Monday, November 16, 2009

Fashionistas Get In The Last Word, And It's Oops!

So I'd hoped someone else on this blog would write a word or two about the Fashion Pakistan Week (FPW) which took place recently in Karachi. It had left me utterly conflicted between satisfaction that high profile events were continuing to take place in gloomy and precarious times, sympathy for the organizers who obviously were labouring in the face of dire security circumstances and global perceptions, and irritation at the over-the-top hype built around the event as the definitive answer to the Taliban on the other.

The Taliban must be cowering in their caves (Source: Outlook India)

As Faiza S. Khan wrote here:

"It was with some bewilderment that one read in the papers the next day of the display of a bare back and some thigh hailed as “snubbing the Taliban”, regardless of the fact that it was done in a private, carefully contained environment filled with people who were not remotely like the Taliban, i.e. socialites, designers, buyers and the inevitable twerp in gigantic sunglasses in the dead of night. There was the de rigueur cliché of how daring it was to see skimpily dressed models in a society where women generally cover up, entirely omitting to mention that distinctions exist between those people who cover up and those who don’t, and fashion models fall quite clearly into the latter category. One scribe wrote of how heroic it was to show exposed navels while war is simultaneously waged in Waziristan, as if these two are somehow connected, as if, perhaps, the navels were being bared in Waziristan or that the war would be won should the military choose to spend its budget on tank-tops rather than tanks."

Generally, however, all agreed that the fault lay with the gora war correspondents who had been drafted in to cover the absence of "real fashion journalists" who had pulled out of the event fearing their Pradas would be blown to smithereens in Pakistan. Obviously, the reasoning went, these guys could only see things in light of their own single-issue reason for existence in Pakistan - the war against militancy. So what is to make of this piece in India's Outlook magazine by Ayesha Tammy Haq, the CEO of Pakistan Fashion Week?

You can go and read the full article (bizarrely titled: Nargis...Let There Be Light), but the operative parts I shall reproduce below:

"To tell the truth, though, the Fashion Pakistan Week was not staged as a conscious act of defiance against any group, extremist or otherwise. Yet, showcasing the first-time event in these troubled times was truly an act of defiance. It was an act of defiance by an industry which, through Fashion Pakistan Week, was sending a message loud and clear—we will continue to work, generate jobs, provide livelihood. This is a message both pertinent and comforting in today’s Pakistan, considering our army is engaged in a war against an ideological enemy so that we can live and work with safety, in peace.

"Fashion week is really a trade show—no doubt, it’s glamorous but it isn’t entertainment. To become a serious business, it needs to be taken seriously. We articulated how Fashion Pakistan Week was all about the business of fashion, about jobs, exports, about earning foreign exchange and building a better Pakistan. An industry like any other, albeit with a higher glamour quotient.


"Security in Pakistan is an everyday concern, but naturally it’s more so with an event like the fashion week, high-profile as it is. Precautions were taken to mitigate risks. We kept the venue a secret and did things like printing different coloured cards for each day. But then the army general headquarters in Islamabad was attacked, making not only our international guests anxious, but leaving even those at home numbed with nervousness. We postponed the event from October 15 to November 4, and shifted our exhibition space. Karachi, our venue, was put on high alert. The security situation didn’t improve—but our morale did. Instead of postponing the event again, we decided that the way forward was to hold Fashion Pakistan Week. We advised all our international guests against gracing the event. We were more than compensated—instead of the editors of Vogue Italia, Vanity Fair and Velvet Magazine, newsrooms worldwide pulled their war correspondents out of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan and sent them to Karachi to cover the event.

"And as the curtain fell on the event, the night of November 7 became an emotional one for me for another reason—before the packed hall, Faiza Samee asked me to be her showstopper. Since this was a first for me, I was extremely nervous. But the audience was amazing; I loved it. I made my transition from corporate lawyer to fashionista the moment I stepped on to the ramp.

So, basically, what we learn from Ms. Haq is the following:

1. It was FPW that told the international guests not to come (sorry, "grace the event"); otherwise they were of course almost buckled into their seats on the flights here.

2. Having war correspondents cover the FPW was a GOOD thing, since those connected with international fashion might have focused on inconsequential things like enhancing "jobs, exports and earning foreign exchange."

3. The gora war correspondents were not just coming up with the 'defying-the-Taliban' line all on their own; FPW worked hard to get the message across, as evidenced by this article.

4. Ms. Haq herself was brave not just once but TWICE. Not only did she defy the Taliban, she also overcame her own insecurities and viewers' expectations by walking the ramp.

Sometimes, you know, it's better to leave certain myths unexposed.

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