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The business of fashion

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Islamabad Fashion Week - Jan 2011

Fashion is going through an overdrive phase in Pakistan. Not only do we have a new designer emerging from every crevice of the country, we now have a barrage of Fashion Weeks that have driven me absolutely mad 40 I March 20 - 26, 2011

his is the third Sunday I have had to come to the office at 10 am and it seems that the next two Sundays are bound to be the same. As I sit in my lonely office the feeling is definitely bittersweet. Bitter considering that the Mrs has had enough of my crazy work routine and has locked the front door, which means that I am going to have to plan a full scale Rambo mission to break into my own home. The biggest fear is not only the embarrassment from the neighbours and the street guards of Model Town as they see an adult climb the front gate with his office bag but actually the explanation I have to give to my landlady, which is usually “losing my keys”. I am convinced that she thinks that I am consuming some illegal substances that significantly reduce brain activity, as that is the only reason a grown man can lose or misplace his keys so many times. On a brighter note, this is the only time I feel like I am worthy of being called a designer or have the ability to create anything. Monday to Saturday, I have the CEO hat on and I manage a full scale retail store/ business which houses 15 different designers, a staff of 25 people and an accountant who won’t tell me the name of the moron who taught him math, as that is the person I really want to publicly execute. What most people don’t realise is that any successful fashion house has a very competent businessman at the helm that spearheads the creativity into commercial viability. In most cases, it is the Creative director/ designer along with the CEO that make the essential team which makes a luxury brand successful such as Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Tom Ford etc. There are a few cases in which the designers have over the years learnt the value of having a business perspective when making decisions for their company. Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren are the examples of designers who have created a perfect balance of taking their creative abilities into a somewhat mass market without compromising on their brand identity. Fashion is going through an overdrive phase in Pakistan. Not only do we have a new designer emerging from every crevice of the country, we now have a barrage of Fashion Weeks that have driven me absolutely mad. The PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week is the most respected one out of the lot as it is going to be putting up the third consecutive one this year in March. The Islamabad Fashion Week also seems to be gaining momentum and Fashion Pakistan Council is collaborating with different media partners in putting up a two-day extravaganza featuring a multitude of designers. There is also talk of a Peshawar Fashion Week these days. J&S started an annual Bridal Couture Fashion Week last year. I really do think that this is a phase where event companies have mixed fashion with entertainment and it will simmer down over the years as


Sunsilk PFDC Fashion Week in Karachi - Nov 2010

the industry matures. It is a natural process that every fashion industry goes through and over time a more serious and focused event will be the only one to survive. The main object of fashion weeks all over the world is the business of fashion which entails mainly press and buyers viewing the collections in advance and subsequently placing orders for it to be produced in time for the coming season. In our case, it is the actual consumers who make up most of the audience, as they are the actual clientele that is going to order, buy and wear the actual collections that they are seeing. In time, we do hope that Pakistan will be a place where various buyers from international markets would be interested in exporting from. India, over the years has progressed massively in exporting its designers who bring something very unique by fusing their South Asian heritage and handicrafts with an international sense of style. In the meantime, I can see myself slaving at one collection after the other, while pulling my hair for new ideas and concepts. From MJ to Elvis, Kung Fu to Rock & Roll, Miami to Concrete Jungle, I have done some crazy themes over the years. This year, my goal is to try to do collections that appeal to women of all ages. The idea of the anorexic model physique has gotten me enough hate mail to last a lifetime and given the kind of stares I get from my beautiful wife every time I show her a new sketch of skinny jeans, I think it is time that I cater to all women who want to look good and enjoy their clothes along with a nice healthy lifestyle void of dysfunctional ideas of beauty. Write to me at ammar@ ammarbelal.com

Sunsilk PFDC Fashion Week in Lahore - Feb 2010

The idea of the anorexic model physique has gotten me enough hate mail to last a lifetime and given the kind of stares I get from my beautiful wife every time I show her a new sketch of skinny jeans, I think it is time that I cater to all women who want to look good and enjoy their clothes along with a nice healthy lifestyle void of dysfunctional ideas of beauty March 20 - 26, 2011 I 41

