INTERNATIONAL

Afghan fashion industry reborn

KABUL, DEC. 27. Beneath the billowing folds of her sky-blue burqa, a young Afghan woman reveals an immaculately tailored purple silk trouser leg, hemmed in gold braid and neatly tapered around the ankle.

Beside her, a loosely veiled companion struts out in a pair of brand new white leather high heeled shoes beneath a sleek skirt of rich green satin.

After five years of Taliban rule, when the burqa shrouded women from head to toe and tailors were not allowed to measure female clients, Kabul's fashion industry has been reborn.

At Mr. Mohammad Salah's tailoring shop, business has doubled since the fall of the Taliban as clients queue up demanding the latest styles gleaned from the fashion magazines and television shows they had been forbidden from seeing since 1996.

``They're not interested in the styles from 2000, they want 2001,'' says Mr. Salah with all the camp enthusiasm of an Afghan Jean Paul Gaultier.

``They're going for tight-fitting trouser-suits, sculpted jackets and long, figure-hugging skirts,'' he says. ''I even made a cropped top for one client that left her midriff completely bare.

``It was really special.'' The trends reflect the role models wealthier women can now see on satellite television - CNN anchors, MTV hostesses and Hindi movie stars, especially Ms. Sushmita Sen and Ms. Kareena Kapoor, Mr. Salah said.

Under the Taliban's extreme interpretation of Islamic law, such indulgences were strictly banned.

Mr. Salah, 30, was thrown in prison four times when the religious police found fashion magazines lying around his shop in downtown Kabul. ``First they made me black out the faces in the pictures, then they banned them altogether,'' he said.

But women still sneaked in to view his secret collection of French, German and Japanese fashion magazines hidden in a secret compartment under a bench.

``Clients used to bring in postcards or smuggle in videotapes and freeze them at the exact spot they wanted to show me an outfit,'' he said.

Since the Taliban banned women from working and male tailors from measuring female clients, Mr. Salah had to remember most of his customers' measurements by heart.

``We sometimes measured women secretly in the back room and put a kid out front to watch for the religious police,'' he says. ''It was very risky.''

Meanwhile, after years working undercover or in exile, Afghanistan's actors are attempting to revive their art.

Since the fundamentalist Taliban fled the city on November 12-13, male and female actors have returned to the vast but under-equipped premises of radio Afghanistan, which has become their main employer. Around the microphones they alternate skits on daily life, rising prices, and family feuds with educational playlets.

- Reuters.