Trend Tracker | Border crossing


Trend Tracker | Border crossing

From the four serials it telecasts, it is hard to assess the compass of current Pakistani fashion through Zee TV’s new channel Zindagi. These soaps barely exploit fashion as a character, and do little to update the visual imagination we have of fashion across the border. So even if our interest is rekindled, we remain glued to an exotic idea from the past: shararasghararas and lovely shalwars, long kurtas in lace and net with tall side slits, wedding ensembles seeped in multicoloured embroidery, intricate gold and silver embellishments, and bold lawn prints.

Back in Pakistan, the story has moved on, if slightly. Spunky author Fatima Bhutto is the face of a prêt label, The PinkTree, run by Mohsin SayeedHadia Khan and Sheena Rizvi; Lahore-based designer Honey Waqar calls her use of orange in couture “Birkin orange”; boxy kurtas worn with straight pants are an ongoing fad, and malai linen an innovative new fabric.

For Indians, lawn is representative of Pakistani fashion, but as singer and actor Kiran Chaudhry Amlani, who is from Lahore and is now based in Mumbai, says, “If it’s cotton, it is not fashion in Pakistan.” Designer Umar Sayeed is called Pakistan’s Rohit Bal but as Andleeb Rana, editor-in-chief of Pakistani fashion magazine Xpozé Monthly, says, that doesn’t stop the arbiters of style from lusting after clothes by Indian designers like Anamika Khanna and Sabyasachi.

Not surprisingly, in completely separate conversations, Rana and Divya Gurwara, CEO and founder of India’s Bridal Asia, an annual fashion and shopping event for bridal couture, recount the same jocular anecdote: “Pakistan and India were partitioned based on who could make the best shalwars in the world and who could make the best sari blouses!”

In a way, this sentiment defines Pakistani fashion. “If I had to use one word that incites a picture of our fashion, it is ‘silhouette’. I don’t know of any other country that’s worked so much on its national dress. From the gharara of the 1970s to the shalwar of the 1980s to the Patiala pants, and now the straight cropped pants, the silhouette has evolved to a point that the current look (boxy tunic and straight pants) can be worn anywhere in the world without making you look desi,” says Rana.

The PinkTree’s Mohsin, a senior fashion journalist and stylist, agrees. Speaking about Bhutto’s endorsement of their label and emphasizing local embroideries, he says, “Our shalwar is the most evolved national dress, with a dozen interpretations, but Pakistani fashion cannot be defined without luxurious embroideries like resham, zardozi and marodi (twisted thread), the blending of stitches, and the work of couturiers like Bunto Kazmi and Faiza Samee, who have elevated them to levels of artistry.”

If Indian designers like Sabyasachi, Ritu Kumar and Khanna sell well in Pakistan because of a novel approach to embellishment (Rana wore Anamika for her wedding and Ritu Kumar for her reception) and Bollywood fashion is a big craze there, back in India, designers like Samee, Saad Ali of Karma and Waqar are sell-outs at Bridal Asia, says Gurwara. “Most employ marodi embroidery embedded with Swarovski crystals but their cuts are distinct from our couture,” she says, adding that Waqar’s “Birkin orange and canary yellow” have won her a sturdy Indian clientele.

From Pakistan, stories of Karachi as the capital of eclectic style and Lahore as a fad city, the hotbed of flash and decadence, continue to rise and ebb. “Karachi is more understated and diverse, like Mumbai, while Lahore, where the Punjabis live, is where people really splurge on fashion. And, like Delhi, it is the more lucrative fashion market,” says Amlani, known as a fashionista in Karachi and Lahore. For her wedding, Amlani (who is married to Indian restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani) wore an ensemble by Pakistani designer Kamiar Rokni, who also modernized her mother’s silver-embroidered vintage sari for the couple’s reception in Mumbai last year.

Amlani, who belongs to a textile family from Lahore and managed her father’s textile manufacturing unit for some years, has been bringing Pakistani designer creations to India through exhibitions. She says the difference between Karachi and Lahore is mirrored in her sale experiences in Mumbai and Delhi.

