It was a proud moment for Pakistan’s fashion when the country was recently represented at one of the biggest fashion platforms in the world — Milan Fashion Week. Of the designers who participated, each showed a fabulous collection and they did so in the New Upcoming Designers (N-U-De) category.
Everything else aside, Pakistan has finally made it to one of the major fashion weeks in the world — a fact that we should applaud and be proud of.
Fashion gurus Maheen Khan, Rizwan Beyg and Deepak Perwani showcased their collections at the Milano Moda Donna (women’s) Spring/Summer 2010 season, organised by Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana. The buzz surrounding them showing at MFW had been going on for the past year, and to see it finally happen was indeed heartwarming. According to All Eyes on Asia by Francesca Fearon (published earlier in the Abu Dhabi-based daily, The National), Maheen Khan told her, “A year ago, I was approached by our ambassador in Rome to send her as many portfolios of designers as I could within a week. I did and here we are, unbelievably, heading for Milan!”
The collections were well-put together, were uniquely different and strongly reminiscent of each designer’s signature style. Maheen’s prêt collection was an amalgamation of solid colours ranging from white, orange, grey, red and yellow and contained her love for sleek, pleated shalwars. “I had been advised many years ago, ‘Look, we have a Dolce & Gabanna, Valentino and Armani. We don’t want one more. Give us something new’. We must represent Pakistan because that’s what it’s all about,” said Maheen. “I call my collection The Khyber Mail, based on the Khyber. I just thought I’d take all the embroidery from that area, the little kotis and shalwars that run through Pakistan. My focus was on the mountainous areas.
“Shu is the wool from the mountain goat which is spun on the yarn and they make woolen fabric from it. That’s what these traditional hats (pukhkol) are made of. I went to Bohri Bazaar and I was told that it couldn’t be done, and then I found one guy who could make it for me in khaddar, satin, etc. I used these hats throughout the show. I personally think that all of us got an amazing response from Milan.”
Beyg’s collection carried his signature use of white and was perhaps the most ‘western’ in sensibility as the outfits, in essence, left the torso of the models bare with most of the skirts sporting a large bow in the front.
“Deepak, myself and Maheen met and we talked about it,” said Rizwan Beyg about coming up with the collection. “I think we kind of wanted to show the different faces of Pakistan. We all have our strengths—my strength is couture, so I decided to do a demi-couture line. Deepak did a very young, colourful hip line and Maheen did very understated-elegance.
“I decided that since Deepak and Maheen were going to do colour, I was going to do monochromatic because it’s very much my style. After my last Ensemble show which was in ivory, I decided I was going to do something in white because it was for Spring/Summer 2010, if not then I would have done it in black because I’m a very black-and-white kind of a person.
“My entire collection was done out of a bedding material called niwar, and I used that to create texture. I worked with the women of Haripur Hazara to do the crochet because the whole collection was based on these two things, and then we embellished it with pearls. The concept was ‘from the rural to the runway’.”
Perwani’s collection stemmed from his D Philosophy line and featured the designer’s use of local dastarkhwan and ajrak prints over white fabric, tastefully put together over western-styled outfits. The almost mid-thigh, voluminous pleated dress and the heavily embroidered black jacket over a pair of red shorts stood out in the collection. Deepak seemed to have made an impact with his collection being repeatedly mentioned in international fashion blogs.
“There were design guidelines that you had to follow in terms of trends for Spring/Summer 2010,” he said. “You had to be practical as well in what you were making as Milan is all about serious business. So the outfits had to be according to trends predicted for 2010, such as colours, etc. There was brilliant work and a lot of cutting-edge design, and at the same time there were lot of shows that were all about making a splash on the ramp.”
However, the thing that struck as odd to many in the local fashion circles was that these well-established designers chose to show their collections in the New Upcoming Designers (N-U-De) category at Milan Fashion Week. It was suggested that the ‘new’ in the category referred to those who are new to the international market. Even if that was the case, all three designers had shown at various international fashion weeks ranging from Bosnia, Colombo, Dubai, etc.