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44 I March 20 - 26, 2011


How to dress for power By Hugo Rifkind

Does it matter what our leaders wear? A new book argues that the influence of female public figures is intimately linked to their sense of style. Yet daring to be drab can be an asset too

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t a state dinner for the Chinese President Hu Jin¬tao in Washington this January, Michelle Obama opted for a red number by the late British designer Alexander McQueen. Flowing, satin, off one shoulder and hugging the other, it caused quite a fuss. The debate over Michelle’s alleged disloylty to her nation was covered by almost every major paper in the Englishspeaking world, from the Washington Post to the Guardian to the Times of India. Joan Rivers popped up in the Huffington Post calling it “Wrong. Wrong.” There followed various American stylists saying that, actually, the real problem was she was just too old for the thing; others asserting that she looked great and was terribly brave for showing her arms. “Look, women,” said Michelle Obama defending her choice on a TV chat show, “Wear what you love. That’s all I can say. That’s my motto.” This is a woman with an MBA from Harvard Business School. But as it happens, Harvard Business School might well have a bit to say about the connection between appearance and power, particularly for women. As the New York Times Style Magazine put it earlier this year: “Sarah Palin’s infamous $150,000 shopping spree during the last presidential elections underscored the fact that, in politics, a woman’s ward-robe can all too easily eclipse her ideology. Whether she’s working a trailer parkfriendly plaid shirt at a campaign stop or an ethereal Dior gown at a state dinner, there is no escaping sartorial scrutiny.”

This point is central to a new book by journalist and consultant Robb Young, ‘Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Poli1icians and Fashion’. “In political circles the word ‘fashion’ is still often pronounced as if it’s an expletive – ‘fashion,’ that superficial business for indulgent, politically apathetic people,” he writes. This is a mistake, according to Young. If you look good, it helps. Often, a lot. The argument is hardly surprising or new. But the book – and the wider discussion around it – makes useful mischief out of “the contradictions in US culture: one that judges people, particularly women, on their dress more ferociously than almost anywhere else, and then pronounces it politically incorrect to make that judgment. And the cases where a female leader dares to defy pressure to look stylish suggest a more subtle thesis: that it is clarity of image, not glamour, that has the greatest value. Take German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She is drab, and that is entirely admirable. A woman in politics must fight for the right to be so. Regardless of location or function, she appears to wear only one type of shoe, which is black and heelless. Her trousers are normally black, too, and her jackets are almost always three-button, diagonal pocket efforts by German designer Bettina Schoenbach. It may look as if she doesn’t care about her appearance, but she is using her clothes to make a clear statement. With great care, she is telling us that she’s above caring. Such an effect is all the more forceful because so few other female politicians

Michelle Obama in the British-designed dress that provoked accusations of disloyalty to her nation

March 20 - 26, 2011 I 45


Tarja Halonen

Indira Gandhi

46 I March 20 - 26, 2011

Benazir Bhutto

have the nerve to go the full Merkel – which is why they can end up looking like Elton John. (Exhibit one: Tarja Halonen, president of Finland). That’s the intriguing thing about female political attire. Get it only slightly wrong, and the lasting impression is one of bleak and crushing indignity. Young’s book is a study of this, and a celebration. In some ways, it is about as reductively offensive as you can get. The title unthinkingly conflates female politicians and politicians’ wives – wildly different roles. Yet it would be naive to dismiss the author’s thesis as irredeemably lightweight. Sim¬ple choices of dress have proved critical time and again in cultivating political appeal. Consider the linked, yet opposing, examples of Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi. The late prime minister of Pakistan’s task was to look modern yet Islamic; glamorous, yet modest. Towards the end she started looking like her own waxwork but, for the most part, she pulled it off admirably. “In private, people in Pakistan sometimes say that Benazir looked uncomfortable in her salwar kameez,” notes Young, adding she “probably had to compromise her personal style for the sake of survival.” Indira Gandhi, by contrast, chose humble woven saris. The fact that the most powerful woman in India – head of its ruling dynasty – chose the simplest of clothing is no coincidence, but a conscious decision to link her image directly to the ethos of Mahatma Gandhi and to root her in the minds of Indians as one of them. It would be hard to find a clearer example of the importance of political dress, and the delicate interplay of style and substance. Indeed, one could even plot the cultural differences of India and Pakistan during the latter half of the 20th century through analysis of the two women’s clothes. India, starting humble and eversoaring; Pakistan, heir to the Mughals, unabashedly flashy but too contradictory to last. Of course, not all powerful women have a successful wardrobe to match. Female politicians will sometimes be bold and brave yet still get it terribly wrong. I’m thinking in

