Once again, it’s that time of the year when runway shows kick-start another frantic season of spring/summer fashion. Fashionistas and frowers march in, flashing their statement heels while making mental notes on how to outshine the next person. The media machinery scrambles from show to show, scribbling down every detail of the trends being introduced. Buyers, most of them from high society, take their coveted position in front rows and immerse themselves in the glitz and glamour of the brouhaha that fashion weeks are.
Behind all the razzmatazz, that lasts no more than ten minutes per show, are days of painstaking practice, months of detailed preparations, sleepless nights and intensive labour that whittles down to a night of controlled chaos.
Instep heads out to the PC Marquee on the night of the rehearsal to dish out some exclusivity on what was to make Telenor Fashion Pakistan Week a busy, bustling at bursting at the seams, glamorama…
Reporting from TFPW backstage, the night before the shows started…
One stepped into an area cordoned off, not by security officials, but by unfinished pieces of dusty ramp and stacks of wood lined across what would become the center stage for trendsetters. A frenzy of workers moved back and forth, jumping over rolls of red carpet, with chairs that would eventually divide and rule fashionistas. The dazzling red Bank Alfalah booth was nothing mere than a clutter of wood and white paint, N-Pro’s buzzing lounge was non-existent and the brand new Toyota Altis Grande wrapped carefully in a thin plastic film looked less grand amidst the mare’s nest it was part of. But even under construction, surrounded in dust and smut, the marquee painted a beatific, intriguing picture making one marvel at its ability to transform completely into grandeur just overnight.
The transformation, however, comes at the price of mental and physical stability of the many people involved in it – the models, designers, photographers and of course the PR mavens. Publicists, who are often at the helm of managing an event but are less talked about, are seen running around in fluster to accommodate the designers as well as the media, planning out all the contingencies with the words ‘sleep-deprived’ etched on their faces. They still manage to keep their cool, essential for dealing with hysterical fashionistas shrieking for their front row seats!
“When you come and watch a fashion show you’re just average Joe wondering what’s the big deal but there is so much work that goes into it,” said a sweltering Omar Jamil with water in one hand and frantically gesticulating instructions with the other. “It’s a lot of work – from building the stage, building the ramp, putting the seats together, getting the models in on time, having their fittings done and just finely choreographing the walk to the tee. And rehearsals help a lot in putting all of this together plus they also give us an idea of the time that will be available and help plan out a media strategy as per the designer’s demands.”
Rehearsals are no doubt vital in ensuring that the show proceeds as smoothly as possible but it can be equally stressful, especially for the designers who may be challenged with last-minute changes in fittings. “A lot of the times the measurements that are given to us aren’t what the model actually fits into and for somebody who is doing the show on the first day, rehearsals are too close to make changes,” shared Huma Adnan of FnkAsia. “I’ve had problems in the past and it’s very frustrating. Last fashion week I had to swap girls at the eleventh hour because they didn’t look so great in the outfits I imagined them in. They had broader shoulders. So this time around I made sure I call in two or three models to my studio beforehand and have them fitted there. I also have an idea now that if the measurement says 36 inches on the hip, it is likely to be 38 in reality.”
Other than fittings, designers must also be present to work out the choreography of their show with the runway master, in this case HSY; they all work together to ensure that creative vision is executed to the tee. One spotted Sadaf Malaterre come in at 10:30pm and take a seat at the choreographer’s multimedia pit so as to ensure her vision was not lost. Designers who sent their instructions without bothering to come ticked off Sheru, especially since he disapproved a specific choice of music. “This will prove to be the death of fashion week right at the beginning of it,” we overheard him exclaiming.
Sheru was the man of the hour and when he ordered, everybody followed. In fact every flicker of light, every twirl and every pose of a model is Sheru’s command and models are well aware of that. No matter how undisciplined models are deemed as, at rehearsal night they sat obediently on the bleachers all ears to Sheru’s instructions. “Sorry, can you come over to the front seat and ask your question? I don’t want to move here and there, Sheru won’t like it,” said Cybil politely. Clearly, glamour and diva behaviour is put on the back burner when it’s rehearsal night.
“People fuss a lot about how the show is going to be different. It’s not about being different, it’s about how it’s going to be effective, efficient and to the point and that’s what we are here to do,” explained HSY as he grabbed a bottle of water to take a breather. “The shows need to be clean and done fast enough to leave people wanting more. They shouldn’t bore people; hence our aim is to give people an overload and not an underestimation of clothes. Each outfit is predominantly a theme of a story and you want the beginning, the middle and the end of that story to be like a fast-paced angraizi movie and not the boring, old-fashioned Bollywood film that just doesn’t end even after three hours. It has to be crisp, quick and the essence of conversation. 400 people watch it here and 4 million watch it on television; I do these shows for those 4 million.”
Don’t just yet think of Sheru as the Hitler. He shares a great rapport with his models and knows that “it’s human to err. It’s human to make mistakes. No one’s a robot and I don’t believe in perfection. It is the small little imperfections that make life beautiful. It’s the rocks and the water that give the stream its song”. Therefore it’s no wonder that Sheru’s way of working is met with equal warmth and appreciation from the models. “He has been doing this for years now and he knows best so if he picks on something or points out an issue then he sure is right,” added model of the moment, Amna Baber. The only people unaffected by Sheru’s looming persona are the many carpenters, welders and helpers that remain engrossed in their job for the day, moving in and over the ramp, killing even the loudest of music with their constant hammering.
It’s pure carnage and it’s tough to keep a straight face in such a situation but perhaps Tapu Javeri is gifted for he manages to retain perspective and patiently get his lighting sorted even amidst the chaos. “Personally I hate rehearsals but it’s still the time when the most is happening and I have to come in to set up my lighting,” said Tapu with his infectious smile. “I sit at the head ramp and if the lighting is wrong on the day of the show then I suffer a lot so it’s always good to come and fight as much to have the lighting set my way on rehearsal night because the lighting needed for photography is very different from what is up on the runway and required for broadcast. Television loves to have lighting that has an ambiance to it but that kills photography so I come in just to ensure that I don’t have to go crazy on the day of the show.” And of course who would want Tapu to go crazy? We’d be gutted if there were no great images to back our stories!
In short, rehearsals are like mayhem before mayhem. It’s a crooked queue of models before they disperse in all directions, dashing from one station to another as stylists get ready to dress them backstage. It’s the time when a designer prepares his army before it can lead the way without even the slightest bit of nerves showing. It’s the final day of jotting down notes before they are to be followed. And it is the only day where a model can sneak away walking down the runway in flats with a mere but stern warning from Sheru. It’s a wrap till the next fashion tag team takes over to build their nests.
Photographs by Kashif Rashid