If one were to judge Pakistan’s fashion industry solely on the number of fashion weeks held in the country this year – six in all, that’s one every two months on average – one would think we’re on the fast track to growth and advancement.
The two separate councils that we have, one headquartered in Lahore (the Pakistan Fashion Design Council) and the other in Karachi (Fashion Pakistan), both managed to put up their bi-annual fashion weeks this year and while far from perfect, the showcases have been a giant step forward in giving an impetus to the army of designers, models, stylists, make-up artists, choreo-graphers and photographers that constitute our fashion industry.
Can the same, however, be said for the third annual presentation that is held twice a year? The Bridal Couture Week, which recently wrapped up its latest edition in Lahore, held from the 11th to the 13th of December at Faletti’s Hotel, is an entertaining show at best but there’s little within the content to substantiate its claim of being a “mega fashion event.” Here’s a look at the reasons why that’s so. BCW is an out-an-out commercial event. Organized by a television network without the collaboration of a fashion council, its main aim is to rake in revenue and ratings for the channel and it does a remarkable job of doing that. With some of television’s leading celebrities on the ramp as showstoppers and a fair amount of nach gaana interspersed within the fashion shows, it gives the awaam a dose of glitz and glamour that marks a welcome departure from the doom and gloom of dramas that otherwise make up the largest chunk of TV programming that’s on offer.
But a fashion week it’s not, because those are meant to be fashion-forward or present the definitive trends for the upcoming season or influence style in general. Designers who show at BCW are very clear about the reason for their participation – it’s not to earn critical acclaim but to sell wedding ensembles. As a commercial platform, there can be none better than BCW, given the large amounts of airtime provided to the event by the channel and its reach to a nationwide audience. Even Indian designer Mini Bindra understood the advantage of showing at BCW and chose to make her Pakistani debut here because she wanted the maximum amount of publicity for her brand.
Fahad Hussayn, whose BCW collection was a continuation of what he showed at PLBW (PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week), explained the pull of the show. “BCW is for a completely different audience, a much bigger one and a less discerning one. Every girl who watches television looks forward to the show so that she can look at what designers are offering. So yes, my collection may not be as edgy or as expensive as what I would show at PLBW, because here I am catering to the masses. I do stick to my basic design philosophy while showing clothes are affordable and wearable.”
The commercial viability of the platform is why most big names in fashion, whether it is Sana Safinaz or Nomi Ansari, have shown here at some point or another. While no one can fault a designer for putting out safe, sellable joras – lucrative bridal wear, after all, is the oil that wheels the cogs of the fashion industry, it would make sense to take the fashion connation away from BCW and embrace it for what it is – an unabashed entertainment show, a bridal extravaganza.
This year’s event stayed true to its philosophy of putting up a grand show. There were many a celebrity showstopper – from TV stars such as Adnan Siddiqui and Ayesha Omar to fashion designers Maheen Kardar and HSY, musicians such as Fariha Parvaiz, Amanat Ali and Mustafa Zahid of Roxen and even talk show hosts Sana Bucha and Mubashir Lucman. The performances, however, lacked a punch – we missed the lissome Mahwish Hayat, whose been a regular feature at BCW with her enjoyable dance numbers, but there was the UK band Sahara, whose rendition of their mega mehndi hit ‘Billo Ni Tera Laal Ghagra’ had the audience on its feet.
The line-up of the show included a handful of recognizable names such as Umar Sayeed, Faraz Mannan, Maria B, Asifa Nabeel, Ali Xeeshan and Fahad Hussayn while the remainder consisted of designers who’ve yet to prove their worth and some complete unknowns. We saw a spark of creativity here and there, but generally the designers stuck to a safe and commercial philosophy aimed at pleasing the mass market. Ali Xeeshan showed his signature lehngas and cholis, a style that he says is working well for him this season so he didn’t feel the need to let go if it just yet. Fahad Hussayn presented some gorgeous, handcrafted ensembles but we’d seen versions of them at PLBW already.
Asifa and Nabeel played with a palette of black, silver and red in a collection that was surprisingly pleasing to the eye. Teena by Hina Butt was another pleasant surprise – the relatively young label made a departure from its usual loud ensembles and presented some well-crafted pieces with interesting silhouettes, such as a sheer skirt over worked pants, jackets in a variety of lengths and fitted dresses that could be worn as tunics with cigarette pants. Not all pieces worked, but this was by far her most mature collection yet.
Veteran designer Umar Sayeed, who returned to the ramp after a gap of three years, had one of the most highly anticipated acts of the event and as the finale show, it didn’t disappoint. The beautifully embroidered and embellished pieces smacked of glamour and tradition and were the stuff a bride’s dreams are made of. Speaking to Instep after his show, Sayeed also cited the platform’s commercial viability as the reason why he decided to be a part of it. “It’s the best way to reach people in different parts of the country given its high visibility. It’s physically impossible for anyone to have a presence in every city and that’s where TV comes in. This is also my way of educating the masses about style and hopefully bringing about a positive change in the way people dress at weddings.”
But where BCW gave space to a credible designer such as Sayeed, it also allowed unimpressive collections such as those from ‘international’ label Ziggy or the Lahore-based Kuki Concepts. The lack of any apparent selection criteria was another blow to the show’s fashion credentials as was the absence of buyers. While the council-led fashion weeks were not able to pull in buyers this year, perhaps due to increased security concerns, there have been international buyers present at their previous editions. Moreover, their front rows always seat high society and fashionistas who invest in fashion on a smaller but still profitable scale. Their noticeable absence from the red carpet and front rows at BCW really brought down the profile of the show. In today’s world’s, when image matters so much that people have actually made a career out of its management, the inability to present the right one is unforgivable. BCW needs to work at pulling in the right crowd if it hopes to be taken seriously.
More importantly, the show needs to work on its content. Resorting to entertainment to sell clothes is not a sin – after all, even international couture shows sometimes use drama and theatrics. But that drama is used to enhance the production value of an event or collection, not camouflage substandard fare. Until the show can rope in the right names – for the ramp as well as the red carpet – it’ll continue to be treated like the ugly stepsister of other fashion weeks.
– Photographs by Faisal Farooqui @ Dragonfly