particular of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, president of Argentina. She now looks like a figure of fun; the harder she tries, the worse it gets. Still, at least it’s an image with clarity. Despite topping the “worst dressed” lists, she also far outstrips her rivals in the opinion polls. Normally, though, a sartorial endeavour gone horribly wrong is a sign of wider problems. Consider Rachida Dati, former French MP, now an MEP. From a poor immigrant family, she has somehow managed to take her rags-to-riches story and cast it in a manner the French public found unsympathetic. Columnists speculated as to how she could afford her clothes and decided she must have been given them; it made her seem corrupt, or at least, corruptible. Instead of reassuring her critics, her appearance – too much black, too much Christian Dior – fought them. And she lost. A hard-edged image can work flawlessly, however – it did for Margaret Thatcher. Hers was a look of British femininity, cast in iron – an impression not dissimilar to Britannia on a 50-pence piece. In tweed suits and pussybow blouses, she was the nation’s fearsome nanny; she could not have come from anywhere else. A more contemporary version of what she was doing could possibly be seen in Sarah Palin. Her clothes, unlike almost anything else about her, have been an absolute triumph. Her stylists have successfully achieved a transformation which Robb Young calls the “Political Cinderella.” Her original “hockey mom” authenticity has been harnessed but also varnished. Vigorously styled, the task was to keep that rogue element, while also making her look like somebody with a place in the political establishment: somebody who


Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

had already arrived, rather than the arriviste she really was. The fact that it’s still a shock to hear how crazy she is when she talks is a testament to just how well this worked. Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s first female prime minister, has also crafted a look that fits her message perfectly. There’s a lot of Thatcher in her, too, but alongside a more passive-aggressive sort of Slavic femininity. But top of the pile, in Young’s view, is Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State. On more formal occasions, one has to admit, she could look a bit like a Star Wars character (the boots and tunics could get out of hand). Yet in general she managed to slip sartorially under the radar, and look good doing so. “I think Condoleezza Rice has in some ways set a standard,” said Giorgio Armani. Germaine Greer called her “the consummate power-dresser.” It is no small achievement to have pleased both. It is all so different for men, of course. Yes, there are sartorial variations worth noting. Gordon Brown was mocked for being shabby. Barack Obama wears a good suit. Silvio Berlusconi dresses powerfully. Nicolas Sarkozy dresses sharply. Hugo Chavez dresses like a janitor. But this does not make anything close to the difference

Margaret Thatcher

that it can for women in the public eye. Obviously, there are some strutting generalissimos who clearly wish this were not so – Colonel Gaddafi is almost his own first lady - but they are the exceptions. There are only a few rules for male politicians. Perhaps it’s the men who are missing out. While women have a whole wardrobe to deploy, male leaders must rely on a golden tie (Nick Clegg), or a flashy wristwatch (Nicolas Sarkozy’s Patek Philippe), or a cheap one (George W Bush’s Timex), or a flag badge. Imagine if they had the sartorial freedoms of women. Maybe Tony Blair would have been a style icon. Maybe, in the right frocks, we’d forgive Silvio Berlusconi his feet of clay, and take Vladimir Putin to our hearts. Yet if we’re to admire how women in politics use their clothes to send signals, can we really say the same about them doing so to benefit their husbands? Sometimes, undeniably, there’s a distressing edge of pimpery involved: the woman who seduces the electorate for her man. Yes, I’m talking about Carla Bruni. One forgets, but prior to marrying Nicolas she was France’s answer to Kate Moss, a jeans and see-through top sort of girl. The new Carla bloomed on her husband’s first state visit to

