Who, What, Wear

After four days of couture at TFPW15, Mohsin Sayeed shrugs a sartorial "meh"

Who, What, Wear
After Telenor Fashion Pakistan Week 15 (TFPW15), I have reached two conclusions. First: brevity is the soul of Fashion Week, just as in the case of wit and lingerie. Second: even in matters of taste, I am an extremist. Excellence exhilarates me and tackiness titillates. Anything in between is simply blah.

Twice a year, Fashion Week gives the fraternity a chance to meet and get to know their colleagues. Frankly, it’s the energy, the buzz that draws me to any fashion week more than the anticipation of seeing the collections. Similarly, I find the environment at a literature festival more attractive than the sessions.

As usual, the red carpet area was pulsating with energy, flashlights and the sound of camera clicks. As a voyeur, people-watching is my favourite hobby. I was delighted to see Islooite Hello Pakistan’s Sidrah Khan again this season (she is one hell of a straight-talker). Niche magazine’s Zainab Malik was great company during the seemingly never-ending four days and kept offering around chocolates and mouth fresheners. It was a real pleasure meeting Mariam Mushtaq from Lahore, who had come down to cover the week for Instep. Seema Jaffer looked her usual uber-stylish self in a black appliqued jacket and a clutch by Sarah’s Bags from Lebanon. HSY was busy being photographed and interviewed before hitting the choreographer’s seat in the show area.

Inaaya with her mother Naushaba Brohi

 Flocks of paparazzi circled and attacked every time I snapped someone

Shamaeel, glowing in a red cut-away-shoulder dress, attended the last day’s show. Sana Hashwani and Safinaz Muneer were absent, but their team was there in full force, with Sana Hafeez, Saher Peerzada and Mohsin Ali busy ensuring that, along with being photographed, guests wearing the label were also snapped. Although the fashion house didn’t show a collection at this year’s FPW, its hash tag, #RedCarpetIsOurRunway, dotted the social media. Truly, all four days spotted more SanaSafinaz on the ramp than a collection could have presented. CEO Sadaf Munir looked très chic in a belted top – no highbrow fashion event is ever complete without her. Mehreen Noorani, a Dubai-based designer who is due to show at next season’s FPW, was spotted testing the waters and mingling with the crowd. Sarah Anees looked ravishing in an Inaaya top. The lovely Noor Majeed breezed through in a white Saniya Maskatiya dress with splashes of colour. Sameera Dada was similarly clad in black and so I asked them to pose together for my old Samsung.

Humourist Danish Ali preened around, recording a video of funny expressions and bloopers. He was shooting one of his regular spoofs: this time’s target was the happenings at a fashion week. A team from Vice was busy recording interviews with designers, Fashion Council members and participants for an exclusive show on Pakistani fashion. Journalist Madeeha Syed, their local producer, was dragging people to the mic for interviews. Their host Hailey was dressed in a Pakistani outfit to “mingle” with the crowd, in her words.


Bunto Kazmi and Faiza Samee were also conspicuous in their absence. So was the Hussain trio of Ensemble as only Shehernaz Hussain came the first day. Also missed were Ayesha Farooq Hashwani and her boisterous sister, Sameera Faisal – both sisters were busy touring Lahore and Islamabad for AFH trunk shows.
To my horror, a couple had even brought along their toddlers

Umar Sayeed was spotted in the front row, clapping for Zaheer Abbas, after which he left. On the third day, the front row was graced by former super model-turned-academic Aliya Iqbal and her writer husband H M Naqvi. Both were cheering for friend and academic/writer Nazish Brohi’s kid sister, Naushaba Brohi. Even after having quit modelling 15 years ago and two children later, Aliya Iqbal can still give today’s models a run for their money. I feel sorry for those who haven’t seen her on the runway.

It was fun to capture various fashionistas, celebrities and socialites on my poor tiny Samsung phone camera. True to our silent vow, Maheen Khan, draped in elegance and black, gave me special poses. Anoushey Ashraf, FPW’s red-carpet host, also posed for me especially, while Maliha Chaudhry of Daaman struck a silly pose for my Samsung. But what I found most irritating were the flocks of paparazzi and cell-phone clickers who would circle and attack every time I photographed someone who had struck a special pose for me. Many people who do not want to be photographed otherwise oblige me out of friendship or a long working relationship. But the paparazzi simply don’t understand privacy and insist on hogging the moment. I can understand how photographer Jaffer Hasan feels. Poor Jaffer (who is responsible for having introduced the trend of backstage photography) was tailed by a photographer who fed off his inimitable style and his relationship with the models and designers posing happily for him backstage.

