Despite the security situation causing it to be delayed twice, Fashion Pakistan Week opened this past Wednesday to display the talents of Pakistan’s top designers. However, while FPW garnered significant media attention, most news outlets framed the four-days of runway shows in light of the country’s growing security concerns. Saba Imtiaz, who works as a journalist in Pakistan and blogs over at the Zeitgeist Politics, attended several shows during Fashion Pakistan Week and delves into the subsequent attention FPW received:
In the post-9/11 years, with Pakistan becoming a frontline state in the “war against terror,” the intense media scrutiny this country has faced has been unprecedented in its tumultuous history. And with the media scrutiny have come the stereotypes, from the oft-quoted portrayals of former President Pervez Musharraf as an “enlightened moderate” to the characterizations of cities and its inhabitants.
But as the war has come home – and one could argue that it always was – with military operations conducted in North Waziristan, Swat and now South Waziristan, and frequent terrorist attacks in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, the stereotypes have also amassed.
While many are true, several exaggerated and others just plain ridiculous, one of the most common phrases associated with the ongoing Fashion Pakistan Week has been that it is taking place “under the shadow of the Taliban.” Most articles in the foreign press have focused on how 32 designers showcasing cutting-edge fashion at a time when a military operation against the Taliban is ongoing.
While from an external perspective this may seem odd, the sheer amazement depicted in these articles at the thought of a fashion week is a tad strange. From the Times of India declaring, “‘Dare to bare’ Pak Fashionistas Thumb a Nose at Taliban” to McClatchy saying, “Pakistan’s Fashion Week Bares Country’s Frothy Side” and Life.com labeling a photograph of a model with a tattoo on her arm as “Tattoo vs Taliban,” its all been rather amusing – and often annoying – for those following the press coverage of the event.
For one, the purpose of the event was anything but to thumb a nose at the Taliban. Worldwide, fashion weeks are trade events geared towards retail buyers and journalists – and while Pakistan doesn’t have the former attending from abroad – it is putting together a rather comprehensive showing of 30 of the country’s designers for local journalists and buyers.
Secondly, with everything in the country being associated with the Taliban – several articles centering on Facebook updates of all things – have led to fashion also being bundled under the same umbrella. The focus in the press seems to have shifted from the designs themselves, and is instead all about defiance and courage.
If anything, Fashion Pakistan Week brought forward a far more interesting theme, one that has been emerging this year. For years, those who work in the fashion and entertainment sectors in the country have looked abroad for inspiration. This year, as Pakistan finds itself cornered into a rather uncomfortable spot on every level (including being lumped with Afghanistan as “AfPak”), singers, actors and designers have taken the effort to look inwards and seek inspiration in Pakistan. This has reflected in the songs that came out of Coke Studio this year, or at the collections shown at Fashion Pakistan Week, which featured a number of references drawn from different facets of Pakistan’s culture and history. These moves have created a whole new chapter for Pakistani pop culture, where one can actually identify aspects of the entertainment sector that are quintessentially Pakistani.
Which is why, as a Pakistani, while one often finds references to the Taliban and other extremist forces in every sector (when they don’t make any logical sense) irritating, this is a stereotype that we’re going to have to live with for a while. After all, the Middle East is still associated with being a war zone, and for decades, India was stereotyped as a destination point for hippies and yoga enthusiasts.
And so, the Taliban have been mentioned ad nauseam in press coverage for Fashion Pakistan Week. But if they do have access to the Internet during the current battle, they’ll be sorely disappointed to know that designers have gone on the defensive and showed a number of military inspired collections. From a model saluting on the runway as the Madam Noorjehan song ‘Ae Watan Ke Sajeelay Jawanon’ played in the background, to designer Ismail Farid’s collection called ‘Salute’ which was a tribute to the Armed Forces and those who have lost their lives in terrorist attacks. Farid’s models were clad entirely in ensembles inspired from military uniforms, replete with marching steps, canes, shackles, and in one case, an outfit that looked like a chic version of a suicide bomber’s jacket.
So the Taliban can chalk Fashion Pakistan Week down to a massive PR fail: the military themes received a standing ovation. Who knew we had such short memories?
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