London, a few months after they married. Remember that grey getup, complete with Jackie Kennedy-style pillbox hat? “Carla Bruni charms UK with fashion diplomacy,” said the Daily Te l e g r a p h . Suddenly she was all demure and bashful; an effect hampered only slightly by the fact that Christie’s was simultaneously auctioning a full-size photograph of her in the nude. Sarkozy might as well have turned up in a big red sports car. Samantha Cameron is a good deal more respectable, but you can’t deny there’s something similar going on there. On-message to a fault; never too grand, always remembering the Zara jackets or Converse trainers to project that everywoman aura. It makes her look good, and she makes David look good. Yet historically British politicians have been admirably reticent about buying the electorate with their wives. Ultimately, fashion is always intended to convey messages – truthful or otherwise – about the substance that lies behind the image. With Merkel, it is her weight as the de facto leader of Europe. With Carla Bruni, it’s that Nicolas is a complete man – clever and powerful but also masculine and physical (and not at all short). In Samantha Cameron’s case, it’s that we’re just a-normal-middle-class-familylike-the-rest-of-you. Yet, invar¬iably, the clothes also get in the way of the message they are supposed to mediate. However hard Angela Merkel tries to direct us to her words and deeds as a political leader, we will still end up talking about her clothes. March 20 - 26, 2011 I 47


Recipe

Banana Walnut Bread

Chef Abdul Manan has worked with Royal Palm, World Fashion Cafe, Hot Wok Cafe in Lahore, Eye Television Network, ALite, Masala, Style360 and APlus, and also runs his own catering business by the name of Urban Gourmets.

Ingredients

Plain flour 1 cup Eggs 3 Brown sugar 他 cup Butter 他 cup Bananas 3, mashed Baking powder 1 tsp Salt a pinch Walnuts 1 cup, chopped Milk to balance the consistency

Method Mix salt and baking powder in plain flour and sift twice. Beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in eggs until batter turns light in colour. Beat in mashed bananas. Add milk to even out the thickness, if required. Lastly, fold in walnuts and pour batter in a 6-inch greased loaf tin and bake in a preheated oven at 180 C for 45-50 minutes.

Dry Fruit Nougat

Ingredients

Cashew nuts, coarsely chopped Almonds Pistachios Walnuts Jaggery or sugar Butter

1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 1 cup 4 tbsp

Method Heat sugar or Jaggery in a heavy base pan until caramelised. Coat dry fruits in butter. Take a square tin, grease it with butter and immediately pour the mixture in it. Level it quickly. When set, cut into squares and store in an air-tight jar for a perfect snack. 48 I March 20 - 26, 2011


March 20 - 26, 2011 I 49


Nextforstop

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Do you want people to appreciate your elegance? Then this bag is the right choice. These are avialable at Beach Tree, HKB Lahore. 50 I March 20 - 26, 2011

Bags and shoes are must-have accessories for women. Mercury’s rising and you are still confused where to look for funky flip-flops and trendy bags? Let Beech Tree come to your rescue with their stylish shoes and bags to match your summer wardrobe to the tee. By Sahar Iqbal

Beech Tree has resolved your confusion about casual yet cool college bags. This yellow bag is perfect for restrained funkiness.

Black defines refined taste – the right shades of course. This bag is perfect for your chic taste. Simple yet stylish, it will complement your formal clothes.


20th March 2011 - Lounge Weekly - Pakistan Today  

Lounge is Pakistan Todays weekly magazine. Published every Sunday, Lounge performs a roundup of the weeks latest events & reviews in Arts, E...

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