PIA gets a fashionable makeover

Published March 17, 2015
The 16 designers showcasing their designs all thought out of the box to create vibrant ensembles for PIA's staff.
The 16 designers showcasing their designs all thought out of the box to create vibrant ensembles for PIA's staff.

PIA unveiled their new uniforms last night in a unique event that featured some of the biggest names in Pakistani Fashion.

Legendary designer Bunto Kazmi co-opted the likes of Maheen Khan, HSY and Sania Maskatiya into presenting possible designs for PIA’s new look.

A total of sixteen top designers presented their visions for PIA’s new uniform and a distinguished panel of judges awarded marks to each. Zeba Bakhtiar, Tariq Amin, Naz Mansha and Indus Valley Dean Shehnaz Ismail were among the judges.

It was a night of patriotism and nostalgia with designers reminiscing about their experiences on PIA and clearly excited about putting together a fresh look for the national carrier. There was a feeling that PIA staff are ambassadors for Pakistan and how they look reflects on us.

The presentations themselves were as varied as the designers themselves. Sania Maskatiya and Nida Azwer drew inspiration from the national flower and bird. Azwer paired her colourful scarves with shalwar kameezes trimmed with complementary colours. She included pants as an alternative to the shalwar and included pretty blue waistcoats in the look. She chose a beret as a cap which had too much of a military feel and didn’t really appeal.

Nida Azwer's collection showed digital printed scarves. —Publicity photo
Nida Azwer's collection showed digital printed scarves. —Publicity photo

Maskatiya, meanwhile, showed pants and waistcoats in her trademark textured fabric. Her buttoned hats were a hit but the outfits generally had too much going on. Maheen Karim took her inspiration from Pakistani Art and showed three beautiful outfits that drew on the same roots but were very dissimilar.

Sania Maskatiya's waistcoasts had intricate thread embroidery —Publicity photo
Sania Maskatiya's waistcoasts had intricate thread embroidery —Publicity photo

Misha Lakhani proposed an avant-garde, demure yet almost western ensemble with a jaunty Jinnah cap.

Maheen Khan’s offering was elegantly simple and HSY used dark colours and embroidery to great effect.

Maheen Khan's designs were elegant and traditional. —Publicity photo
Maheen Khan's designs were elegant and traditional. —Publicity photo

Khaadi’s popular outfits featured colourful waistcoats and typically bright ethic borders but Nomi Ansari surprised with designs that were stark in their simplicity.

Khaadi's outfits featured pops of colour. —Publicity photo
Khaadi's outfits featured pops of colour. —Publicity photo

Ansari is generally known for being a genius with colour but his designs were just one colour each and relied on subtle detailing to set them apart. The deep maroon, navy and taupe shalwar kameezes were offset by a gold-buttoned jacket in the same hue.

Ansari's designs were sleek with chunky buttons.  —Publicity photo
Ansari's designs were sleek with chunky buttons. —Publicity photo

Some outfits were wildly impractical such as Fahad Hussayn’s stunning all-white ensemble and Ali Xeeshan’s predominantly white creations. Shamaeel Ansari and Sonya Battla collaborated for the most colourful outfits of the night – bright outfits in vibrant pinks, blues and orange.

Yasmeen Shaikh’s uniforms were pedestrian at best but her grey embroidered coats were masterful. She showed a cap and slim, large-buttoned coat that were both exceptional.

From L-R: An outfit by Fahad Hussayn and one of Ali Xeeshan's eccentric designs.  —Publicity photo
From L-R: An outfit by Fahad Hussayn and one of Ali Xeeshan's eccentric designs. —Publicity photo

As far as the men’s uniforms were concerned, Ismail Farid and Umar Farooq both did a play on traditional uniforms but Amir Adnan’s offerings looked more like lounge suits than a uniform. That may have been an interesting contemporary twist but it was ultimately perhaps a little too fashion forward for PIA. HSY meanwhile thought out of the box by showing a sherwani.

The men looked dapper in Ismail Farid crisp suits.  —Publicity photo
The men looked dapper in Ismail Farid crisp suits. —Publicity photo

The fashion presentation ended with models wearing the various PIA uniforms that air hostesses have worn over the years, which was an interesting glimpse into history.