Unfortunately, the glamour and style quotient on the red carpet was fairly low. I can hardly recall a single stunning style statement. Both the red carpet and the ramp crawled with high-waist maxi skirts worn with tucked-in tops or shirts. I fail to understand why people would want to follow something that everyone and their maids are doing. At least those who consider themselves fashionistas should refrain from becoming trend slaves. But Maliha Chaudhry and Maliha Rao sported ear cuffs, and one guest wore a stylish head accessory that distinguished her from a sea of clones.

Backstage with Sadaf Kanwal
Backstage with Sadaf Kanwal

Mohsin Ali from the SanaSafinaz team stood out in the crowd with his grey jacket, hand-splashed with yellow paint and a fuchsia pocket square. The chap oozes style and personal expression. Designer Fahad Hussayn, in his signature black-and-white, carried off a SanaSafinaz printed and embroidered shawl with aplomb.

Despite the strict ban on backstage entry, I managed to sneak in: no fashion week is complete without capturing the organized and creative chaos backstage. Amid the din of whirring hairdryers and under the glare of make-up station lights, backstage hummed with activity. A composed Nabila was discussing matters with her daughter-in-law Sarah, and I joked about their cordial relationship. Fayezah Ansari seemed uncharacteristically subdued, but then a fashion week can exhaust even a hyperactive juvenile high on chocolate. I must get used to Iraj’s absence from the backstage scene. She is visiting the US at the moment but, according to grapevine, is thinking of retiring. I just hope not.

Tapu Javeri was busy clicking his favourite moments. Jaffer Hasan was immersed in finding camera angles and moments to his liking. And Muneera Lakhani of O2 Productions was calmly sorting out egos and logistics alike.

Amna Ilyas
Amna Ilyas

For the first time, I felt compassionate towards the male models, who were huddled in a corner receiving no attention and looking overwhelmed – almost scared. Male models are the man’s-nipples of the fashion industry: useless, superficial and all the same. Lacking personality, they enjoy no significance and are simply forgettable. I wonder that a man’s vanity is so strong that it can reduce him to this level.

Kudos to the young board members of FPW for pulling off an extremely well-managed event. Punctuality is becoming a constant, even defining, feature of FPW. All four days started almost on time and the shows ended between 10 and 10.30 PM. This was a great achievement for the Council but clearly didn’t come easy for the board members. A polite but firm Sanam Chaudhry was seen supervising operations with an iron fist. Wardha Saleem, despite feeling unwell, kept going, resolving last-minute issues. Deepak Perwani looked stressed and exhausted, but was never unavailable even for a minute and made sure things ran like a well-oiled machine. Entry at the gate was smooth and trouble-free: invites were sent out to a select list this time and entry strictly monitored. No one without an invite was allowed in. Credit goes to Obaid Sheikh who stood at the gate, scrutinizing entries. I missed Noman Arfeen whose efficiency is remarkable in this respect: he was in Australia on a boys’ vacation, enjoying the Cricket World Cup. Nuscie Jamil, Omar Jamil (rather dapper in a sherwani on the second day) and Ali Chaudhry from Latitude PR seemed to be settling into their crucial role as the event’s PR agency.

Maheen Khan
Maheen Khan

Front-row seating is always a nightmare and becomes controversial at most fashion events. But not this time. No fights broke out over the seating and there were no disgruntled guests insisting they deserved “frows” (as the front rows are fashionably called). Maheen Karim and Latitude handled one of the most difficult parts of FPW with great aplomb. Fair front-row seating was organized almost on merit. Personally, I still disagree with giving frows to selfie-crazed self-projecting Instagrammers and so-called bloggers, but then that is the Fashion Council’s prerogative. I suggest there be a separate pit for bloggers and Instagrammers right next to the media pit – really, all they do is take and upload photos. The frows should be reserved for journalists, reporters, critics, fashionistas, and buyers. I even disagree with giving frows to sponsors who just sit there with blank faces and no understanding of fashion.

I was really pleased to see a rising debate on the phenomenon of paid content and substandard blogging at TFPW15. At times, it even overshadowed the collections. Having highlighted the issue in my last FPW article for TFT seems to be paying dividends. This year saw fashion professionals discussing the role of bloggers and social media. Almost all of them condemned the trend of paid content. The debate needs to be louder to lead to corrections, but it’s a good start.
Censorship is cancer to creativity

While credit goes to the board members of FPW for their good handling of seating, guests also have a lot to learn. I witnessed the most peculiar Pakistani mind-set in action: many guests simply tore off the “reserved seat” signs and sat down, refusing to vacate their seats despite several requests from the poor ushers. But the worst was seeing children in the audience. To my absolute horror, a couple even brought their two toddlers along one evening. I wonder if Fashion Week is the place to bring children, considering the ear-splittingly loud music, the harsh lights, the mayhem, the late nights and the fashionistas. And why such parents don’t think of the collections (some of which might leave young children scarred for life) remains a mystery. If parents don’t have family or babysitters with whom to leave their children, then they must stay home and pay the price for having children in the first place. This is clearly a form of child abuse and should be reported to the nearest agency for the prevention of child abuse.

