Fashion shows are tricky creatures. Fashion shows featuring the work of multiple designers, even more so.
They’re expensive events to orchestrate — logistical nightmares that require security, crowd control, a curated guest list and proper backstage management. It’s no wonder that the local fashion industry, having weathered the pandemic and hyper-inflation, skipped out on the fashion show behemoth altogether, making do with fashion shoots aired out on social media instead. No one wanted to invest additional effort and expenditure.
Except for the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP).
A two day show was planned, a fairly exciting designer line-up was put together and the cobwebs were swept off the catwalk before it was laid out as part of the TEXPO2023 trade fair taking place in Karachi.
Foreign delegates were going to be there. Designers were told to create collections focused towards export. Media was invited. And the fashion fraternity came together again, after a long, long time.
With no one else investing in fashion shows and a heavy-hitting line-up of designers, the Texpo 2023 show was geared towards promoting Pakistani fashion for export. How successful was it in its aims?
It could have been amazing. And it was, to a large extent. The show was very well-organised by TakeII. Nubain Ali choreographed well. The styling by team Nabila, working backstage, was impeccable. There were also individual stylists enlisted by designers for their particular collections, devising accessories and overall looks for the catwalk. If only the fashion had been up to par, one would have sighed and cheered and said, ‘Yes, this is why we were missing fashion week!’
To be fair, there were times when one did cheer. At other points, you stifled a yawn and said, ‘Yes, this is why I don’t miss fashion week at all!’
But let’s not gripe. Especially when there were some truly standout collections on the runway.
Rizwan Beyg’s work may usually be associated with the meticulous hand embroideries created by village artisans but this collection — minimal, no-fuss, flowing out seamlessly on the runway — was the other end of the spectrum from the designer’s atelier
Take Rizwan Beyg’s Elegante, for instance, the very first collection of the event, where ivory-hued viscose fabric, made in Gujranwala, was tweaked, draped and moulded into a high-fashion collection. Rizwan Beyg’s work may usually be associated with the meticulous hand embroideries created by village artisans but this collection — minimal, no-fuss, flowing out seamlessly on the runway — was the other end of the spectrum from the designer’s atelier.
Then there was Adnan Pardesy, making sartorial magic with denim, treating it with myriad techniques and creating avant-garde silhouettes that were effortlessly cool. It was one of the most powerful collections to be seen at the TEXPO2023 show, a testament to Adnan’s designing prowess, as he played with an entirely pedestrian fabric and transformed it comprehensively into couture.
Wardha Saleem played with brilliant pops of colour and eccentric print; Sana Safinaz showcased formals that melded their couture aesthetic with their high-street experience; the M. Jafferjees show presented a delectable line-up of leather handbags; Amna Aqeel’s party-wear was very pretty; Huma Adnan paid homage to tribal embroideries and Deepak Perwani wrapped up the first day with a finale collection that was very well-tailored and featured actress Sonya Hussyn as the showstopper, walking out in a dress from the ‘Frida’ line, one of the designer’s most well-loved collections from the past.
The second day of the show packed in the punches with some major fashion highs. Shamaeel Ansari upped the glamour quotient with her signature embroideries, diligently curated prints and elaborate silhouettes. The Pink Tree Company line-up was beautiful, featuring prints created in collaboration with Mahin Hussain, quirky embroideries and a lovely colour palette.
Sanam Chaudhri was a force to reckon with, showcasing a must-have resort collection that relied entirely on pattern and singled her out as a designer who marches to her own drumbeat. Working with cottons and silks in brilliant colours, Sanam tweaked silhouettes, giving them spins of her own, using clamp and dyeing to accentuate some of the looks.
The young Parishae Adnan presented looks that were fierce, bold and very well-stitched. Spartan Athletics was a nod to the rising demand for athleisure around the world, with a line-up that featured active-wear that looked great and was styled well. Ali Xeeshan was slotted for the show’s finale and he didn’t disappoint with a show that was high on energy and on the tongue-in-cheek aesthetic that one associates with his brand.
Right at the very end, Ali walked to the end-ramp with his entourage of models, holding up a blackboard that declared ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, with gold and silver confetti falling around them. Ali can, after all, always be counted upon to deliver great visuals.
TEXPO2023 also commendably acknowledged the work of fashion students in its designer line-up. The Asian Institute of Fashion Design (AIFD), the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVSAA) and the Textile Institute of Pakistan (TIP) all showcased at the event. Amongst the three shows, the work done by IVSAA particularly stood out, where the students exemplified the skills that they had learnt while also creating looks that were aesthetically pleasing and fashion-forward.
