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Fashion and fiction

Fashion Week is fun and quirky but it’s a business event rather than a cultural achievement

Fashion and fiction

Dear all,

London Fashion Week (LFW), which ended just a few days ago, is a big event for the city. It happens twice a year, in February and September, and features new season trends and showcases various designers’ work. It used to be limited to celebrity types, buyers and press — but now fashion bloggers have become an important part of the event.

When LFW is on, the Strand, near Waterloo bridge becomes a bit of a stage: attendees (and fashion devotees who may or may not be attendees) tend to sport the most outrageous hair, make-up and wardrobe. It’s all very moody, bold and theatrical. Some people look like they’re wearing duvets and blankets, others as if they are wearing underwear as outerwear, or else they display flounces, frills, tutus or neon with considerable attitude. Everybody seems to be trying to make some sort of statement or strike some sort of look, and of course this tends to range from the sublime to the ridiculous…

There is also protest. Last weekend anti-fur protestors turned out in some numbers, raised angry slogans and chalked their disapproval all over the pavement. You can sort of understand why — after a few years of ‘fur shaming’ in which the industry moved away from animal fur, it seems to have started ‘mainstreaming’ it again, and the embarrassment of sporting fur seems to have vanished into the past.

Apart from various well-established labels, London Fashion Week features collections by new designers from all over the world. Pakistani designers too are beginning to feature in increasing numbers, and most recently a British Council initiative brought six Pakistani designers over to show their work.

Lahore’s Zohra Rahman meanwhile was listed in the main LFW directory, and her modern jewellery, with its clean lines (you have to love the paper clip earrings), made for a coherent contemporary look.

Everybody seems to be trying to make some sort of statement or strike some sort of look, and of course this tends to range from the sublime to the ridiculous…

It’s interesting what the designers, who were sponsored by the British Council’s Fashion DNA mentorship programme, had to say about the initiative. One of the main things they highlighted was how they were encouraged to develop the practical side of the business — identify target markets, and brand image, and have an efficient e-commerce website.

One designer when speaking to reporters of course parroted the idea that the show was an opportunity to show to the world a ‘positive’ side of Pakistan and its culture which was different from the usual image of violence and extremism.

I’m not really sure why people are still pretending that Pakistani fashion shows have anything to do with the culture of the country. I can recall that in the Musharraf era, several embarrassingly awful fashion shows were exported to the UK which made many pretentious references to culture and history, and basically showcased the most absurd creations — for example ‘bridal’ outfits featuring skimpy cholis and baring huge amounts of flesh, leading one to speculate that designers were perhaps thinking less about Pakistani culture and more about Indian clientele.

Well-meaning liberal journalist friends too have often, in gatherings outside the country, cited fashion shows as a ‘positive side of the country’s image’. I find this bizarre. Yes, Pakistan has many talented designers and the textile and fashion industry needs to continue to be developed to make inroads into international markets, but essentially this is a business project rather than a cultural one. We can export goods like kinoo, mangos, rice, leather goods etc, and create positive associations through this, but as far as cultural exports go we need to showcase our films, art, music, dance, handicrafts and literature, and, while doing this, focus on regional diversity as much as possible.

Perhaps a food festival including ethnic history and regional traditions of hospitality and cuisine might be a good idea…

In any case, it’s probably time to refrain from claiming that fashion shows are a cultural export.

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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