The winners were announced after a short break during which the marks were collated. Four categories were judged separately, a fact that was not apparent until the winners were announced. The cap and scarf, uniform, coat and men’s uniform were treated individually.

The eventual winners were Sania Maskatiya for the cap and scarf, Nomi Ansari for the uniform, Yasmeen Shaikh for the coat and Omer Farooq for the mens uniform.

From L-R: A suit by Omer Farooq and Yasmeen Sheikh's design that crowned her one of the winners.  —Publicity photo
From L-R: A suit by Omer Farooq and Yasmeen Sheikh's design that crowned her one of the winners. —Publicity photo

But this was not a night that was about winners and losers. What was great about the night was seeing so many designers collaborating and presenting their visions for the national airline. Designers like HSY commented on the friendly atmosphere backstage while seeing the entire lineup on stage was a tribute to the strength of the Pakistani Fashion industry. All credit to Bunto Kazmi for pulling together so many of the top names in Pakistani fashion for an event that certainly added some much needed glamour to PIA.

From the red carpet area that was styled as a business class lounge to the aircraft walkway entrance, this event oozed class. In its heyday PIA was Jacqueline Kennedy’s favourite airline and featured uniforms designed by Pierre Cardin. The efforts of the fashion industry harked back to that more glamorous era.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. The fact that the designs varied so wildly was down to more than just differing inspiration. Some designers agreed to do this show 4-6 months ago while others were roped in just a few weeks ago. The costumes were judged on the basis of aesthetics, functionality and cultural acceptability but no written guidelines were given to the designers.

Omer Farooq's label showed well-tailored suits with evident attention to detail.  —Publicity photo
Omer Farooq's label showed well-tailored suits with evident attention to detail. —Publicity photo

Several mentioned that they were verbally told to focus on functionality and elegance. One mentioned that poly-mix fabrics should be used along with dark colours while another remembers being told to include minimal or no buttons. No one was given any guidelines on budgeting nor were they required to give any costing. The uniforms will be manufactured by PIAs own vendors but surely some nod to budgeting should have been included.

Some designers recall being told not to veer too far from the shalwar though many others seem not to have been told this or have ignored it. Certainly Pierre Cardin’s iconic uniform didn’t feature a shalwar but it’s a sign of the times that shalwars are deemed necessary now.

In the past, fashion designer Pierre Cardin also tweaked the airline's uniform and introduced slim-line trousers. —Publicity photo
In the past, fashion designer Pierre Cardin also tweaked the airline's uniform and introduced slim-line trousers. —Publicity photo

Participants were asked to design outfits for the crew and the purser but no guidelines were given regarding the number of outfits. Accordingly some showed two designs while others presented a handful. In an event that was essentially a competition, participants should clearly have been told what the judges were looking for.

There was also the question of the advisability of such an event. Arguably, the chronically over-staffed PIA is riddled with problems that go way beyond the reach of cosmetic changes. PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer acknowledged that the national airline faces multi-faceted challenges. He announced that their current priorities are punctuality, improved ground service and a better on-board experience. He revealed that the airline is dry-leasing 15 younger, more fuel-efficient aircraft and that the new uniforms are part of a much deeper revamp at the airline.

The PIA uniform has been designed by many famous designers in the past, such as Laila Shahzada, Chausie Fountainer. —Publicity photo
The PIA uniform has been designed by many famous designers in the past, such as Laila Shahzada, Chausie Fountainer. —Publicity photo

It remains to be seen whether these new initiatives have any tangible effect but at least last night’s event came at minimal cost to the airline. PIA staff go through 4-6 uniforms a year in any case so providing them with new uniforms should not incur additional costs. All the designers, stylists and judges offered their services on a pro bono basis. PIA did give them each Club class tickets to London as a vote of thanks but this isn’t something they knew about when they volunteered. The Friends of PIA contributed free on charge while the advertising agency similarly took no fee. The remaining costs of the event were covered by sponsors Bank Al Falah, UFone, Fatima Fertilizer and Khushali Bank.

It was about time in any case that PIA refreshed their uniforms. This event was an inspired way to involve Pakistan’s vibrant fashion industry in the decision making process. It shows that many of us have considerable affection for the beleaguered national carrier and hope that it will again be more than it has become.


Salima Feerasta is a freelance journalist and the creative force behind style blog karachista.com. Follow her on Twitter @karachista

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