Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fashion Passions

Recently, the comedian and writer Sami Shah tweeted the following image, accompanying the visuals with the line 'My gift to anyone who tries telling you that fashion in Pakistan should be taken seriously' :

I know this snub has probably enraged all the fashionistas out there, especially those who never tire of telling us how fashionpromotesourculture, how fashioninvolvesbloodsweatandtears, how fashioncanincreaseourexports and how fashionisfightingtheTaliban. But I would submit there's another reason why fashion is not taken seriously by anyone outside the fashionistas' charmed circle or at least certainly not as seriously as they hope it is taken: fashion journalism.

I personally have nothing against fashion designers per se. Some of them can be quite creative at what they do, everyone's got to make a living somehow and most people wear clothes and like nice clothes, even when they can't afford them. It's the fact that commodotized fashion seems to have subsumed every other bit of 'culture' - rather like a giant amoeba plunking its big fat cellular arse over anything of nutrient value and phagocytosisizing it - in the social / cultural / entertainment pages of our newspapers and magazines that I have a problem with. When a society begins to think of good looking people walking up and down ramps as the height of a cultural event, that society's got a problem, Taliban or no Taliban.

Take a look at the pages of our newspapers and you would think there's no higher achievement than a lawn exhibition here or a trade show there (and by God! there are a lot of them) and no greater creativity than the shaping of eyebrows and application of eye-shadow. Forget the advertising onslaught that crowds out city horizons and media space, copious editorial verbiage is dedicated to dissecting the latest twist of a paisley, the half-an-inch raising of a hemline, the ideological differences between the Pakistan Fashion Week, the Fashion Pakistan Week, the Fashion Showcase and the Pakistan Fashion Design Council Week (which of course reminds one of this). But perhaps it might even be somewhat bearable if there was actually any 'dissection' at all. No, the default characteristic of most fashion writing in Pakistan is to 'extol', as if the amoeba's life depended on it, and the position of writers on fashion more akin to phagocytosisized groupies than dispassionate journalists.

Consider what appeared in today's Instep pages in The News for example (by no means the only instance or the only space where such writing appears)...

Here's a box item that pretty much tells us all we need to know in the headline: that designers Hassan Sheheryar Yasin (of HSY) and Shehla Chatoor won awards for their designing at two separate fashion weeks. But then continues for four paragraphs of waffle that includes the following bit of purple prose:

"It’s the glamour of high fashion, the need for something new and the innovation of these designers that has won over the hearts of the voting public. The influence of fashion is breaking borders within the Pakistani public’s mindset. The imposing fa├žade of designer fashion has been lifted and the opinion of the majority has softened the hard line which divided people’s views of fashion as elitist and unattainable. It’s the display of talent and the celebration of beautiful design which the public voted for by way of Shehla Chatoor and Hassan Sheheryar Yasin."

But for real overblown hype you must turn to the main article. A report on Day 4 of the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week, it is headlined, in faux deep analysis tone, 'Showmanship, the spirit of fashion and understanding the difference.' The article begins by gushing the following adjectives and phrases about HSY and his clothes: 'most magnificent', 'grand', 'divine', 'gorgeous', 'sexy' and concluding that 'the man is a wiz.'

And that's for a designer the writer claims was not as "exciting fashion-wise" as the others.

For the others and their shows, the following words and phrases are then deployed: 'king and queen', 'exquisitely tailored', 'gorgeous' (again), 'raging hit', 'great', 'masterstroke', 'panache', 'flawless', 'super hit', 'equally brilliant', 'wizard', 'hottest', 'new heights', 'such talent', 'brilliance' (again), 'brightest', 'most cutting edge', 'to die for', 'rollicking collection', 'fashion met art', 'one-of-a-kind', 'collector's item' and 'painstakingly perfect.' Well, at least you know that a thesaurus might be the best gift to get the author.

Seriously, if any other 'beat' carried this type of writing, it would be accused of being dangerously naive and simply promotional advertising rather than journalism. How can anyone then take fashion without a healthy heaping of salt?

The article ends with an exhortation:

“Let’s try something that hasn’t been done before.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes, why don't we.


Fareshteh Aslam said...

By Fareshteh Aslam

Hmm. Agree to a very large extent but keep in mind that every nascent industry needs support and encouragement. That said there has been critical writing in fashion as well especially by serious fashion writers like Aamna Haider Isani, Andleeb Rana, Hani Taha and Muniba Kamal from time to time.
See AHI's latest blog post

Maryam said...

Thank you for this, pyala. These guys take themselves too seriously, which would all be very well, if they were actually worth taking seriously to begin with.

Zebunnisa Burki said...

Agree! Although I do think a lot of this is linked to the fact that the fashion world (can it even be called that?) in Pakistan seems to have permeated everything else (from TV to journalists who were/are linked to the industry to film/music/news reading). They can do no wrong and are bastions of liberalism. Any criticism makes you a) a prude, b) a closet taliban fan.
Oh, and this one is priceless:
by Hani Taha: "“I have a dream”, said model-turned-entrepreneur Mehreen Syed, in much the same fervour as Martin Luther King did, at a press conference to announce the launch of the International Fashion Academy Pakistan (IFAP), where she is the CEO."

fakkanguy said...

Without wanting to put too fine a point on it, it's "phagocytosing" and "phagocytosed".

Carry on.

Anonymous said...

How could Hani Taha even be considered a journalist, even if it's only fashion, is beyond me.
Her own fashion sense as far as only 1 year ago was outrageous. With no innate sense of style, maybe she's acquired some taste by now. Her writing is altogether a different ball-game. You cannot acquire that skill over such a short time.
And Pyala, no one could have worded it better. Great post.