For the longest time models have been caricatured as glam dolls, who have more to do with beauty and less with brains. However, the recent past has seen more than a handful of women stage a fashion industry take over not just with their chiseled jaw lines but also with their personalities resonating the true supermodel. One of them is Mehreen Syed.
Mehreen has been working in the local modeling industry for over 14 years now. She has been the face of many a fashion label along with being a spokesperson for L’oreal Paris and was the most popular showstopper at Fashion Pakistan Week, last month; walking for the likes of Nilofer Shahid and Faraz Manan. But more than her picture-perfect face and lean bod, it is her straightforwardness, approachable style and professionalism that has won her a large fan following. Of course, there is also the fact that unlike her contemporaries who mostly branch out to acting, Mehreen has chosen to run a modeling academy for an alternative career path. International Fashion Academy of Pakistan was recently certified by the Punjab education board and has L’oreal Paris as its make-up partner. Apart from this, Mehreen is also involved in social work and runs a blog called Desi Beauty Blog. Instep caught up with the supermodel-turned-entrepreneur on the changing dynamics of modeling in Pakistan, backstage treatment and the new crop of models.
Models have long been looked down upon in our society; associated with a certain public image. Do you think that these preconceived notions have changed in the last few years?
Mehreen Syed: We should highlight the positive change in the mindset of our people. They have become more receptive towards the profession. Girls from good backgrounds are striving to display their creativity and break the rules. It’s interesting to see a big shift from the time I started my career and faced a number of dilemmas. Also now that people are a lot more aware of the realities of the field, it will help more with growth of the fashion industry.
Do you think models have been exploited with respect to pay scale?
MS: I disagree. It doesn’t happen now as there’s so much work these days and so many platforms available. It is a highly paid profession and most of the work is given by well-known business groups that have certain rules to follow themselves when it comes to payments.
What do you think of the new crop of models?
MS: The sad truth is that there are very few good models in the industry as of now. But my vote goes out to Sadaf Kanwal from Karachi followed by Zara Peerzada and Amna Babar from Lahore. I am proud that my academy IFAP has also played a significant role in introducing a new breed of male models; Jahan-e-Khalid and Ather Amin are amongst the top few today. Budding models like Rubab Ali, Anam Malik and Sonia Nazeer, also from IFAP, are making great progress.
Do modeling agencies in Pakistan work under a registered code of ethics?
MS: There are very few agencies operating and I am unaware of their working style but I aim to start off my own project of giving a proper platform to upcoming models. You will see my agency working in the most organized manner in the next two years. We will have an online registration facility to bridge the gap between models and the source. In this way models will not be exploited and will be given their due share.
How would you rate the backstage facilities given to models?
MS: Every fashion week has its own backstage environment; some may be more organized than the other area but it doesn’t mean they fail at providing all the necessary facilities. It really just depends on the budget. However, I would like to commend the privacy factor in Pakistan. I have worked abroad so I can vouch that in Pakistan, models are given full privacy in comparison to foreign countries.
What about the provision of healthy food to models backstage?
MS: I think that the food provided should be for all the people who are working on that specific day and not exclusively for models. In my view, even biryani is healthy food. Throwing tantrums over food choices just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Honestly, we are pampered a lot. At FPW, which was held in Karachi recently, the models were treated to fresh, healthy food from a famous eatery every single day and were also offered fruits and juices. The same is the case with PFDC where the quality of everything is top notch.
You have been a favourite for designers when it comes to selecting their showstopper. How does that make you feel?
MS: We are like mannequins showcasing pieces on the runway. I am honoured to have worn the best pieces by most of the designers and I feel it is my duty to highlight that outfit in the most graceful way possible. And when designers thank me for doing justice to their coveted piece is the moment I feel the most elated. I also ensure that the outfit, which is created over 3 to 6 months of hard labour, is returned to the designer in original form; without any make-up marks or spills.
A lot of models, including you, have emphasized on working with only one photographer which could in fact hinder the growth of one’s career. Do you feel it is right for models to work exclusively for a photographer?
MS: I have a wonderful relationship with Ather Shehzad and the bond goes deeper for the very reason that they supported me when no one was willing to take a chance. In fact I was rejected by everyone I went to before them. The people that I am talking about now regret their decision but I have moved on now.
I started working when I was hardly 16 years old and didn’t know much about the dynamics of the fashion industry. At one point I was studying in school while working as a PIA airhostess to support my family. And when I simply couldn’t manage things was the time I started working with Ather and Shehzad. There has never been a formal contract between us but I have always cherished our camaraderie and I believe that they are the best in the field. I have also worked with Nadir Feroz and Khawar Riaz which means I am not restricting myself but where were these people when I was young and needed to be encouraged.
You’ve worked with both HSY and Frieha Altaf as choreographers. Who is better to work with?
MS: Sheru is my closest friend and the most down-to-earth person whereas Frieha I know since the time I first stepped into the industry. They have their own individual styles and are super-talented and extremely hardworking so both of them deserve to be appreciated for their contribution.