Francesca Fearon stated in her article (All Eyes on Asia) the reason for establishing the category as: “Mario Boselli, the chairman of Camera della Moda Italiana, explaining the reasons for establishing N-U-De, said that the body was looking for creative designers who are not widely known in the outside world but who have a lot to express. The initiative was launched in 2005 to help new Italian and international designers and young fashion brands: ‘The initiative reflects the search for renewal of the whole fashion system helping the new generation in their professional path. The designers who will be participating are leading ones who we think are worthy of being supported in their jobs — in particular now that Italy and the international market are ready to welcome the innovations coming from apparently far-away cultures’.”
If one investigates the entrants in this category, including those who participated from India — namely Atsu Sekhose and Azara (Alpana & Meeraj Chauhan) — one finds that each designer brand was not older than three to five years. Rizwan Beyg and Maheen Khan are pioneers in the Pakistan fashion industry, having launched themselves in the late ’80s, with Deepak Perwani breaking into the local fashion scene in the mid-90s. With all three also the board members of the Karachi-based fashion council, Fashion Pakistan (FP), some in the industry feel that they should have used this opportunity to nurture and promote the many new designers who are also FP members and eligible for the N-U-De category at MFW.
“It (N-U-De) was initially for a lot of young graduates that they promoted,” explained Rizwan. “This year they decided they were going to initiate this whole thing with Southeast Asia, and they had a lot of entries but they short-listed four nations which was Columbia, Russia, India and Pakistan.”
Deepak added, “The N-U-De category has been established for designers who are showing in Milan for the first time. You are only in this category for the first two years. If you look at it, you’re showing along with the likes of Giorgio Armani and they want designers who can do some serious business, and not just some bachchas.”
“The Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana is a trade body registered with the government, and they’re not going to break their rules to accommodate Pakistan,” added Rizwan Beyg. “Actually, from India Tarun Tahiliani was showing. I met Sumeet (Verma) at MFW who was representing the Indian council, and he told me that Tarun feels that the Indian market is a better market than going international because their sales are so high. So, in that respect, there is no controversy because Camera Moda is not going to break their laws to accommodate Pakistan.”
One Karachi-based fashion designer Nomi Ansari who qualifies for N-U-De had this to say when approached by Images on Sunday, “Maheen (Khan) had approached me and she was very much interested in having me show at Milan but at that time I was caught up with Eid orders. I wanted to go, but I couldn’t. I think that now that these people have gone, others will get the opportunity… I think they’ve opened the doors for others to show as well.
“MFW is a serious platform. It’s not for people who want to become famous, it’s for those who want to do serious business. I think the people who went not only have great design sensibility — you can see that in their collections at MFW — but they also have operations to back orders up. A major problem with completely new designers would be that they might not be able to do that.”
“We had sent around 11-13 portfolios to Milan and apart from that, we never chose ourselves, the Camera Moda selected us. They had our entire profile and the year we started,” said Maheen.
“We submitted our portfolios and got selected,” said Deepak about going to Milan. “The response has been fantastic, Pakistan was very popular there, and we got a standing ovation. If you see international press and media and the kind of feedback we’ve been getting, it’s phenomenal.”
“Well, I think the hysteria was only when we found out that we were going. That was the time of jubilation. The portfolios were sent a year in advance and it’s a long, hard process,” said Rizwan, “I think we were all worried about Pakistan’s credibility in an international, important event such as MFW. We were very fortunate that the four of us got chosen. The fourth designer who didn’t go was Nilofer Shahid.”
Why didn’t she participate? “She’s preparing for Paris because she’s taking part in one of the events there. They have a major accessory show there and she was preparing for that. She had to prioritise,” explained Rizwan.
Veteran fashion designer Faiza Samee, a prominent name in the industry and one of the directors of the Karachi-based fashion council, when approached, said, “I received an email about this from India almost a week ago, because they also had designers participating in the N-U-De category for new, upcoming designers. I have to admit I was a little surprised.”
