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­In conversation with Sadia Siddiqui

Sadia Siddiqui talks about taking on fashion weeks in Pakistan, the challenges that come with it and on orchestrating her passion project, Fashion Parade in New York later this month.

­In conversation with Sadia Siddiqui
Sadia Siddiqui is the brain behind the revamped PFDC shows in Pakistan and Fashion Parade in London.

Sadia Siddiqui’s name was first heard in local fashion circles when she and her team at Mustang Productions took charge of directing PFDC shows. She took over from Hassan Sheheryar Yasin, who had been directing the event from its inception and while HSY had all the experience and directed the show to his best during his tenure, it wasn’t easy showing and managing the logistics of an event as grand and important to the business of fashion in Pakistan as fashion week is. Sadia Siddiqui stepped in and brought in a new pool of models along with a new show format.

Instep caught up with the show director, on her experience of working on fashion weeks in Pakistan and on the evolution of Fashion Parade, her passion project that will be taking place in New York this year.

Not yet confirming whether she’ll be directing the PFDC L’Oreal Bridal Week next month, Sadia did reflect on her previous experiences and what she had brought to the runway.

“During the three shows I’ve directed for PFDC, I’ve introduced new tall models so our model pool starts reflecting the regular runway model standards,” she said. One of the biggest issues fashion weeks were facing was the model turnover, which was next to nonexistent with rarely any diverse, fresh faces being seen. There were also numerous stories of unprofessionalism, tardiness and misdemeanor circulating each year. Tackling this, Sadia flew in foreign models and also introduced taller local models of which Rabia Chaudhry and Mushk Kaleem are two names that come to mind.

“Pakistan is a tough market for models as there are no modelling agencies who can help recruit them but also groom them along the way, guide them and protect their rights,” she reflected upon her experience. “I find timing to be a big concern, but again, if there was a management company managing the models a lot of these issues would be resolved.” She says this as someone who’s had experience running a modelling agency in London and has a knack for selecting models.

Sadia shares that she also designed the sets for the last 3 years of PFDC Fashion Weeks, modifying the show’s format to include two smaller show areas as opposed to one main show area.

“In the past years alone, Lagerfeld has displayed his Chanel collections in grandiose sets designed to look like surreal brasseries, airport terminals and supermarkets, thinking outside the box and constantly innovating. He even turned the Great Wall of China into a runway for Fendi. Similarly, Asia has followed, and Lakme shows have evolved over the years. To keep fashion interesting we have to try new innovative ideas and really introduce new models, great sets and young upcoming designers.” It would be exciting to see what she introduces next.

Sadia is also the brain behind Fashion Pakistan, a platform that has introduced high end Pakistani fashion to London. As the 6th Fashion Parade rolls around, this time in NYC on August 27, we wonder how she aims to make FP different from the other Pakistani fashion events that happen in the West?

Siddiqui prides herself on the fact that all Fashion Parade shows have been held at prestigious locations. The one above was held in London at the One Marylebone Church, where Nilofer Shahid was one of the designers showing.

Siddiqui prides herself on the fact that all Fashion Parade shows have been held at prestigious locations. The one above was held in London at the One Marylebone Church, where Nilofer Shahid was one of the designers showing.

“I’m not interested in doing a charity gala fashion show for entertainment and I don’t understand promoting Pakistan to Pakistan,” she said. “Pakistani expats already know about Pakistan but if you want to promote the country internationally, you have to do it to the mainstream people there – that’s when perceptions are changed.” She feels that perceptions about Pakistan are very dated in America. “The UK was different because we were the largest ethnic minority there, Buckingham Palace did Eid/Diwali events, the Mayor is Pakistani and we are a part of the fabric of the society. The little America sees of Pakistan is what comes on Fox or CNN and Pakistan doesn’t get the best coverage.” She added that a show of this caliber in New York hasn’t happened before and that it was a challenge but the natural next step.

Siddiqui moved to NYC last year from London, where she’d been living for a while, and shares that although the Big Apple was always on her wish list for Fashion Parade, she didn’t realize it would happen so fast. “When I started FP in London, the idea was to celebrate diversity in fashion in the UK and as the platform grew I realized there are four fashion capitals in the world – London, New York, Paris and Milan.”

“When putting together a show representing the best of the countries, everything needs to be immaculately done – production, design, PR. The venue must demand attention and for me there were only two such iconic venues: The Met and Christie’s.” As the Met has a rule against fashion shows, the location is now going to be Christie’s, a prestigious 250-year-old world famous auction house.

FP has previously had more designers in its five year run but in NYC, she was advised by industry veterans that group shows are never too long and the media doesn’t sit extensively. She then reduced her designer pool to some of the top designers from Pakistan and India. Ali Xeeshan, Faiza Samee, Kamiar Rokni and Elan alongwith Delhi Vintage Co. from India are all participating. The latter specializes in heirloom Indian fabrics and they’re curating a western collection for Fashion Parade.

We wondered whether Sadia tells the designers what kind of collections to be showing. She revealed, “We tell them what works for this market. Since the PR will call editors and bloggers, who have never seen Pakistani fashion before, the idea is to show our fabric, workmanship and design sensibility with western or fusion silhouettes so they can imagine themselves wearing those clothes and be able to relate.”

In setting FP apart from other shows in the west, she added, “The idea of the show was never to sell clothes; the designers we work with are well equipped with selling their clothes internationally and locally. The idea is to bring mainstream attention and have future collaborations between Pakistani designers and the mainstream.” The designers attending have sent samples of their clothes ahead of FP, which will be taken to editors prior to the show. Sadia hopes this will create interest. “For buyers to come, they need to be educated and that’s something we can focus on in the next few years. At the moment we just want there to be interest,” she said.

At Fashion Parade in 2015, news came up that Rihanna’s stylist was interested in Ali Xeeshan’s quirky eyewear, shown at his showcase. Sadia confirms that this indeed did happen; her stylist had contacted her PR for Xeeshan’s outlandish accessories. If Fashion Parade can continue giving Pakistani fashion moments like these, it’s something the country needs to look into not only proudly but also seriously.

Mehek Saeed

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