By Injila Baqir Zeeshan –
What the industry cogs reveal about concern regarding the rising baring of flesh in Pakistani fashion
Ramp Report: A firsthand account of what goes on behind and in front of the curtain
Backstage; in the middle of a fashion show; models rushing to slip into the next outfit; makeup artists and stylists, designers and production team managers, even persistent fashion journalists poking their noses into everyone’s business, all bumping into each other, a girl picks up a lavishly spread dress and hurriedly toils herself into its 20 yards of flowy coral chiffon, that falls all the way down to her ankles. She is relieved for managing to fit perfectly into this piece, which she had not had a chance to try on before the show; she is on the brink of exhaustion and the only other thought crossing her mind is a wish to have had a spare minute to sneak in a quick smoke. But she doesn’t and out she steps, gliding smoothly onto the music notes and into the limelight, with hundreds of eyes fixed upon her.
What happens next is something she could never have predicted. The dress, which was nothing except piles and piles of fabric, begins to dance away from her. As she walks she realizes that what she simply missed noticing in the very harmless-looking outfit were the slits. They went all the way up to her thighs, baring the full length of her legs to all and sundry- the gawking audience and the entire media! Her heart sinks, thinking of the consequences of this one act, living in a conservative society such as ours. She has no option but to gracefully complete her act but inwardly, she swears never to let herself be surprised like that again.
Another ramp: A sensual VJ sets the ramp (and the town) on fire by walking out when her top drops to her waist. She picks up the remains of her dignity nonchalantly and finishes her business on the catwalk. She maintains such a degree of calm at the incident that the next day the town is ablaze with rumour that it was planned. It’s still an often-searched video and news item over the net. At this, Veena Malik’s words ring in my ears as she shrieks out a rebuke to the religious scholar in the talk show that earned her a lot of fame: ‘If you, maulvi sahib, are in so much discomfort because of me, how come you have seen all my photos and videos, and know all about the atrocities and evils I have brought down upon this country and our religion?’ But that’s a long debate, which we should leave for another time.
Yet another show in our local fashion capital: a model is brought in from a foreign land; she is made to wear a peach lacey outfit with a plunging neckline. The choreographer decides to have the models do some flirty dance moves involving a good deal of playful hopping around. And that’s what causes this one particular bunny rabbit who happens to be innocently hopping along the entire length of the ramp to have her plunging neckline plunge a little too low for the audience’s taste, when she did not even have the cover of undergarments. Pitiful sight as this girl was clearly unaware of the reason for the sensation she was causing, while all of those pulling the strings of the show did nothing about it. The next day, in the assortment of various packs of pictures that we, the fashion journalists received, there was obviously one picture, which was sent to all of us. We all stared at it for a long time and after ‘oohs’ and ‘tch tch s’ went right back to our pizza slices and diet cokes.
The photo shoot is in progress at the photographer’s studio; the photographer is directing the model with the dress designer trying to push in a few of his own directions as well, confusing the poor girl needlessly. ‘Bare that leg a little,’ says one, ‘bare the shoulder and look into the camera seductively’, says the other. Then the men share a private joke between themselves, laughing while the clicks go on. A common occurrence, but this is not how things pan out at more professional and well-established studios such as Ather Shahzad, perhaps the biggest name in the industry. Catching up with Shahzad, I asked him about what his take is on greater skin show in a fashion shoot? He was articulate is his differentiation between vulgarity and nudity. ‘On the ramp, if you see revealing designs, it may be only because there is a demand for that collection to be that way. For photography, there is a sophisticated way of dealing with skin show in a dress. A fully clothed girl can pose in such a way that with her body language and expression she may appear vulgar. And a semi-nude woman may look classy by the artistic manner in which she has been projected.’