Speaking of harsh lights reminds me: FPW needs to hire professional lighting designers instead of relying on Hum TV, which is in charge of production. The lighting on the red carpet was far too dim, complained all the photographers, and the ramp lights were so harsh that the models looked more like transgenders off the streets of Karachi. The glaring lights gave everyone’s pores a chance to strut down the ramp. Nabila’s makeup looked like Shagufta and Shabana’s makeup jaywalking for business on Zamzama past sundown. Mind you, this was absolutely no fault of Nabila’s: her makeup was signature Nabila – flawless and beautiful. Hum TV needs to understand that capturing and projecting beauty is all about lighting and distance, and not the TV screen.

The selection and editing of the collections stuck out like a sore thumb. While the latter remains the domain of individual designers, the former is definitely a call FPW needs to make – and the sooner the better. Accommodating substandard, run-of-the-mill collections not only damages the reputation of the Fashion Council, but also brings down the level of FPW. The best of the best must be showcased at a prestigious event like FPW. It isn’t quantity, but quality, that matters. Increasing the number of days to accommodate collections that do not belong on the FPW ramp also has a grave impact on the cost of the event.

It was a tad disappointing to see a fashion week span four days and 28 collections where less than a quarter was better than mediocre. Only six collections stood out for their design and execution. However, it would be unfair to those who excelled if they didn’t get an honourable mention. Zaheer Abbas stole the show with his all-ivory collection. Superb, intricate embroidery, digital prints, gorgeous draping and fine tailoring all came together to make his collection exquisite and distinct. Wardha Saleem’s collection for Jafferjees handbags also stood out because of its trendy prints and clean lines. I especially loved a dull gold flapper dress that was exceedingly chic. The bags were trendy and good-quality, but Wardha’s clothes superseded them with flying colours.

Amir Adnan’s regal collection for men had many elements that lent an air of richness to it. Double-hem kurtas worn underneath waistcoats, printed silk wraps, and flawless tailoring added a new dimension to the otherwise trite menswear shown. But his bejewelled ties and imam zamins glittered and seemed to have come out of a nawab’s treasure wardrobe. There is a reason that Adnan still reigns supreme in men’s fashion. As a pioneer, he knows how to lure men out of their drab, dull closets.

Nuscie Jamil with Aliya Iqbal-Naqvi
Nuscie Jamil with Aliya Iqbal-Naqvi

Sonya Battla returned to her original self with beautiful cuts and enticing drapes in her tribute collection to Manora. Working in collaboration with artist Naiza Khan, she captured the island’s bygone splendour and mystery. Breezy, flowing and ethereal, Sonya has once again proved that, if she sticks to her vision and doesn’t bow to market pressure, no one can beat her finesse and originality. Maliha Chaudhry of Daaman presented a purely pret collection that exuded neat clean lines, comfort and chic. With minimal embellishments and relying mostly on tailoring techniques, her use of lace was the best, even though others also attempted lace this season.

And then, the grand finale from Shamaeel. Embroidery on print: a progressive, complete collection with sharp tailoring, her bold signature and refined embroidery adding a regal air and rooting the modern collection in tradition. Cleverly designed and crafted, it projected Shamaeel’s brand identity of grandeur in the best possible visual manner. It couldn’t have been better. She chose operatic music to accompany the collection on the ramp: just as the music swelled to a crescendo, the collection reached a simultaneous peak. Absolutely stunning.

This fashion week was laden with star power. Ever elegant, Maheen Khan surprised everyone when she closed Madiha Raza’s show. Waseem Akram closed for Levis, Shahzad Roy sang closing Abdul Samad’s menswear show, Sonya Battla sent in Tammy Haq as her special personality and Deepak Perwani chose Ali Azmat and Pooja Bhatt – who was visiting Karachi with her father Mahesh Bhatt for the play Daddy at the NAPA Theatre Festival. I must admit Pooja Bhatt didn’t make much of an impact. But the walkers who stole the week were Mashal Chaudhry and young Inayya who glided onto the runway in Naushaba Brohi’s finale. Mashal stunned the audience with her beauty and poise, but Inaaya stole hearts with her big smile. Before the show, Inaaya had come running up to me, showing off her T-shirt, which said “Super Role Model” and clad in a skirt by her mother. She wanted to be photographed. Naushaba hurried up too, telling me not to upload the picture because it was her secret finale. And a very well-suited finale, I must say.

