Fashion across Borders
Like cricket and films, fashion promises yet another avenue of bridging the gap between the otherwise warring neighbors.
She has turned many heads not just with her winning smile, breezy chiffons, South Sea pearls, and luxe Birkins, but also her less publicized but subtle foreign policies. Hina Rabbani Khar, the foreign minister of Pakistan, has made the fashion world sit up and take notice of her quiet elegance and, of course, her penchant for being in the news.
Hoping to give India a taste of this style from across the border, the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC) opened its first store, The Boulevard, in New Delhi recently. The opening event at the Hyatt Regency was marked by a glittering fashion show, where 16 style gurus wowed the ramp with their chic gararas and shararas.
Sehyr Saigol, Chairperson of the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC)
Sehyr Saigol, Chairperson of PFDC, has not had it easy: she has struggled to increase memberships in an industry plagued by gigantic egos and constant bickering. Not one to throw in the towel, she started with 30 designers in 2006, and today the PFDC has almost 50 designers from all over Pakistan as its members.
The scope of Pakistan retail in India has been mainly through annual exhibitions, which started with Bridal Asia, a wedding extravaganza in 2000, run by the spunky Divya Gurwara. It got together designers from the subcontinent and the largest contingent was, not surprisingly, from Pakistan. “We wanted the best of Pakistan to be showcased in India, so we persuaded veterans like Rizwan Beyg and Maheen Khan to give us a slice of their bohemian style. Bridal Asia’s customers couldn’t get enough of their intricate embroideries, Farsi gararas, airy pyjamas, Awami kurtas, and pleasing colors,” says Gurwara.
From the Rubayaat Collection.
As they say, a mission always needs an able-bodied launcher, and for Saigol, it was Mini Bindra, who runs the design studio Rubaaiyat in New Delhi. Inspired by the Persian poet Omar Khayyam’s verses in Rubaaiyat, Bindra began her journey in fashion with hand-woven From the Sehyr Saigol Collection brocades. “Indian fashion has come of age. Rubaaiyat gives me the freedom to express the confidence, power, and attitude of today’s women. Plus, an opportunity to say something about the way I want modern India to be. Getting designers from Pakistan was a natural progression, as they understand the language of cut and color,” says Bindra.
Teaming up with Saigol has helped both grow, and with optimism riding high the duo are planning on making this a one-stop-shop for customers who can’t travel to Pakistan, but do aspire to wear their ensembles.
From the Faiza Samee collection.
Saigol’s experience has helped pioneer Pakistan’s fashion industry, through her work as a designer and publisher. For over two-and-a-half decades, she has been a staple in fashion through her critically acclaimed label Libas and as the publisher of Libas International, Pakistan’s oldest fashion magazine. “This is the perfect time for Pakistan’s fashion industry to start getting some national and international interest. To do so, it is important that we start to formalize the business of fashion in the country and to inculcate in our designers and the fashion community at large the importance of doing so,” she says in a telephone conversation from Lahore.
“As we have a commonality between India and Pakistan in terms of our languages spoken, culture, history, and heritage, there is huge interest in each other. Although some of our designers have already explored the markets in India, we at the Pakistan Fashion Design Council are here to formalize the business of fashion with the opening of our franchise in New Delhi,” she adds.
From the Sehyr Saigol Collection.
With the PFDC franchise in New Delhi, they are introducing a whole spectrum of fashion from day-to-day prêt-à-porter to the unique bridal and formal wear offered seasonally throughout the year, all under one roof. Thus it isn’t just the one ramp showing as it has been during bridal exhibitions and one-off shows. Bonus: setting up shop in India will give customers a great chance to get a taste of delicate chikankari and colorful threadwork. Saigol hopes to capitalize on the country’s strengths, the exquisite fabrics, tailored structure and the fusion of traditional wear and contemporary ensembles, which can be worn globally.
A great believer that fashion can bridge boundaries between the two countries and curb rising tensions, Saigol adds, “Fashion and retail encourages cultural interaction between the younger generations on both sides.”
Interestingly, there are many Indian elements that Pakistani women love. Maybe that’s why you have the doyen of Indian trousseau wear, Ritu Kumar, running a successful store in Pakistan for many years now much like the design label Satya Paul, known for reviving the six-yard magic, the eternal sari. “Although the basic garment or fabric might be the same in both nations, the rendering and the overall finishing are different, which we feel evokes interest on both sides,” says Saigol.
From the Saigol Collection.
Glamour in India got two addresses with the Mumbai-Delhi fashion split way back in 2006, which resulted in two separate fashion weeks in both cities. There seems to be a similar competition brewing between Karachi and Lahore too. But like the majority, which feels that Delhi is undoubtedly the fashion capital of India, Saigol admits that the cultural capital of Pakistan, Lahore, is more tuned in to fashion— “whereas Karachi is much more avant-garde in its taste and style,” she says with a laugh.
From the Sehyr Saigol Collection.
Many in Pakistan admire the legendary Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, who are also Saigol’s all-time favorites! “They took the Mughal motifs to another level and revolutionized bridal wear,” she says. And it helps that they design for the first family of Bollywood, the Bachchans, with Jaya and her daughter Shweta Nanda as their biggest patrons.
And if there could be an exchange, what could India give Pakistan and vice versa in terms of fashion? “Saris are always in vogue in India whereas the Pakistani fusion shalwar-kurta is relevant for anywhere in the world. The switch can be a starting point, I feel,” says Saigol.
From the Sehyr Saigol Collection.
And when one thinks of Pakistan, the one name that constantly pops up is that of the dashing Imran Khan and of his ex-wife, the billionaire Jemima Khan. But Sehyr begs to differ. “In Pakistan, the high achieving Aleema Khan (Imran Khan’s sister) is the classiest. She is the epitome of understated elegance and the queen of fashion. In India, Parmeshwar Godrej of Godrej Industries, who has an eye for both Asian and international fashion, is an undisputed diva and of course has a great body to carry those slinky outfits,” she adds.
With a store in place, it wouldn’t be a far-fetched idea for a combined fashion week, and maybe one day Pakistan designers will participate in the WIFW (Wills Lifestyle Fashion Week), as the PFDC is open to collaborations and exchanges for fashion weeks on a reciprocity basis.
Despite the subtle and bold differences in tastes, there is eagerness from both sides for bridging boundaries through fashion.
[Asmita Aggarwal, a 20-year veteran in the fashion industry, has worked for leading publications like The Hindustan Times and Cosmopolitan.
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