Taming the lines

Natasha Noman talks to Nickie and Nina about the inspirations behind 'Kacha Tanka', and their much-talked about shoot with the Lucky Irani Circus

Taming the lines
The day after Nickie Nina’s show at the PFDC (Pakistan Fashion Design Council) Sunsilk Fashion Week 2014, I sat down with Nickie, Nina and the label’s head designer, Mehrunissa Khan to discuss the concept for the show and the inspiration for the spring line. The collection was inspired by Slavic folk culture. The circus-themed shoot and fashion show involving the Lucky Irani Circus paired well with it, given both coteries are itinerants whose work takes them from place to place.

The shoot with the Lucky Irani Circus was the first of its kind where under normal circumstances photographs are strictly prohibited. I asked the three of them if the circus inspired the collection at all. Nickie responded first and said, “While we were doing the shoot, we saw a lot of stuff that probably did end up influencing the collection.” In explaining how one influenced the other, the challenges of the process became patent. Nina said the show and accompanying shoot were as challenging as executing the collection itself. When they arrived at the circus, the crew and Nickie Nina contingent were prepared to start the shoot at midnight, which is when the show was supposed to end. However, so many people turned up that the circus ended up doing two consecutive shows. Demand was so high they started selling tickets at double the price. This also meant that the shoot didn’t start until around 4am, by which time many of the acts had barely any energy left to perform.

However, it was in observing this process that the Nickie Nina team drew inspiration. Ms Khan chimed in: “We saw that when they were doing one show after another, on repeat, the same person performed multiple roles: like the sword swallower then went and changed and became the tightrope walker or the lion tamer. Every performer has so much work to do and in different roles so what they were wearing had to be really functional. They had to look amazing but be able to do their work without their outfit getting in the way.” And this is exactly the message they wanted to send to ‘The Nickie Nina Woman.’ They wanted to design a line that looked amazing but still allowed women to be functional and active.

“It’s very Nickie Nina to base our collection on strong women.  For example, our first collection was an ode to the women of Swat – while the operation in Swat was still going on,” said Nickie.  This is also what led the team to use katcha taanka – or “raw stitch” – a type of embroidery indigenous to Punjab. Doing so served two functions. First, it played perfectly into the role of the strong women the brand pays homage to. Nickie continued: “There are these women who sit and make this fabric and they literally just keep going until its finished. So it’s like clockwork; they sit there doing it all day and they’ve been doing it for generations and the skill is passed down. And they’re doing it in their homes, so it’s usually pretty dirty by the time it arrives because their lives have been going on around it: their kids have been playing and they’ve been eating, et cetera. So you usually need to wash it by the time you get it.”  They chuckled amongst themselves. Secondly, it made the line relatable as Slavic folk culture could be hard for many Pakistanis to connect with if interpreted literally. Ms Khan mused, “Whenever we design a line, we interpret it in a way that is familiar to us and, by doing so, make it our own.” So while the collection did get a lot of inspiration from Slavic culture, regarding silhouettes and a lot of layering, katcha taanka is what kept it local.

[quote]The model sat down and the seam split just before we started[/quote]

As for adopting the embroidery’s name as the collection’s moniker, Nina said one day the idea just came to them and it clicked: “It was a good metaphor for the strong, working woman, who needed to look good and still be completely functional. And it was like our process, too, for executing the collection: it became a part of our lives.”

When I asked them if there were any major surprises or hurdles along the way, Ms Khan described the frenzied scene backstage: “My favourite piece didn’t make it to the show. The model sat down and the seam split just before we started. It was pleated in the front like a sari – and it just split. She was getting ready to go on the ramp and we pulled her out. There was no way it could go.”

[quote]A young woman, donning Nickie Nina attire, materialized on stage and performed a mindboggling and physics-defying act with four hula-hoops[/quote]

One of the most mesmerizing parts of the show was when the film of the Lucky Irani Circus, serving as a backdrop to the runway, transformed from a 2-dimensional experience to a 3-dimensional one. A young woman, donning Nickie Nina attire, materialized on stage and performed a mindboggling and physics-defying act with four hula-hoops. The models casually walked around her as they stepped out onto the runway and cut through the artificial mist that had descended onto the stage. The spring line, in its entirety, was dynamic, whimsical, cohesive and – above all – fashionable.  It left fashionistas excited to see what Nickie Nina throws at us next.