Published in G2, The Guardian, 24 January 2011
Forget the catwalks of London, Paris, New York and Milan. This year, there’s only one fashion week making history: the world’s very first Islamabad fashion week.
Pakistan‘s capital city was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently after Salmaan Taseer, governor of the Punjab province, was shot dead three weeks ago outside the Kohsar shopping centre, but Islamabad, or
Isloo as it’s affectionately called by locals, is determined to put that sad event behind it.
“Islamabad fashion week will change the way people think of Pakistan,” says Kamran Sani, one of the directors of Excellent Events & Entertainment, the company behind the four-day extravaganza that starts on Thursday. “There is a bright side to Pakistan, which is modern, secular and upwardly progressive. No one bothers to see that side – they see the Taliban, bomb blasts, floods, poverty. But Pakistan
is alive and kicking and the time has come for our fashion industry to go global. The west needn’t be so surprised – global culture has fully crept in to Pakistan and our fashion designers are brilliant.”
As would be expected, security is tight. The venue, the Serena, a luxury hotel popular with foreigners, will be cordoned off and surrounded by guards, as will everything else within a half-kilometre radius. Guests are strictly by invite only, and include fashion journalists from Paris, Russia, Ukraine, Switzerland and even trendy Vice magazine. Sani says that he has done what he can to ensure the safety of designers, models and guests. “The rest is all in Allah’s hands.”
Pakistan’s fashionistas are determined to make an appearance. “Everyone is worried about their security in Pakistan,” says Andleeb Rana Farhan, editor-in-chief of Pakistani fashion monthly Xpozé. “But these ‘by invitation only’ events tend to be secure. Besides, life moves on, and as a fashion editor I’ll go wherever I need to.”
Among Pakistanis, Isloo is known as the clean city that goes to sleep at 7pm, and not a lot happens. Will its fashion week really put Islamabad on the map for the right reasons? “Well, just the fact that a four-day fashion event is happening there is very exciting,” says Farhan. “It makes a change to the usual political news that we only ever hear from Islamabad.”
“There’s this idea that Pakistan couldn’t possibly have a fashion scene, that it’s poverty-stricken and full of economic and social problems,” says Manchester-based fashion writer Nazma Noor, who blogs atAsianFashionBlog.co.uk and says she’ll be following the fashion week closely online. “But people forget there are a lot of very rich Pakistani people who are incredibly fashion-forward – in terms of Asian fashion, the UK is always behind Pakistan.”
Of the confirmed designers showcasing at Islamabad fashion week, two stand out – Nilofer Shahid, whose label Meeras has dressed Madonna and Jemima Khan, and Ammar Belal, whose jeans reportedly sell in Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field’s New York boutique.
Whether or not traditionalist mullahs will be up in arms over models strutting their stuff down a catwalk remains to be seen, as too do Sani’s optimistic claims that the fashion week will turn Islamabad into one of the world’s fashion capitals. But the fashion industry is defiant.
“There’s definitely a lot of uncertainty in the air and a war between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – them being the mullahs, and us being the open-minded liberals who want a change,” says Farhan. “The latter have come to a point where they’ve stopped giving a damn and just want to have a good time. The Pakistani fashion industry is on a roll.”