to bring up a child, adding laughingly that she got mugged on the way back from the factory. “In Lahore, we can go for walks in the park, I have my sister, nieces and my mother there. It is very important for a child to grow up with family around.” Vaneeza says her in-laws live in Islamabad so they shuttle endlessly between Lahore and Islamabad to be with Ali.

Does she plan to have more children? “Of course. I wish I had married Ali when I was younger. We would have had 10 children. I now tell everyone to get married and have children as it’s the best feeling in the world. No award, no lawn print campaign, no TV play or magazine cover can give me the satisfaction I get when my child looks at me.”

Vaneeza says she doesn’t have time to think about modeling or acting anymore. “My daughter is my priority. There is no way I am going to leave her to go and do a play which is all time-consuming. I tried modeling and went to do the Libas cover and after that day I realised that I can’t do that to my daughter. I simply refuse to leave her with anyone, anywhere.”

Does she feel she may be over-protective? “My husband and mother tell me that I am. But I feel a small child needs that time. They learn from the parent. You can’t leave a child with the maid. Today, Inaaya was asking about lights. A maid will not guide or feed my child like I can. I decided that if I am going to have a child I am going to do it properly. I can’t be one of those mothers with sunglasses perched on their head who haughtily delegate feeding orders to the nanny.”

Focus on lawn

Vaneeza gave up her day job as Creative Director at Hum Network’s Style 360 channel after four years because her husband felt she should concentrate on her brand. “He told me that I had a brand that I had been working on for seven years (This is V Lawn’s eighth year) and that I was neglecting it enormously. I realised that I could have done so much more with the brand if I just concentrated on it. I was acting and modeling and running a channel which was more of a nine-to-nine job.”

With that impetus in mind Vaneeza has set up a studio in Lahore and has been orchestrating fashion shoots for the brand and this year has introduced the V Lawn ready-to-wear collection. “I find the ubiquitous term prêt so poisonous now,” she says disdainfully

The collection is described as simple daywear with a bit of machine-embroidered embellishment. “No shaadi (bridal) wear here,” she says naughtily. The inspirations for this season include Kashmiri shawls, Japanese cherry blossoms, and Hungarian Kalocsa embroidery with inspiration also coming from China and Turkey.

What does she think of her near-peer Iraj still modeling at 40?

“I haven’t seen any of the shows in which she has been modeling so I can’t comment on how she looks but at 40, kudos to her if people still want to see her and are paying her premium fee. Furthermore, she is surely still better than more than half of the girls working, so I’d say go for it.”

Does she keep in touch with the goings-on in the fashion industry? “I don’t, really until someone comes to me with some inside gossip. And as for progress, I instead see deterioration. I am not saying you have to be super-educated to be a good model or actor for example,” Vaneeza says as tactfully as she can. “In the rest of the world you have girls entering the industry from everywhere. But I just feel morality and ethics are very important when it comes to work; how one carries oneself in one’s dealings. It is very important to respect the work one is doing. I feel people are losing that respect here, be it models or designers. Look at lawn: every Tom, Dick and Harry is doing it. It’s crazy!”

Vaneeza’s generation of supermodels including Iraj, ZQ, Bibi, Aliya Zaidi, Iman Ali, Zoella and Aminah Haq were known to be professional and part of a close-knit sisterhood. What does she think of the current crop of aspiring models?

“They are too ambitious,” she guffaws. “They are not putting in the requisite effort. When my crop of models, especially Aaminah Haq, began we used to rehearse for six to seven hours to perfect our walks and entrances. We were spot-on with the dictates of Frieha (Altaf), Shahzad (Raza) or HSY because we wanted our walks to be perfect. Now girls think with a little plastic surgery here and there they will glide through without putting in the required effort.” Vaneeza says she cannot name one new model she admires.

She describes her personal style as simple yet elegant, “Although my husband describes it as very teenybopper.” She wore an Umar Sayeed creation at her wedding and he remains a favourite designer of bridal and formal wear, but for her day looks she opts for simple kurtas by affordable Pakistani high street brands, without divulging names, and separates from Thailand. “For formal and bridal events I also still like Nomi Ansari, HSY and Mehdi.”

Finally, how would she describe her life now in three words? “I’m happy, peaceful and content. I don’t think I have ever been happier in my life. If I died tomorrow, I couldn’t complain. God has been extremely kind to me.”