Crossing fashion lines


Crossing fashion lines

Fabric, fashion and style are a part of the heritage of India and Pakistan. A flourishing homegrown industry caters to the style aspirations of people at home as well as overseas

By Sujata Assomull

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Published: Thu 17 Aug 2017, 10:07 PM

Last updated: Fri 18 Aug 2017, 12:08 AM

When it comes to fashion, there is actually a lot that India and Pakistan have in common. Both have a thriving homegrown industry, national dress is not something that has become costume - as it has in countries like China, Japan or even in Poland or Switzerland - it's a part of every woman's wardrobe. And in both countries, the main driver of the high fashion business is the wedding. Both have domestic fashion rivalries, which has led to multiple fashion weeks - in Pakistan, it's Lahore versus Karachi, and in India, it's a battle between Mumbai and Delhi.

Pakistan's approach to fashion remains modest, with empire-style waist-long kurtas, full length sleeved blouses accompanying lehengas and Farshi pajamas that are the mainstays of fashion. While tradition rules, they have still managed to innovate and add a contemporary twist to their fashion. Pakistan colour palettes tend to be more muted, but they enjoy their adornment and the dupatta is a must.

Sughra Kazmi called the 'Bridal Revivalist' in the '60s, is considered to be the grande dame of fashion. The country's first couturier, the Karachi-based house is now run by daughter-in-law, Bunto Kazmi. Known for her hand-woven dabka and nakshi work and tila beads, girls still dream of being a Kazmi bride - a bespoke garment will need a six-month lead time.

It was Maheen Khan (in her 70s today and still running her own fashion house) who pioneered the concept of high fashion. Started in 1972 with several labels, she introduced the idea of designer flagship stores. Known for her signature short hair and bold red lips, her embroidery work has appeared in films such as Snow White and the Huntsman, Elizabeth, and Jewel in the Crown. While her embroidery is certainly beautiful, she was the one who brought in an understated elegance, going for a more tonal feel in her collections.

Just like any art, fashion tends to come into its own during times of political uncertainty, and the '80s had the hand of dictator General Zia-ul Haq. Fashion as an industry started to flourish at this time, Lahore-based Sehyr Saigol's label Libas, known for its elegant take on traditional fashion, crossed borders and also became popular with fashionable Non-Resident Indians. Though it was not until 1989, when Maheen Khan held the country's first catwalk show that you could say that Pakistan truly embraced fashion as an industry. Maheen is also responsible for putting Karachi on the fashion map; joining her are Elan by Khadija Shah, Sana Safinaz, and Rizwan Beyg.

Karachi is known for its cosmopolitan style and so has a more relaxed approach to dressing whereas Lahore loves to dress-up and is considered to be the more trend conscious city. It's also home to the Pakistan Fashion Design Council's Fashion Week, considered to be the most significant of all the weeks held in the county.

In Dubai though, the torchbearer of Pakistan fashion is Faraz Manan who opened his own flagship store in Jumeirah two years ago. His muse by the way, is Kareena Kapoor Khan. With a penchant for delicate gold embroidery, and beige tones, this is a Pakistani designer who is not scared of some skin show - be it deep necklines or the use of the cold shoulder in his blouses. (Faraz is also not scared of going OTT with the bling.) He enjoys adding trains to the lehengas - while he still has a traditional twist to all his designs, his fusion of au courant international trends is very much what Pakistan fashion is about today.

Indian fashion has a history that dates back to the pre-Moghul era, yet the fashion industry in the country is still young. Let's not forget, India dominated the textile industry so much that the British Parliament passed the Calico Acts in 1721, banning the import of Indian textiles.

It was Ritu Kumar - who can be considered to be fashion's first lady - who really understood how to refer to India's rich heritage of textile and embroidery in a contemporary way. Opening the first designer boutique in Kolkata in the '60s, she often referred to royal costumes in her designs and says she started out as an angry young woman, as she felt the years of British rule stripped India of its crafts heritage. By the '80s it became a status symbol to be a Ritu Kumar bride. With a love for block prints and zardozi, she is the designer who dressed both Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra for the national costume rounds of Miss World. 
Sujata is the fashion editor at KT. She makes it her business is to stay on trend

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