March Issue 2012
Pakistan’s Political Fashion Parade
The four-year wait has come to an end! It’s election time in Pakistan and if there’s anything that measures up to the hype created by political campaigns, it’s the fashion weeks. So, for a second or two, I thought to myself, why not juxtapose the two? With fashion weeks happening a dime a dozen these days (there are almost six scheduled to take place in March/April alone), why not add a Political Fashion Week to the calendar? Imagine every political party designing a collection around their icons, flag colours and even agendas! They’d just have to assemble on the platform once every four years, instead of twice a year as the fashion cycle dictates.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz would have a ‘wild’ collection, keeping their mascot, the lion, in mind. I’d advise lots of feline animal prints designed in Punjabi silhouettes: the shalwar kameez, laacha, dhoti and lungi etc. A word of advice would come in handy from designer Yousuf Bashir Qureshi who has made ‘rustic’ his personal statement.
The only impediment in the PML-N show would be lack of models as most of the Muslim League women are middle-aged and conservative. Tehmina Daultana would have to be excused from this exercise though she does have a ‘headline-grabbing’ tendency, which is essential for creating the media hype at fashion weeks. If only she had the style too.
Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, needless to say, are apt enough to dominate the runway on their own steam. Throw in stalwarts Ishaq Dar and Ahsan Iqbal, and you have a mighty strong line-up. The Muslim League could even come forth with a purely menswear show — but it would have to be for middle-aged men. We’ll hand the advantage of youthfulness to the PTI.
I would have scheduled a slot for PML-Q had the glamorous Kashmala Tariq and the sophisticated Marvi Memonstuck around. Once known as the ‘King’s party,’ PML-Q needs a couple of fashion queens to qualify for a fashion show. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain just doesn’t cut it, despite his shaded Anna Wintour look!
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is tailor-made for this political parade. Even if Imran Khan doesn’t model or walk out as a ‘show-stopper,’ the mere hint that he’ll be around is enough to cause a media frenzy. And with so many musicians in the PTI bandstand — Strings, Abrar ul Haq, Shehzad Roy and Salman Ahmed — not only will there be celebrity spotting but the PTI after-party will be absolutely rocking too!
What to design the collection around need not be an issue at all because, if push comes to shove, models could walk out in cricket uniforms with bats (their election symbol) as props. Maria B, who has already pledged allegiance to the PTI, could be recruited to design the ensembles for this show. I’m finding a dearth of female representatives in the PTI too (Is Marvi Memon going to join and put an end to that?). In the meantime, the good-looking men more than suffice. If HSY could have a Polo-oriented show then I’m sure some supportive designer will be willing to design a cricket-oriented collection for PTI as well.
The Alvis, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, with their expensive suits and cravats, would manage to make a statement of their own. SMQ is a good looking man and with his sartorial skills (as well as a fixation with the spotlight) he could actually fit into the double-role of model/brand ambassador. If there is a dearth of women in PTI then Jemima Khan could be flown in for a guest appearance and I bet she would be able to pull in many foreign celebrities too. Come to think of it, Jemima had a stint with designing when she lived in Islamabad and could even be called in to design a collection for the PTI show. Either way, the PTI fashion show would undoubtedly be a crowd-puller.
Digressing a bit, style and PTI do go hand in hand. Chairman PTI Imran Khan is more than dapper himself and his dress sense is unique. When in Pakistan he sports a crisp shalwar kameez paired with a black waistcoat. His Peshawari chappals, or kherris as these traditional sandals are regionally called, are one of the few things that can be attributed to his signature style. Going down memory lane, the first person to have a signature style was Mohammad Ali Jinnah, with his impeccable dress sense (the Jinnah cap was named after him) and then Zulfikar Ali Bhutto with his Turnball & Asser shirts, Bali shoes, Saville Row and Hameed Tailor suits, his own take on the Nehru jacket and later the awami suit and a more casual avatar.
Khan has an interesting and chameleon-like dress sense that changes in accordance with the situation. While he’ll always wear the shalwar kameez in Pakistan — making it look better than it actually does — he’ll switch just as easily to western wear when abroad. He sported a casual pair of jeans with a Polo shirt and blazer at the Kolkata Book Fair recently and got many a fashionista in frenzy. To see him in a suit and bow tie at a wedding (Google Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar’s for proof) will convince you. On second thoughts, the PTI show could very well be about men’s wear rather than cricket uniforms. The flocks of women who’ll undoubtedly come to watch, as has been witnessed at PTI rallies, will more than quantify a female quota.