Unarguably, the TEXPO2023 fashion show featured some great fashion. It was a reminder of how the Pakistani fashion industry may be struggling to survive post-Covid, but would hopefully stay afloat because of the sheer talent exhibited by a motley crew of design houses. Scattered in the line-up, though, were also brands that obviously didn’t get the memo on what to show on the runway.
There were high-street brands that saw nothing wrong with sending models out into the spotlight wearing mundane polos and jeans, menswear brands dabbling with Western silhouettes but not quite knowing how to cut a neat pant, and designs that were at best, forgettable, and at their worst, atrocious.
One wishes that the fashion industry had evolved to the point that every show in the line-up could be inventive and well-conceived. And that certain brands wouldn’t be quite so tone-deaf and understand that the runway isn’t just about a great musical score playing in the backdrop, good-looking models, celebrity showstoppers and coverage on electronic media – its raison d’etre has to, ultimately, be great clothes.
One also wishes that one didn’t have to write this again and again. This critique has been part of my fashion show reviews ever since I started writing them a long time ago. It continues to be a very valid gripe. Will it always continue to be so? That’s a debilitating thought.
There’s also the question of the clothes fitting the bill in a show that was essentially dedicated towards export. The Pakistani economy may be grappling with inflation and struggling to stay afloat, but the fact remains that a certain number of foreign guests were invited by the TDAP to attend this year’s TEXPO with the express purpose of exhibiting the export potential of Pakistani fashion. Ideally, all the design elements employed should have been indigenous. In some cases they were but, in other collections, the frequent use of imported, synthetic silks did not make sense.
“It’s very important to focus on elements that are entirely Pakistani,” says designer Shamaeel Ansari, who has extensive experience in the field of textile export. “Collections had to show techniques and embellishments that could be ordered by foreign delegates. For instance, Pakistan’s embroideries are high-end and extremely cheap. This had to be highlighted. In my collections, everything from the fabric to the prints to the embellishments were all made in Pakistan.”
Ali Xeeshan had a similar observation when I asked him why his collection was such a mish-mash without any evident theme, moving from quirky casuals to spurts of athleisure to all-out wedding-wear.
“We are working with knits and cottons and retailing them through our e-store,” he says, “which is why we felt that they had to be a necessary part of our show. The wedding-wear was showcased because the clothes act as embroidery samples. A lot of my embroidered designs sell very well internationally and, at TEXPO 2023, there was the chance that foreign visitors would zone in on particular patterns and order them from us.”
There were many other collections that were entirely made in Pakistan. Adnan Pardesy’s line was testament to the high-fashion potential of Pakistan’s denim and Rizwan Beyg, Wardha Saleem, The Pink Tree Company and Sanam Chaudhri, among others, showcased how viscose fabrics, cottons and silks could be transformed into statement-wear.
The question remains whether the small smattering of exporters at the event actually place any orders? Not that I know of. Then again, these things take time. Regular showcases of Pakistani fashion will make the world more aware of the potential within the industry and one hopes that this erstwhile ‘soft image’, pushed forward for so long, could eventually result in generating more international business for fashion. The TDAP has tried, at least, with this show at a time when no one else was interested in trying.
But for how much longer will Pakistani fashion keep ‘trying’? When will we see results that are exciting and that establish our designers – some of them, at least – on the world stage? In an uncertain world, we need the fashion industry to be certain now.
Organisers need to whet collections and shortlist the ones that truly deserve the spotlight, designers need to think beyond retail at least sometimes and experiment, ateliers need to be willing to take more risks and invest in their talent rather than limit themselves to shoots on Instagram.
And the industry needs to come together, once and for all, negate the differences between Karachi and Lahore, resist the urge for one-upmanship and cheer for each other and recognise the negative influence of idle gossip.
What you see on the runway is almost always far more beautiful than the rivalries and perpetual squabbles that take place off it. And even though these differences are supposed to be secret, they are so frequent that anyone who attends an event gets to know of them.
I’d rather not talk about this in detail, though. I’d rather focus on Pakistani fashion’s stronger aspects. I’d rather glorify the bona fide talent that has always been bolstering the fashion industry rather than dejectedly muse upon the bitterness and insecurity that is perpetually dragging it down.
Published in Dawn, ICON, June 4th, 2023