It was the 20th time that the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC) laid out the catwalk. They made sure that everyone was aware of this too, knowing full well — and one would have to agree — that 20 extravaganzas later, the fashion was looking pretty good.
Energy ran high and there were fabulous fashion moments strewn across the length of the three-day-long PFDC Fashion Week (PFW). There was a time when celebrities would throng local fashion weeks but they have almost entirely been replaced now by major fashion heavyweights who have a keener sense of design. Makes sense. Twenty events later, the PFDC is looking good too.
There’s a lot that has helped the Lahore-based PFDC become a major trendsetter, orchestrating the pret-centric PFW in the spring/summer and then a bridal fashion week later in the year. The consistent support of regular sponsors has allowed the quality of shows to be maintained. Also, Chairperson Sehyr Saigol runs an airtight show, spearheading a council that has more or less remained the same. Over the years, this council has been proficient in mentoring newcomers and curating line-ups that have broken away from staid commercial shackles, and shot up to spectacular fashion highs.
From mentoring newcomers, curating line-ups that have broken away from staid commercial shackles and sparking spectacular fashion highs at its 20th Fashion Week, the Lahore-based Pakistan Fashion Design Council is going from strength to strength
But does that mean that the PFDC’s fashion weeks — more particularly the PFW this time — is the ‘best’ fashion week? It’s a question that I’m often asked, given that it is a blessing — and, sometimes, a burden — of my job to attend all fashion weeks. The answer is that there is no ‘one’ best fashion week. There is a motley crew that qualifies as Pakistan’s best designers and they amp up an event when they are part of it, regardless of whether it is one organised by the PFDC, or by the Karachi-based Fashion Pakistan Council or ‘Showcase’, organised by the Hum TV Network. The fashion pendulum is perpetually oscillating between brilliant highs and dismal lows; up, down; hit, miss. The PFW, this time, was most certainly more hit and very little miss.
Joining hands with the council was the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), orchestrating the textile-based TEXPO around the same dates as fashion week. Across the road from the main fashion week venue, the TEXPO was swarmed all day long by local and international buyers. The focus within the exhibit was primarily upon Pakistan’s many export-friendly products — bed linen, towels, fabric yarns, et al. But there was also an attractive PFDC ‘lounge’ set up, exhibiting the work of select labels. And in the evening, the international delegates were invited to attend fashion week.
Did these visitors, who arrived from all over the globe, place any orders for local fashion? No, although apparently the exhibitors at the TEXPO are quite happy with the deals that they struck. On the upside, unlike past TDAP and fashion collaborations, when engineers and pharmacists visiting the Expo would sit goggle-eyed, enjoying the ‘entertainment’ at fashion week, the TEXPO’s guests hailed from a background in textile. The fashion week was more relevant to them and it is hoped that they have now become aware of the potential within Pakistani fashion.
Moreover, it can be hoped that one day buyers who are more relevant to fashion itself will come to attend fashion week in Pakistan, rather than to merely peruse the bed linen. Then, perhaps, one will be able to write about the budding international business of Pakistani fashion.
For now, though, PFW ’19 was more instrumental in making waves in the local market and getting the Pakistani fashion aficionado in the mood for a splurge-out. Here’s a look at the many stitches that wove together the fabric of PFW:
BEST FOOT FORWARD
The most memorable collections were the ones that stuck to the PFW mandate the platform is primarily known for — showcasing trends in pret. Chapter 2, Khaadi’s fast-growing offshoot, stayed true to its leitmotif of hand-woven fabric, projecting it into minimal androgyny on an eye-catching palette. There was a casual elegance to the show — one that is increasingly identifiable with the brand. At completely the other end of the pret spectrum, Khadijah Shah’s Zaha made its catwalk debut, oozing ’80s glam into the high-street. The riveting medley of animal print, eccentric flora, colour and lazy silhouettes was potentially game-changing for a market that is currently drowned in inane floral inspirations.
The young and very talented Hussain Rehar zipped fashion off to the future with his out-of-the-box take on bling, colour and silhouette. Hussain Rehar, I am told, is doing quite well for a new designer and he may just be the fashion power player to look out for in the future.
There is no ‘one’ best fashion week. There is a motley crew that qualifies as Pakistan’s best designers and they amp up an event when they are part of it. The fashion pendulum is perpetually oscillating between brilliant highs and dismal lows; up, down; hit, miss. The PFW, this time, was most certainly more hit and very little miss.
The House of Kamiar Rokni was exceptional, spinning folk inspirations to contemporary tunes, taking indigenous craft and working it into distinctive patterns and styles. The play of technique and embellishment was impeccable — one hopes that the designer now shows regularly at fashion weeks.