The simplest show to put together, however, would be that of Pakistan People’s Party, with or without Fatima Bhutto or any of the Bhuttos. Just look at the lineup: Sherry Rehman, Hina Rabbani Khar, Shazia Marri, Fehmida Mirza and to add to the line-up, even Sassui Palijo and Firdous Ashiq Awan could qualify as show-stoppers. In fact, you’ll have to agree that Ms Ashiq Aqan can stop any show any time.
With such uniquely styled women in the PPP, this troupe would be complete had Bibi been alive. Her diamante-encrusted Chanel spectacles and Hermes scarves always cut a statement. And, as designer Maheen Khan, who used to design for Benazir Bhutto, says, “Bibi loved jackets with big shoulders because she wanted power-dressing. She’d ask for shoulder pads and anything that made her look larger than life. This wasn’t just in her later years when she started wearing a bullet-proof vest under her clothes, but even earlier when she didn’t.”
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar both have impeccably good taste. What’s best is that they are unapologetically stylish, despite operating in a patriarchal society where women usually have to cover up or dress down to be taken seriously. Rehman matches her well-arched brows and well-defined lips well with her collection of cashmere shawls and jewels. She wears them with panache and elegance, which can also be said about Khar whose good taste runs in the family. The Birkin bags, pearls and Cavalli shades may have gotten undue attention in tabloids but the fact is that she was wearing luxury much before she wore her Foreign Minister badge.
Then you have the others like Sassui Palijo. A bit too loud in her makeup to qualify as stylish, PPP’s minister for culture and tourism gives away her Sindhi ancestry with her commitment to (or rather obsession with) wearing ajrak (an indigenous Sindhi block printed fabric) in one way or another. Ajrak has adorned her as a tunic and a chaddar or dupatta and I must say she usually manages to carry it quite well. With a fondness for art, music and poetry in her family, Palijo is liberal and that shows in her unapologetic dressing (admittedly a bit loud for a parliamentarian) and in the way her lips are outlined a shade darker than everything around her. “Listen to me!” they seem to scream. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to ignore Palijo when she’s making a statement, and she usually is.
In lieu of all this, the PPP show would be a super hit, probably qualifying as the evening’s grand finale. Given the President/Chairperson of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari’s personal fondness for luxury, it would be well financed too and hence easy to buy into any swanky designer’s loyalty. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s touted Ralph Lauren wardrobe (another declaration of the love for luxury) also suggests he has the incentive to commission foreign designers!
I tried thinking of candidates from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) but could not come up with anyone who would agree to participate in a fashion show. In fact, not from any religious party for that matter. Isn’t ‘religious party’ an oxymoron in itself? But I do think Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a closet fashionista — his turban and coat/waistcoat are often colour coordinated. The green in their flag could actually stand for for eco-friendly fashion that would match the popularity of the green carpet and ‘ethical’ fashion as well. But it’s better not to go there even if Islamic fashion shows are all the rage these days. I value my life and livelihood too much.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) are another mood board altogether; one that is completely ‘made for stage’ — a fact proven by their recent jalsa in Karachi. Let there be no doubt that the MQM can upstage and steal anyone’s thunder, anytime and anywhere. A recent gathering that had Shazia Khushk performing, while Senator Nasreen Jalil and Khushbakht Shujaat danced with Faisal Sabzwari and other MQM members and their families, cut quite the liberal image and that image is exactly what Pakistan needs. The foreign media would have a field day at a MQM fashion show. And it would be well designed with a diverse collection spanning western to Sindhi looks. I’m sure they can convince any designer to do the honours. Instead of a musical score, Altaf Hussain’s narrative could loom in the background.
In a nutshell, this is how vibrant our very own Political Fashion Week would be. They say ‘clothes maketh a man’ and though clothes can hardly be expected to lend intelligence or integrity to our politicians, they do help with their public appearance, which is all too often crumbling. If their clothes were a reflection of their reputations, our politicians would be dressed in shreds most of the time. Political Fashion Week, I feel, could help immensely in fixing that image!
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This article was originally published in the March 2012 issue of Newsline.
Aamna Haider Isani is a leading fashion writer and an editor at Instep, the fashion and entertainment section of The News.