On a similar note, photographer Mohsin Khawar narrates how a good percentage of his clients prefer for the models to be showing a lot of skin, but then there are an equal number of designers who stubbornly refuse to even shorten the length of the sleeves of the shirt. Designer Huma Adnan of FNK Asia feels that sometimes the show of skin is required to make a shoot more interesting or catch the attention of the audience for a show. But it is not always the case.
Photographers Maram Aabroo don’t believe it is important to bare more flesh just to make a fashion shoot eye-catching. ‘When an outfit’s design doesn’t expose the skin and a photographer or stylist styles the clothes to reveal the body it always looks like they were trying too hard and it ends up looking distasteful.’ They feel that a good shoot should not be dependent on skin; lighting, composition, background and concept are responsible for making a great shoot. They must be the only photographers who claim that they have never had a client who puts this demand on them. ‘Our clients are catering to the Pakistani public and their designs take care of our culture’s sensitivities.’
Mohsin Khawar goes on to narrate how the skin show is simply not a necessity for catching the attention of the world. ‘We have so much to offer if we go back to our roots. That is where we can find the style and theme for our work. We could take inspiration from the Indus Valley Civilization for example. The international market needs to see that in us and not the nudity which most of our current fashion world is portraying.’
The designer and his minions: What are the demands a design house faces working in this industry?
‘The client wants glamour, she wants drama; a super dose of fashion!’ says one of the leading names of the designing world, designer Mehdi. And why shouldn’t she when she is taking the trouble and expense of hiring the best for her design needs. He treats skin show as a component of the collection. If it’s there, it’s a design element. If it’s a client’s requirement, I have to bring it in. I am, after all, an international brand and there is a huge demand for my brand abroad. That said, it’s the way every piece is worn- if worn properly, even a revealing outfit looks graceful. Huma Adnan does not feel that it’s necessary at all to show skin to promote her work. ‘The larger part of my clients are stylish and trendy and skin-showing doesn’t have to be a part of this.’ We have the opinion of yet another designer Nauman Ghani who says that he gives his clients a complete attitude and whether a risque approach is part of the package or not, his clients will always look graceful in one of his creations. Do we agree on the designers’ take on this or do we feel that they are just sugar coating and giving excuses for their lack of being firm with their clients? I, for one, tend to agree with those who feel that nudity is within; more so than on the exterior but I am sure I can be sentenced to death for my belief!
What’s a girl to do?: How much liberty and choice does a model have if she wants to remain a part of this field?
Nadia Hussain — fashion model/designer tells us a little story: ‘I have rules about how much skin I can bare and where I draw my line. Once, in a show, I was asked to wear this dress, which was knee-length. Once I put it on and started walking onto the ramp, I realized that the dress was made of such a material that it started rising up and by the time I had reached the end, it had risen to my mid-thigh level.’ She very honestly tells how much trouble she got into with her husband for this incident. Experienced models have always had an option to say no to wearing a dress they felt was vulgar. But the newer ones either don’t or don’t want to say no! Shahzad says, ‘No model has ever refused to wear an outfit during any of our shoots. And that’s because they know that we will make them look good no matter what they are wearing.’
Is the industry going places or to the dogs?: Or will it be chewed by the dogs to the extent of being unrecognizable before it can finally reach places?
Nadia Husain has been in the industry long enough to know some of the inner workings of it. She says that the newer faces in the modeling industry are willing to bare it all and go to any lengths to remain in business. According to her skin show is on a record high as compared to the last five years. Mohsin Khawar, on the other hand, feels that the trend of the modern era is leaning more towards the traditional dress sense.
In all of this, media has been active in bringing the best of the industry to you but it has also often played the role of Satan’s army projecting as much of a negative side of it as is needed for them to keep minting money. But then like no other party or part of this industry is playing a socially responsible role, it cannot fall upon any single component. The industry needs to decide where it wants to take the image of Pakistan. And it cannot be accomplished unless designers, models, photographers, media and all other related people stand to ensure that whatever one does, makes us proud as a nation.
The writer is a fashion editor based in Lahore.