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Sunday, 2 February 2014

Friendships and Fashion Councils

Bridges are being built — and it’s about time too. The Pakistani fashion fraternity is not about to become one big happy family, but I do see the insensible chasm dividing the industry into Karachi and Lahore factions narrowing down ever-so-slightly.
For the longest time, the industry has been bifurcated by designers who belong to the Lahore-based Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC) and those who are members of the Fashion Pakistan Council (FPC) in Karachi. Designers from Lahore invariably lean towards the PFDC’s ever-consistent fashion weeks. Most of the Karachi lot tend to wait for the trundling, yet always resurfacing, FPC to host an event — although, historically, the erstwhile council’s fashion weeks have often been ‘postponed’. The PFDC’s events have evolved as platforms for high-quality, well-edited fashion content; Fashion Pakistan Weeks (FPW’s), meanwhile, have lately bumbled through a mish-mash of collections that have notably not been edited. Both councils, however, do boast some of the country’s most prolific, well-established designer names amongst their loyalists and there are always at least some fashion highs at every fashion week.
It just didn’t make sense, though, for some of Pakistan’s best designers to focus on their businesses in just one city simply out of council loyalty. In a market where the big buyers remain the society begums that form the audience at a show, designers usually manage to rake in orders only when they bring their collections to a city and showcase it at a credible fashion week. It was business strategy, then, that induced designers from Karachi like Maheen Karim, Wardha Saleem, Tapu Javeri, Sana Safinaz and Shehla Chatoor to participate last year at PFDC’s fashion weeks in Lahore.
And now, in a surprising turn of events, some of the PFDC’s most stalwart members are forming the entourage at the upcoming FPW in Karachi, scheduled for the 19th, 20th and 21stof February. Designers from Lahore include Ali Xeeshan, Faraz Mannan, Fahad Hussayn, HSY and Mohsin Ali, The House of Kamiar Rokni and HSY, creating capsule ready-to-wear lineups for Tapu Javeri’s ‘Tapulicious’ collection of prints.
“It’s all about building your market in a city,” observes FPC’s CEO, Wardha Saleem. “Ali Xeeshan, for instance, is planning to open his studio in Karachi soon. Taking part in FPW in Karachi will, of course, benefit him. Faraz Mannan, similarly, wants to expand his market in Karachi. Designers can’t restrict their businesses to a single city or a single fashion week.”
And yet, time and again, HSY — a founding member of PFDC — has told me he’s happy showcasing his work in Lahore as long as it’s for his council. For Karachi, he’s hitherto, restricted his collections to Style360’s Bridal Couture Week. Kami also, has been a PFDC enthusiast for the longest time. Even when his label is not part of the designer lineup, he’s helping run the show from backstage. Both designers are essential cogwheels to PFDC — whatever has veered them towards the ‘other’ council?
“I have never had anything against FPC,” says HSY. “I had just never been asked to show with them before. This time they asked me to direct the show, as well as to take part in it, and I thought, why not?”
Considering that he’s also showing his prêt at PFDC’s fashion week scheduled for this April, isn’t he afraid that his work will look repetitive? “My collection for PFDC is going to be completely different,” he says. “I’ve set aside my luxury-prêt for the PFDC show and my resort collection for FPW. The capsule collection for Tapu is based on his very distinctive prints. After 20 years in the business, my design house is prolific enough to present three completely different line-ups.”
For Kamiar Rokni, the decision to be part of the Tapulicious show was an emotional one. “Tapu is my co-designer Tia Noon’s uncle, and his prints this time are inspired by the paintings of Tia’s grandmother, Mariam Saeedullah. How could we not want to be part of this collaboration?” he says. Mohsin Ali, the third designer in the Tapulicious entourage, explains that he’s created six outfits from the prints. “My ready-to-wear, however, is going to be shown at the PFDC fashion week. The council launched me and I just share a bond with them. However, I am open to the idea of showing with the FPC in the future.”
The goodwill is very apparent. One could perhaps pinpoint it to the Parisian trip late last year when HSY, Rehan Bashir and Kamiar Rokni from the House of Kamiar Rokni and Mohsin Ali happily rubbed shoulders, coursed the Champs Elysées and took part in a fashion show alongside Wardha Saleem and Tapu Javeri. One could also elude the camaraderie to the new FPC council heads; Wardha, Maheen Karim and Sanam Chaudhri are all exceptionally talented, but young, designers. There’s no ego-clash at play with the PFDC’s head honchos veritably being their seniors.
Finally, one could just put it down to an inevitable, astute business move for fashion. With the precedent now being set by some of PFDC’s most prolific designers, perhaps other Lahore-based labels will follow suit. Karma and Élan come to mind — two design houses with huge fan followings in Lahore that certainly need to work on their markets in Karachi.
For now, FPW looks interesting. The Lahore contingent is going to add more variety and Wardha is promising better-edited, concise line-ups.
Maliha Rehman is a fashion and lifestyle journalist with an obsessive, compulsive need to write.

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