Fashion Statements

This is an edited version of an article published at Café Pyala. You can read the article in its entirety at their website.

A design from Khaadi's collection. Image AFP, via The Dawn.
A design from Khaadi's collection. Image AFP, via The Dawn.

Oh, shoot. Here we go again with coverage of Fashion Week in Pakistan. Can we do anything in Pakistan without it being linked in some way to either appeasing the Taliban or kicking sand in their faces?

I refer of course to the latest “I-spit-on-the-runway-the-Taliban-sashay-down” type of pieces in the American Christian Science Monitor (titled predictably “Lahore Fashion Week Takes on Talibanization in Pakistan”) and in Britain’s The Times about the just concluded Lahore Fashion Week. The latter may be headlined a bit more soberly (“Pakistan Fashion Week Pushes Back Boundaries”), but the prose is nothing less than a deep shade of purple.

For example, here are the opening lines:

“A call to prayer echoed over the red carpet. The celebrity guests and socialites of Lahore lifted their diamante stilettos through the scarlet pile, careful not to trip as they showed lipsticked smiles – and bare shoulders – to the flashing camera bulbs.”

Just in case you forgot what The Times was aiming to get at, you understand. Gasp! Muslims. Fashion. Shock. Bare shoulders. Horror.

But far be it from The Times to simply imply something when they can get their facts utterly wrong in black and white:

“Pakistan’s first Government-endorsed fashion week finished yesterday. There is hope that with it will disappear decades of the government repression that had previously forced the scene underground.”

Underground scene? Hellooooo! We just had another fashion week in Karachi, not three months ago! Kind of missed the bus on the “underground scene,” by like, two decades, don’t you think? I think The Times has kind of got Generals Zia ul Haq and Musharraf confused…which would be fair enough in some respects but certainly not this. Just to put the record straight, recall that fashion shows (which existed before and even during Zia’s regime) were being sponsored by Benazir’s government in the early ’90s and even taken abroad as part of her foreign delegations. And what was the Musharraf reign, if not about state-sponsored fashion?

Here’s some more editorial pronouncements by writer Mary Bowers:

“A triumph for young liberals, the event was also a red rag to those who protect conservative Islamic values with an iron fist. Inter Services Intelligence and the bomb squad were standing by to keep out haute couture’s uninvited guests.”

Eh? Ever been to a party in Pakistan, Ms. Bowers? Or Nargis’ dance-theatre? Or to see a Pushto film? Ever picked up a copy of GT? Mostly, if the ISI is there, it’s to enjoy itself.

Bowers also, incredibly, inserts the following bit in her tribute to the changing Pakistan:

“…even Pakistani TV crews happily meet gleaming and unveiled faces.”

Whoa! Since when did TV crews (TV crews, for God’s sake!) ever refuse to meet “gleaming and unveiled faces?” I mean, have you even seen Pakistani channels, Ms. Bowers? And no, Haq TV does not count. We don’t even know if it’s a Pakistani channel, since we can’t see their faces.

But how can one blame just Mary Bowers and The Times, when she has such a treasure-trove of our own people to apparently provide whacked out quotes. (I add the word “apparently” here only because with a reporter with such a penchant for checking her facts, who can trust her memory or jotting skills?) For instance, here’s “freelance fashion writer” Aamna Isani leading her up the garden path:

“We have seen the fashion world in Pakistan evolve in recent years,” said Aamna Isani, a freelance fashion writer. “Ten years ago we weren’t allowed to say the word ‘fashion’. We had to go for a ‘cultural event’ with clothes.”

Ten years ago was the year 2000. You weren’t allowed to use the word “fashion,” Ms Isani??? Which paper were you freelancing for exactly? Takbeer?

Here’s Isani again talking about the elitism of Pakistan’s fashion shows:

“I think we’ll really evolve when we have women on the catwalk with purdah, too,” she says. “It’s an irony that we’re OK with navels and arms now, but not with the veil. 80 per cent of women in Pakistan wear the veil and many want to. They’d want to even if they had the option. They are pushing us away and we are pushing them away.”

Leave aside the fact that Isani seems to be confused about the whole concept of the purdah/veil, where exactly has she got the “80 percent” figure from? One can sympathize with Isani’s idea of inclusive liberalism, but I am more and more inclined to believe that she has spent most of her life inside the Takbeer offices.

Then you have Instep‘s editor making one of her usual cryptic comments:

“Now that women work like men they must dress like men,” said Muniba Kamal, fashion editor at the national daily The News. “I wouldn’t go burning our bras though. We need those.”

Of course, nothing would have come together for Bowers without this bit of sensationalism:

“Half an hour before the show we were getting death threats and phone calls and all kind of blackmail,” says a model, Meesha Shafi, 28. “They had our names. It’s very scary.”

Er, yes, Ms. Shafi, who could possibly know your name or that of the other models? I mean, it’s not like you guys are on the pages of Sunday every week, or on the cover of fashion magazines and billboards, in newspapers or acting in TV dramas and giving interviews on television, right? Or in a sleeveless tank-top on your band’s website, right? But what I want to know is, what kind of blackmail was this really about? I have visions of someone threatening you, “if you don’t walk the ramp for Umar Sayeed, we’ll make sure you are forced to walk for Hourain!” Now that would be scary.

Remember folks, at the end of the day, it’s just clothes. The Taliban wear clothes too. And more of them. Let’s keep things in perspective.

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