Saira Shakira flexed their muscles as an up-and-coming brand with a fast-strengthening design ethos. Their fusion-wear, splayed out with dots, stripes and embellished scenes from a ‘Secret Garden’, was delightful.
HSY spurned his penchant for embroidery with a collection painted entirely in a cardinal red. Fahad Hussayn’s prints were eye-catching kitschy fun, except that the latter half of the collection was weighed down by heavy bridals that may have been beautiful in their intricacy but seemed misplaced. Sania Maskatiya, too, could not resist the lure of the wedding market, adding a light bridal at the end of a collection that was, nevertheless, extraordinarily pretty. The mix of print and craft was very well-conceived and quintessentially Sania.
Zara Shahjahan made a runway comeback with a classically Eastern collection that she will be retailing soon. While the Lakhnavi silhouettes were very wearable and aesthetically sound, more dramatic styling could have made the collection more memorable.
Republic by Omar Farooq presented a very strong line-up of urbane menswear with artistic elements added in.
Certain pieces worked in Yahsir Waheed’s ebullient mish-mash of prints. Sana Safinaz’s show was high on style and design albeit repetitive, given that a semblance of the same collection had been seen a few weeks ago at Fashion Pakistan Week in Karachi.
And this leaves us with one collection that warrants a write-up all of its own.
A WORD ABOUT NOMI ANSARI
Instead of quintessentially working his magic with colour, embellishment and cut, Nomi Ansari surprisingly veered into sportswear in collaboration with the brand Tuhura Athletics. The active-wear line, although with a well-conceived colour palette and great finishing, could hardly be considered Nomi’s most memorable.
But viewed from a different perspective, it was a show that recognised the fast-growing demand for designer sportswear among the masses. It also presented the possibility of local sportswear brands collaborating with designers. Lastly, it was very relevant to the purpose behind TEXPO, pushing forward the option of exportable sportswear.
Was it Nomi’s most brilliant collection yet? No. But it made sense in a lot of ways. What would make even better sense is when this collection will begin retailing via Tuhura. I’m told that it will be available online soon. It could really start off a new trend and, two years from now, I could be looking back, talking about how Nomi Ansari started it all. Let’s see.
THE NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
Also woven into the fashion week framework were three young designers as part of the PFDC’s Rising Talent showcase, a platform that has been revived by the council after a brief sabbatical. All three designers — Hafsa Mahmood, Mahnur Azam and Zeeshan Mohyuddin — were impressive, pushing boundaries while keeping a gimlet eye on wearability. It’s good to see young talent being given opportunities amidst fashion’s established dinosaurs. They keep the catwalk interesting and bring in the promise of spunkier design in the near future.
DULLSVILLE IN THE EARLY NOON
On the other hand, the early afternoon shows dedicated to high-street brands and newbies often fumbled. While some — Almirah, Zassimo and Ricci Melion — presented wearable options, it was difficult to understand why brands hailing from strong textile backgrounds and retailing traditional clothes, felt the urge to create gowns for the catwalk?
It isn’t easy to cut a gown and our tailors are far more adept at putting together a neat shalwar. Why not play up to their strengths and show design that could actually be retailed later? When will this fixation with gaudy gowns end?
Perhaps it’s high time that the PFDC steps in and steers the afternoon shows into savvier directions. Even if it’s in the early noon, these designs are still showcased on the PFW runway. And they don’t make the runway look good.
There was so much more that simmered just beneath the surface of PFW’s well-oiled machinery. Sadia Siddiqui was the show director as always and team Nabila worked wonders with a range of standout looks: big hair and neon eye makeup in the Zaha show, flamboyant lip colours for Fahad Hussayn and straight, long hair held by bohemian headbands in Sana Safinaz’s showcase.
The U-shaped catwalk — also seen last year — may be inspired by international runways but it did make things a tad confusing. Models walked in from different directions, often making it impossible to take great images that would later trend on social media. Celebrity showstoppers particularly blundered, forgetting to walk the entire length of the runway.
Also noticeable was the influx of new models while some of the older veterans were noticeably missing. Where were Zara Abid, Sadaf Kanwal, Shahzad Noor and Hasnain Lehri, usually so visible at fashion weeks? It’s great, though, that the PFDC is bringing in new talent. I just wonder why so many of the established names, most of them currently nominated in Best Model categories at upcoming awards, are no longer present?
These were, then, the many tiny stitches that wove PFW together into a fabric that was one of a kind, resplendent with so many hit moments. Twenty events later, the PFDC is looking good too.
Published in Dawn, ICON, April 21st, 2019