Apart from the well-managed frows, there was another first-ever at TFPW15. FPW had issued a set of illustrated guidelines to the participating designers, asking them to adhere strictly to these when designing their collections. While it didn’t mention punishment or reprimand in the case of failing to comply, this was downright moral policing on the part of FPW. On probing further, I traced the reason for the guidelines to the Trade Development Authority Pakistan (TDAP) fashion show held for Pakistan Expo a couple of weeks prior to TFPW15.

According to a highly placed TDAP official (who, of course, requested anonymity), apparently some outfits at the TDAP show had severely offended the “Muslim” and “Pakistani” sensibilities of the Minister for Commerce, Khurram Dastagir Khan. Rubbing salt into this wound was designer Rizwanullah, who had kissed one of the models at the head of the ramp when taking his bow. The minister had expressed his anger and the Council had then caved under and sent a detailed directive with pictures to all the designers showing collections at TFPW (including Rizwanullah’s picture kissing the model), stating: “Designers are requested to refrain from exhibiting any act of intimacy on the ramp.”

Another highly placed source at TDAP confirmed that the fashion show segment of the upcoming “Aalishan Pakistan” Expo, due to be held in London in May 2015, had been dropped on the orders of the minister. Perhaps this step was taken to punish the fashion community for the above-mentioned faux pas. “What they don’t realize is that the fashion part at any Pakistani expo creates a hype that can only be dreamt of otherwise. In Delhi, the media went wild. In a place like London, such exhibitions take place a dime a dozen. It’s the fashion part that gets us attention,” accepted the official.

Another damaging effect of dropping the fashion segment from Aalishan Pakistan in London is that many textiles and garments industry participants have reconsidered taking part in the event. “We get a boost in sales and orders when a fashion show is part of the expo. Through the media hype, interest in the event is heightened and traffic increases manifold. We might back out of the event if there is no fashion [segment] in Aalishan London,” confided a textile magnate who showcases lawn at such events.

When I contacted Ahsan Riaz, staff officer to the minister for commerce, to confirm whether the fashion segment had been dropped and to verify the minister’s displeasure at the TDAP show, he replied, “No comment” and directed me to Azhar Ali Chaudhry, spokesperson for the ministry, before banging the phone down. Mr Chaudhry could not be contacted at the time as his office informed me he was unavailable. At TFPW15, I was glad to see that the designers were showing what they wanted and hadn’t given much credence to the moral policing memo, although they did refrain from any “acts of intimacy” on the ramp.

A word of advice for the Minister of Commerce, Khurram Dastagir Khan: Your job is to increase trade, not to decide and monitor what people design and wear and how they behave with colleagues on the ramp. Have a look at the sheer drop in Pakistan’s leather exports, which were skyrocketing at one point: this will tell you where to focus your energy and attention. And that’s just one area of a hundred that requires immediate efforts by the Ministry of Commerce. India did not build its multimillion-dollar fashion and lifestyles industry based on personal whims.

A word of advice to fashion councils – and FPW in particular: Any kind of pressure, whether bureaucratic or governmental, hampers designers’ creativity and expression. It should be left to them to decide what they want to show and to consumers what they want to buy. Supply and demand autocorrect. Any unnatural intervention throws everything off balance. Censorship is cancer to creativity. The fashion councils must learn that governments come and go. Ministers are political appointees who get the top slot because of their perceived loyalty (and, more often than not, sycophancy) towards the ruling party chief, not on the grounds of knowledge or merit. Give them a royal ignore. Apart from Benazir Bhutto’s government in 1993, which established the Pakistan School of Fashion Design, no other government has done anything for the fashion industry. If we are seeing it progress, it is down to the passion and hard work of the fashion professionals. Don’t appease those who have no vision and understanding of the business of fashion and creativity.

The lesson for fashion councils (if there is a will to learn): Give government bodies like TDAP and the Ministry of Commerce the cold shoulder. They are not doing their job promoting Pakistani fashion around the globe or bringing in global expertise. With hard work, perseverance and passion, Pakistani fashion has, over the years, proven that it doesn’t need government support: it is the other way round (provided, of course, that governments and politicians have any vision for the economic progress of the country, and needless to say, they have none).

As a self-confessed extremist, TFPW bored me most, exhilarated me in moderation, and titillated me least. I detest the middle path. Ideally, at a fashion week, I want to be exhilarated most, bored least and not titillated at all. Hanging on to hope… till the next one.

Author's update: The Aalishan Pakistan expo due to be held in London next month has been postponed, but no new dates have been announced.