Pakistan Fashion Week Gets Ready For Take Off

By Sonya Rehman

One couldn’t help but feel slightly thrown off balance, whilst venturing into the hall where Pakistan Fashion Week’s press conference – at the Royal Palm Golf & Country Club (Lahore) – was due to be held. Amidst the cacophony of chatter, cameras rolled and clicked, as recorders and microphones were flipped out and switched on – as they hungrily documented views, opinions, gowns and grins.

This year, November 4 till 8 – will mark Pakistan’s first Fashion Week. Due to be held in Lahore at the Royal Palm Golf & Country Club for five consecutive days, with local (and international) models setting ramps ablaze, powerhouse local designers showcasing their latest spring/summer (ready-to-wear) ensembles, coupled with surprising cherries on top – the largest (cherry) being the participation of Colin McDowell (one of the world’s most renowned fashion commentators and also pioneer of Fashion Fringe) as a ‘Special Advisor’ for PFW. Excited yet? Yes, thought as much.

Set up like a little ‘media centre’, mini-sets – comprising of two stools amidst a backdrop of an LCD screen depicting international Fashion Week’s – allowed a certain exclusivity for each television channel and their hosts. With bald, mannequins situated in different areas around the lobby, my only contention with the otherwise superb arrangement – were the tacky, uncreative gowns adorned by the mannequins (which mind you, were quite a few).
That being stated, the idea to have every journalist, TV host, photographer, producer, director, model and designer in one limited space (before the actual press conference was due to commence), bred an interesting, and rather communal feel. There was an unassuming openness in the air….an ‘accessibility’ if you may.
So much so, that you could unabashedly walk up to anyone, from a CEO to fashionista – tap him/her on the shoulder and shoot out a ‘so…what are your views on PFW?’ without feeling like a dimwit.

“There’s definitely a buzz here”, Sonya Battla said as she adjusted her shirt’s collar, all the while as she looked at her reflection in the mirror. I was standing in the loo, taking notes, while a fellow journalist of mine (who’d had a sudden make-up disaster) slapped on some extra war-paint. “People are excited”, Battla finished off with a smile, just as we walked out. And no doubt, people were.
“Dude, it’s great, just kickass!”, an enthusiastic and keyed up HSY (dressed in a long, cream-coloured sherwani) stated.

“Are you sure you want my opinion on this”, Nabila questioned laughingly, “You know, people hate me for being so outspoken”, she had added with a twinkle in her eye. “I’m honestly expecting IMG to bring in some international exposure so that we can tidy up our act”, Nabila said before proceeding, “to show us how things are done professionally, how the international market works, to teach us simplicity and develop our aesthetics…and also, about working on merit…because in Pakistan a lot of sub-standard people get chances whereas those with a lot of REAL talent tend get overlooked”. And no matter how hard Nabila’s words may hit below the belt, they hold true – simply due to the reason that locally, in terms of fashion or in terms of music, the little manual which promises ‘breakthroughs’ is your little black book of contacts.

But hopefully, IMG will transform and alter ‘set ways’ in terms of local fashion. But that’s not all, “Our role is to become an ambassador for Pakistan”, Simon Lock (Managing Director, IMG Fashion, for Asia Pacific) had said as he went on to explain the fact that the West was still not fully aware of Pakistan’s progression regarding its arts…the view was still more or less, myopic. And Pakistan’s position, Simon juxtaposed with Australia, “when IMG did Australia’s first ‘Australian Fashion Week’ in Sydney thirteen years ago, IMG changed the perceptions of Australia from what it was perceived to be towards the rest of the world. Similarly, that’s what is going to happen with Pakistan Fashion Week. Perception is simply not reality”.