A difference described rather animatedly by Saba Imtiaz, author of the recent book Karachi, You’re Killing Me, whose protagonist Ayesha Khan also reports on fashion shows. “In Lahore, women tend to dress and style their hair a wee bit more elaborately than they do in Karachi, which is generally more laid-back. You’ll still see a lot of individual style as opposed to the rut of tent-like kameezes that have dominated eastern-wear in Pakistan for the past few years,” says Imtiaz. She agrees that an elitist fashion identikit exists in Pakistan too. “A massive Birkin or Chanel bag, stick-straight hair and skinny jeans. Once, I counted about 10 Lahori socialites who had the same Louis Vuitton Alma bag.”

Fashion stereotypes may mimic each other but the fashion evolution of India and Pakistan makes for completely different stories. “Our fashion industry began to develop only after Benazir Bhutto became the prime minister,” says Mohsin, adding that fashion bloomed in the 1990s, even though it was mostly about bridal costumes and traditional clothing at the time. “But because of the instability in the political economy, no structures or tools have been put in place. There is no forecasting, no industry as such, even though the business of fashion is spreading with multi-designer stores,” adds Mohsin.

Pakistan’s first fashion week was organized in 2009. Now four events are mounted seasonally, two in Lahore for bridal couture and two in Karachi for prêt. Lahore also has a fashion college: the Pakistan Institute of Fashion and Design. Retail is growing slowly after periods when it went bust; men’s fashion is very limited. As in India, bridal couture is the highest-selling segment.

“The Pakistani fashion clientele demands that the traditional school of thought be met with global ramp trends. They want their pashminaskurtasshalwar-kameezshararasghaghras and cholis to have a contemporary yet conservative twist,” says Waqar. Gurwara adds that Pakistani bridal wear is priced as high as Indian couture. The Lakmé Fashion Week is in talks to organize the first Pakistani fashion show next month at the Winter/Festive 2014 edition. It is planned as a joint effort between society magazine Hello! Pakistan and the online lifestyle magazine POPxo.

Over the years, lawn fabric has become commercially sturdier in Pakistan—shalwar sets of this fabric cost more than Rs.3,500 in India. “Now three-piece suits arrive in a pack with their own embellishments, trimmings and laces. It is like a DIY project that excites a lot of women. Even for those who have no time to create an ensemble, ready-to-wear versions of designer lawn are available,” says Rana. Amlani adds that collaborations between fashion designers and textile mills have buttressed this trend. “Limited-edition lawn sets for spring/summer or Eid created by designers get sold out,” she says, clarifying that she wouldn’t term them “fashion”.

That’s an opinion shared whole-heartedly by Imtiaz. “I’m not a fan and I don’t think it’s particularly fashionable. To me, being fashionable in Pakistan means not blindly following trends, mixing up old school and new ideas, wearing whatever you feel comfortable in. With a lot of stores now selling separates instead of an entire outfit, it’s interesting to see how people dress them up,” says Imtiaz.

By that musing, Fatima Bhutto—known as a voice of dissent in her country—dressed in a finely constructed, unembellished garment (not made of lawn) may be the most befitting poster girl of new Pakistani fashion. What remains to be seen is how the Zindagi channel conveys such style through its programmes.

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Neighbour’s pride

A large variety of ready-to-wear labels, including The PinkTree, lawn fabrics and hand-embroidered saris, will be on sale at the annual ‘Lifestyle Pakistan’ exhibition at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, from 11-14 September.

uu Pakistani designer Honey Waqar will show at the Bridal Asia at Hotel Ashok, New Delhi, from 27-29 September. Waqar will also have a stall at the venue. For details, call 011-45055576 or write to

uA new Eid collection by Sana and Samia from the Pakistani textile brand House of Lala is now available at their store in Chandigarh, SCO-1,003, First floor, Sector 22/B. Click here or the details of Lala stores in other cities.

u Through a shop-in-shop model, the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC) The Boulevard stocks prèt and bridal wear by a small consortium of Pakistani designers. Available at M-4, South Extension Part II, New Delhi. For details, call 011-41026002 or visit or

u Goodearth’s in-house line Sustain stocks some Pakistani silhouettes, including shararas, wide palazzos in velvet and silk, occasional ghararas and long, flowing separates made from cheent (chintz)—though they are not labelled Pakistani. Click here for details.

uGold-embroidered Pakistani chappals are available at Kashmir Loom, A-21, basement, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi. For details, call 011-24318947/40588650.–Border-crossing.html