Nostalgia does hit you like a wave, especially when so much around you is constantly a #tb (the internet slang for ‘throwback’). Looking at some of the cultural phenomenon that have taken off in the last few years, one would realize that they’re generally a blast from the past that somehow taps into a positive memory from previous decades. Huji, an app that lets you turn your photos into grainy snapshots reminiscent of a disposable camera outtake from 1999, was one of the most downloaded apps of last year. The same tactics have trickled down to fashion advertising where nostalgia is plainly having ‘a moment’ at the moment.
Brands like Generation and Zara Shahjahan have been putting out imagery that features ‘simpler times’ for a while. In fact, their brands have become synonymous with this messaging.
Generation’s take on it is that the style of a bygone era needs to be showcased but the narrative needs to be updated and reinvented for the modern women. Quite literally, their images will show girls in parandas and mehndi but with chunky dad sneakers and bright plastic watches. Through this juxtaposition, they’re trying to get audiences to question why their idea of ‘paindoo’ is virtually a slur? Why is wearing joggers under a shalwar kameez considered the greatest faux pax of them all when it’s just so … comfortable? Generation wants to reimagine a world where such social contexts do not exist, where their No Nonsense Nighat (Generation’s recent campaign) can braid her hair and put on kajal without thinking about how ‘paindoo’ it’ll look. With this central take on nostalgia marketing, Generation also put out a sideline ‘Starlite Karachi’ campaign a while ago that featured a 70’s disco inspired collection under their Ming line.
Zara Shahjahan, on the other hand, is about stripping down the glamorous and pretentious and using the most basic and recognisable parts of our culture in her campaigns. Zara’s a designer who’s been recognized for her florals and they’ve nicely fit in with her brand identity, which is all about minimal elegance and harkening back to the past. The campaigns are extremely homely and not featured in far flung localities similar to the aspirational campaigns that other luxury fashion houses have historically veered towards. Recently, she has consistently stuck to this narrative, which is a heartening strategy but also a courageous one. One of her collections, romantically titled Monsoon Afternoon, features the models getting back to basics in the best way: almost plain shalwar kameezes in light pastel colours with dupattas tied to the side or around their necks. The intimacy and familiarity within these shots and the styling choices of white Bata sandals are deeply reminiscent of days of yore.
“There was a time before the internet was raising us, a time where peace and joy was found on the rooftops of bustling and busy Lahore, a time where we weren’t bound by the constant ticking of the clock and found moments of bliss under the hot sun. This collection is rewinding the clock for us, taking us back in time where technology didn’t rule our conversations.”
Written by the designer herself to introduce her latest offerings to the world, nostalgia and simplicity are the themes that run through Zara Shahjahan’s collections. In another collection she channels the 1980s in Pakistan with big frizzy hair, shoulder pads and satin shalwars, which she mentions was when the height of our identity was created. While Zara Shahjahan and Generation have been creating brand identities and a narrative around nostalgia for a long time there are other brands that have recently taken out nostalgic campaigns. Who’s to credit for this escalation in nostalgia marketing and could it be 2019’s biggest trend?
According to industry insiders, Raw Mango’s Heer campaign in 2018 is what brought nostalgia marketing to the forefront again in this part of the world. Sanjay Garg, a Delhi-based textile revivalist, did a shoot where every aspect looked like revisiting old memories and flipping through your parents’ wedding album. The shoot was recognized for going against a tide of over the top bridal campaigns.
Locally, Fahad Hussayn’s campaigns generally feature elaborate backdrops that add to the grandeur of the clothes but for his Suraiya Titanic lawn campaign this month, he set up his version of an old school wedding where they recreated old family photos, the dying tradition of a dholki and colour and kitsch. The designer describes the campaign as a photo journey to the bygone era of simplicity, finding beauty in moments and heritage. The concept of the shoot was borne from Hussayn wanting to show the variation of his lawn – that can be taken from daily wear to wedding wear – but the nostalgia of the campaign could be a product of its trendy status currently. Additionally, the old-school aesthetic has always been a deep-rooted part of The Pink Tree Company’s aesthetic but the brand never created campaigns that represented that until their latest. Their Chand Chehra campaign is one where, according to their Instagram, the brand hoped to create images that look like they are a part of family histories, which later went to become social histories representing an era of elegance, grandeur and fascination with technology.
Ethnic Outfitters’ Choti Eid campaign was one where they showed models inside the house, working in the kitchen with a radio placed close by, reading letters and driving vintage cars. The idea was to strip down the glamour that is associated with Eid and lawn shoots and to depict the clothes simplistically, evoking nostalgia. Hussain Rehar is another who dabbled in a nostalgic campaign recently with his Lara collection. However, the designer who’s known for his unabashed creativity, took a different route. While he took inspiration from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with both bold and classic cuts, he depicted the timeless glamour of these ages with the festivity of the retro era instead of the simplicity similar to the glamour that Generation’s Karachi Starlite shoot channeled.
Nostalgia is definitely trending right now and given our shared culture (and creatives) – the shoots can end up looking very similar. Azka Shahid, the stylist behind the Bata chapals for Zara Shahjahan feels the onus lies on the creatives involved in these campaigns to interpret the concept of nostalgia to showcase a distinct aesthetic. “It’s the only way their work will stand out or contribute in any meaningful way to our collective fashion imagery”, she adds.
Hashim Ali, one of Pakistan’s finest and most prominent Art Director’s has created sets for a number of these campaigns in question. When asked about the sudden surge in nostalgia marketing he shares, “There’s so much clutter where everything in the industry is so fast and constantly rushed so millennials resonate with the nostalgic is because it talks of simpler times and about real connections where one would sit with their families and elders would tell stories.” Azka agrees that nostalgia marketing gives a predominantly millennial audience the sense of familiarity and continuity in an ever-changing fashion landscape that is exhausting to keep up with. “It’s been around for longer than most brands, so I don’t believe a single one can take ownership of the strategy- even less so of a shared culture- but they can use it smartly to reinforce their brand identity, certainly.”
The discussion on Twitter regarding nostalgia fashion marketing is taking a different turn altogether. Women (and men) feel that brands who employ this binary between the traditional and modern absolve themselves of the many exploitations that fast fashion has built itself on. Amna Chaudhry tweeted, “Fast fashion is a wholly modern phenomena and fashion as we recognize it today is largely built on the backs of ‘others’- women of the wrong ethnicity, religion, class background, who work on minimum wage, cannot unionize and face harassment at the workplace. These are the women who truly feel the burden of the modern while the clothes they make are sold as markers of a tradition that never really existed.”
It is true that nostalgia marketing is trending not only here, but globally but this is a dichotomy to ponder over when one is appreciating the beauty and simplicity of its fashion imagery because fashion above all, is a representation of our times.