However, careful not to take credit away from the collections that were shown at the MFW by the Pakistani designers, she added, “I believe they did very well at Milan and put forth a marvelous collection on the ramp, which makes us all proud of them as Pakistanis. Rizwan Beyg told me his collection was very well received over there.”
Considering that the designers who showed had gone through a ‘selection process’, Faiza sounded somewhat perturbed, “I was shifting though channels the other day and I chanced upon Maheen Khan’s interview to Ayeshah Alam. I was surprised when she mentioned that 12-13 designer portfolios were submitted for MFW and only Maheen, Rizwan and Deepak’s were selected. To be absolutely honest, I am also one of the directors of Fashion Pakistan and I certainly was not made aware of any such submission, or about participation in any category for MFW.”
“Well, I think it’s great,” said Andleeb Rana Farhan, fashion editor and a regular at fashion weeks abroad while commenting on the participation. “Whenever Pakistan is represented in a positive way, in whichever field, it’s obviously something we should be proud of.”
Regarding the participation of these established designers in the N-U-De category, she added, “An Indian fashion journalist friend of mine called me from Milan and asked me about it. In order to put a stop to this controversy, I obviously had to side with our designers, saying ‘Oh, but they are new to Milan’.
Fashion journalist and critic Zurain Imam commented, “For the last several months I’d been hearing that four of our senior designers, Maheen Khan, Rizwan Beyg, Nilofer Shahid and Deepak Perwani were trying to get a large media group to sponsor their participation at Milan Fashion Week 2009. Later, the name of Nilofer Shahid, who had already shown a collection alongside Balenciaga during the week of Haute Couture in 2005, was not linked to this earnest group. Then I also came across Tapu Javeri’s Facebook updates of the countdown to Milan Fashion Week. I saw a photograph of the category in which Maheen, Rizwan and Deepak showed: New Upcoming Designers (N-U-De) as part of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana initiative at Milan Fashion Week.
“On Ayeshah Alam’s show, Maheen said that 13 or so portfolios including those of ‘new talent’ and those of herself, Deepak and Rizwan’s were sent, and only these three of this group had been chosen. Tapu’s defence of the trio was that they were new to MFW. Federico Sangalli, Chicca Lualdi (Bee Queen) Andres Caballero and others who have recently shown under the N-U-De initiative at MFW are all relatively new designers in their own countries and internationally, having worked three to six years or less in fashion.”
Pakistani designers showing at MFW is again a big deal. There are enough controversies in the local fashion industry and having yet another one in the middle of such an accomplishment dampens its impact. But it serves everyone well to clarify such misconceptions. It should also serve as a wake-up call to new, upcoming designers who have to get their act and operations together because if they want to show abroad, they better be able to back it up not only in terms of design but also the business side of production.
“There is something I strongly believe in,” said Rizwan finally, “I think that at the end of the day we’ve opened the door for others to come in. Because we were articulate, we went and we put such a strong case for Pakistan. Mr Boselli came to us after the show and said ‘complimente! complimente! complimente!’ I think this is something that we, as founder members of Fashion Pakistan, would love to see all over and promote our younger members.”
“This has been a ground-breaking event in the Pakistan fashion world. I feel now doors will open for all of the designers. And next year, I’ve already spoken to Tasneem Aslam (Pakistan’s ambassador to Italy) who said ‘You guys have to come again’,” added Maheen. “But Mario Bocelli was very clear that whoever comes has to prove him or herself in the fashion world.
“MFW, in turn, has created an interest in Karachi Fashion Week. Beth Sobol emailed to tell us that she wants to come… and I also got a call from French National TV asking about it. I personally don’t know if I am going to go next year, this is about building your place in fashion and I think I’ve done my bit by opening the door. I would like to see somebody else go in my place. I would love to assist any designer who’s going, because this is going to be a collective effort for anyone who’s participating. Either we do it for our country or we don’t,” she said.