Simon Lock

Simon was right. Truth be told, a nation is truly identified by way of its religious beliefs and its culture (the largest stem here being the arts). And with a mammoth, mama-hen company such as IMG (which has been organizing a plethora of fashion weeks the world over for decades) PFW is definitely under a great big, protective wing – not to mention the coverage (both local and foreign), which is bound to be huge.
Each drop makes a river you see, and if PFW can aid in altering the perception of Pakistan – from a volatile, orthodox, baton-charging, ‘Lal Masjid’ one to that which is balanced and comprises of a strong (and colourful) cultural backbone, then there’s absolutely nothing better.

Understand too, that Pakistan will be put on the international map of fashion – no small feat. It won’t happen instantaneously of course, as for now it really is all about small, “baby steps” (quoting Simon Lock). And once fashion from Pakistan is recognized overseas (hey now, the Lebanese did it), it is bound to open gateways for Pakistani musicians to Western audiences (not just the desi communities abroad). Fashion and music are very closely interlinked – especially in terms of styling, music videos and yes indirect exposure, so do the math. Hadiqa Kiyani’s presence at the PFW press conference was the proof of the pudding. And what proof it was, Hadiqa looked radiant in an ink-black dress with her wavy curls set loose on her bare shoulders.

And after about two full hours of interviewing and mingling were over and done with, the guests were called over to another lobby (across the hall) for the commencement of the press conference.
With low couches aligned near the small stage, LCD screens portrayed international models (skeletons) that glided down stark-white runways. “Boy, I bet they starve”, I had said to a journalist-friend as we clicked open our pens and flipped out notepads – just waiting to be scribbled on. We had our armour ready as the conference was due to start at any given minute. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking”, she had said with a laugh. And looking over to my far right I noticed Aamminah Haq, Maliha Naipaul, Cybil and Neha – thanking God that even though all were quite slim and fit, they weren’t anywhere near the skeletal body-frames that were depicted in the screens above.

Simon kept his introduction brief, humorous and to the point as he spoke of how fortunate IMG was to be working in conjunction with The Jang Group and GEO TV. The first group which were called up on stage by Simon were Imran Aslam, President GEO TV network, Sarmad Ali, Managing Director, Marketing, Jang Group and Asim Qureshi, CEO Events Unlimited – who gave their individual views on PFW and the local coverage (print, broadcast and web-based) that was to be expected.
With seasoned confidence and his light jokes, Simon was a terrific host as he kept the audience’s attention immersed (and stirred) by way of saying things such as: “[PFW] is going to paint a new image for Pakistan” and “It’s going to make household names of Pakistani fashion designers”. Infact when Imran Aslam enthusiastically said that PFW was due to be “one hell of a show”, some from the audience whooped as the rest clapped on. And then speaking of the local and foreign models that are due to sashay down the PFW ramps, Simon admiringly looked over at the front row – where both the stunning Cybil and Mehreen Syed were seated – and said that he hoped to see the country’s local models on the runway as well.

“We’re here to show the world some Pakistani flavour!”, HSY had then said, once invited on stage to speak along with Sonya Battla and Nabila (who are part of PFW’s Advisory Board).
“We need to bring out what’s truly Pakistani with the help of IMG”, Battla later added when she was questioned by Simon about her anticipations.
And expressing her views, Nabila articulated that she thought the workshops that PFW would be putting up would aid in industry in learning from its mistakes and by putting in its “essence”. Nabila’s response really was pleasing, because even under the spotlight, she didn’t waste any time whatsoever in sugar-coating her opinions – and as straight as an arrow, she was extremely sincere in her outlook.

As the last group was spoken with – which mainly comprised of Kamiar Rokni and Maheen (both of Karma) and Jared Clark (a ‘hands-on’ producer who’d be providing international direction to PFW) – Simon parted with a few words before calling it a wrap.
And as one walked out, the PFW press conference had left quite an anticipative aftertaste for those who had turned up.
With PFW just mere months away, there’s a whole lot more where the press conference came from…so fasten your seat-belts kids; this is going to be one heck of a ride.

Instep, The News

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