Fashion lessons from Pakistan

Fashion has always been a time capsule, conveying the sign of the times to an observer. If you follow Instagram accounts like @BrownHistory and @PuranaPakistan or have chanced upon pre-Zia (late president General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who established Sharia law and decried Western culture) photos, you would be familiar with images of free-spirited women dressed in a mix of traditional and western looks. “[Today], people view Pakistanis as camel riding, burqa-clad, adaab type people with women shrouded behind chadors. It is so alien because that’s not the country at all,” says Mehr Fatima Husain, a British-Pakistani features editor in Lahore.

Mehr F Husain

Mehr F Husain  

This perception pushed her to write Pakistan: A Fashionable History, a coffee table book that charts the journey of their industry — featuring interviews and deep-dives with Pakistani fasion creatives. There is also a foreword by couturier Tarun Tahiliani, where he touches upon his own Sindhi lineage and his experience discovering Pakistani couture. The book is the culmination of a three-year joint effort between Husain and Saad Sarfraz Sheikh, a photographer whose work has been seen in Time, Getty and Forbes.

Saad Sarfraz Sheik

Saad Sarfraz Sheik   | Photo Credit: Shuaib Rana

Look out for insights from Pakistan’s preeminent make-up/fashion stylist Tariq Amin and Sehyr Saigol, who heads PFDC (Pakistan Fashion Design Council). Also find anecdotes on 80s fashion journalist Fifi Haroon and photographer Tapu Javeri, and notes on designers like Maheen Khan, Bunto Kazmi, Faiza Samee and Noor Jehan Bilgrami (whose legendary reputation on block printing precedes her). The photographs deserve special mention: these include rare fashion ad archives tracked down in bazaars and others offered up by retired photographers.

Fashion lessons from Pakistan

The book is for anyone who enjoys history and photographs, not just the fashion-oriented (it doesn’t get too technical on textile traditions or revival but instead focuses on Pakistan’s tastemakers in fashion). While the tone is light, it packs in quite a few names to give a clear idea of Paksitan fashion’s progression. Say what you will, but no one cuts (and embroiders) a shalwar-kameez set like a Pakistani designer. However, there is so much more on offer now. I feel that a mention of new and young creatives is missing from the book. A contrast of the past and present — considering Husain has no plans for a second volume — would have been an insightful addition too.

Meanwhile, Sheikh says he is promoting the idea of people-to-people contact across borders, especially through collaborations. “Pakistani fashion has a lot of potential. I would love to see collective efforts, not just through fashion designers from both sides exhibiting their work at fashion weeks, but also collaborations between stylists, photographers, make-up artists and creative directors,” he concludes. Now who doesn’t love a cross border (fashion) romance?

Pakistan: A Fashionable History (published by Zuka Books) is priced at approximately ₹3,100. Details:

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 4:39:09 AM |

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