The stage is set at the iconic Falettis Hotel on Egerton Road in Lahore. The red carpet is abuzz with celebrities, designers and their muses, and the glitterati and fashionistas who arrive in sleek carriages, striking a pose for the shutterbugs and the hosts conducting spot interviews.

Inside the show arena, the seating arrangements are given one final check. Student interns from the reputed Pakistan Institute of Fashion and Design (PIFD) place goodie bags on the chairs just before the ushers take up their positions and the entrance is opened for the guests to access the area.

Meanwhile, it’s a totally different story backstage, where organised chaos reigns. Things might seem chaotic but there’s also a method behind the madness. Under the watchful eye of backstage managers, the designers’ clothes hangers with the names of the models are placed within easy access, while the jewellery in neatly arranged displays is also being fussed upon.

In another section, final touches are being given to the models’ hair and make-up under the expert supervision of stylist extraordinaire Nabila’s Tabesh Khoja, while those who have already been primed are in various stages of dressing up, or grabbing a bite to eat before the show starts. Tempers sometimes flare, egos run amok and, all the while, it’s a wonder nobody trips over the wires snaking their way all over the floor.

At the 19th edition of Bridal Couture Week, the groomwear played out more impressively than the bridals. But perhaps more than anything else, there was the relief at seeing some semblance of normality in our lives…

Once the guests are finally seated and repeated announcements made that the show is about to start, the models queue up behind the ramp access area, with the ones in front stealing occasional looks to see if they can spot a familiar face in the audience.

The wait is over as the show directors start playing the all-too-familiar upbeat tempo, and the first of the models steps up to take her place on the runway.

Welcome to the 19th edition of the Pantene Hum Bridal Couture Week (BCW).

Earlier, at the BCW brunch, hosted by the President of Hum Network Sultana Siddiqui, the well-heeled and impeccably dressed fashion fraternity of Lahore had turned out in full force to lend their support to the business of bridal fashion. Spotted among them were film and TV actress Resham, model Nattie, stylist Shahzad Raza, fashion designer duo Nickie Nina and noted fashion writers, critics and bloggers.

The traditional brunch is a run-up to the main event, initiating the countdown to the BCW runway presentations.

A blingy bridal bonanza

Nisa Hussain
Nisa Hussain

Love it or loathe it, ‘bridals’ form an intrinsic part of our lives. Sooner or later, there comes a time when most of us have to give in to traditional wedding wear, by letting it into our private space.

Some might consider the heavily overworked bridal gharara, sharara or the groom’s sherwani too old-fashioned, boring and even awkward to wear but, on that special day, even fewer want to experiment with avant-garde looks or go rogue. Traditional bridal- and groom-wear yields big bucks and keeps the fashion industry cogs turning for designers. Yet while bridals keep the fashion industry wheels well-oiled, they get little respect or recognition in return. Things changed drastically during the Covid-19 scenario, when weddings shrank, just like the rest of the economy, and couples opted for low-key and simpler looks, keeping the enforced low attendance in mind. The effect was felt all the way to the grassroots, where many a bridal design houses and designers had to let go of skilled kaarigars, to avoid bankruptcy and total economic meltdown.

The large picture

Sable Vogue
Sable Vogue

The bridal fashion industry provides employment to a wide strata of workers, namely highly skilled artisans, craftsmen and tailors, keeping their kitchen fires burning, their children in school and a roof over their heads.

The amount of time and labour, creative design and thought process that go into the conception and creation of a bridal outfit could translate into a small fortune or even a king’s ransom. But many pay up happily and all too willingly, something they would not do for a piece of clothing meant for daily wear. So the next time you attend a big, fat desi wedding, keep in mind all the little cogs turning that make someone’s special day all that very extra-special.

Besides the regular bridal shopping hubs dealing in ready-to-wear shaadi jorras in Pakistan’s urban centres, fashion weeks reserve shows in the latter half of the year for the winter/festive collections. These go a long way in familiarising audiences with the latest in bridal looks and trends, and giving a sneak-peak into the most coveted and hot-selling designs.

All this was played out against an impressive smattering of celebrity show-openers and showstoppers, who didn’t take away the focus from bridal fashion but added to it with their respective acts. The singing performances further pumped up the glamour, and things such as wardrobe and ramp malfunctions were pushed to the back of one’s mind in the presence of the impressive imagery.

Remember the peplum bridals or the fish-tail lehenga, or even the mermaid cut and, more recently, the maxi? Trends such as these were born on such a bridal fashion runway before they filtered down to the common folk.

Here come the brides

Nickie Nina
Nickie Nina

But back to BCW… In terms of bridal trends, last week’s bridal bonanza saw a forecast of summer wedding trends. But, surprisingly, it was the menswear — or more particularly the groomwear — that stood out on all the three days.

In a sea of pastels and the more traditional reds for women, the menswear denoted creativity and innovation. Designers Emraan Rajput, Humayun Alamgir, Ahsan’s Menswear, Munib Nawaz, Edge Republic and Arsalan Iqbal, among others, came close to scoring a seven or an eight, if not a nine or a perfect 10.

But even the bridals were not a write-off. Umsha by Uzma Babar showed traditional eastern cuts while focusing on fine embroidery in its design element. Sable Vogue explored East Afghan motifs and Kochi tribal cuts. And Fahad Hussyn took on layered bridals with understated elegance.

Meanwhile, the theme of female empowerment in the olden days was explored by Arooj Aziz in her collection titled Gulbadan. It was inspired by Gulbadan Begum, a strong and independent woman of her era and the daughter of Mughal emperor Babar. She was also the first female Mughal royal to write a book, Humayun Nama, according to the designer.

Nickie Nina’s collection, Rubaiyaat, tackled mystical poetry, inspired by the quintessential verses of Omar Khayyam.

All this was played out against an impressive smattering of celebrity show-openers and showstoppers, who didn’t take away the focus from bridal fashion but added to it with their respective acts. The singing performances further pumped up the glamour, and things such as wardrobe and ramp malfunctions were pushed to the back of one’s mind in the presence of the impressive imagery.

In the past, the BCW ramp was adorned with floral arrangements, keeping in mind South Asian wedding traditions, where flowers form the main crux of the decorations. However, this time round, the CEO of Hum Network Duraid Qureshi envisioned a sleek, pure white background, which would make the colourful bridals pop to a more mesmerising effect.

He was spot-on. The runway underwent a bridal makeover (pun intended) and featured vertical lines with a circular pattern in the middle for visual relief. The structural background was also a change from the grandiose projections of past shows.

As a result, the business of bridal fashions seems to be booming. But even more so due to the extensive airtime that the BCW gets on the Hum Network screens, which translates into big sales and bigger bucks for the participating designers and brands, with the count reaching a staggering 28 this time, spread over three days. There is now a plethora of successful designers whose careers took off from the BCW runway.

While council-backed fashion weeks may have suffered serious setbacks due to the Covid-19 headwinds, the 19th edition of BCW showed no sign of its energy waning. With the spring/summer Karachi show held earlier in February this year, it appears to be going from strength to strength.

As the guests filtered out of the venue after a heady three-day dose of bridal fashions, a thought occurred to me: all this fashion imagery, with all its perks, flaws and hectic pace, was sorely missed during the initial run of the coronavirus pandemic, which kept us confined behind locked doors and the four walls of our homes.

As I made my way out of the show area, I felt thankful for small blessings and the gradual return to normalcy in our daily lives.

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 19th, 2021

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