How Pakistani Fashion Made Its Mark At Milan Fashion Week: The Entire Story
Pakistani fashion had its moment of glory when traditional designs were showcased on the ramp for an Italian designer. But where does that lead it? Rida Lodhi explores…
The biggest news emerging from the Pakistani fashion world in recent times was regarding the collaboration between Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean and Chitral Women’s Handicrafts Center that saw traditional Pakistani craft hit the runway at the Milan Fashion Week. That’s not all. Two top Pakistani models, Mushk and Alicia, also walked the ramp for the first time on such a big platform, thus providing inspiration to thousands of girls who dream of making a career in fashion.
The semantics aside, this collaboration was perhaps one of the most significant steps needed to take Pakistani fashion on a global scale. But to what extent will it achieve the goal? Moreover, what does it mean for the models themselves? We speak to the team behind the glorious show…
HOW IT ALL HAPPENED
In April this year, Stella Jean was invited to live with the locals in the stunning Kalash Valley in the Chitral region of northern Pakistan. The designer’s idea to represent a dying culture in her upcoming Spring- Summer 2020 collection became the basis of this expedition. Once a community of more than 35,000 people, the population of Kalash has reduced to mere 3000. If anything, they are on the brink of extinction. The closed-knit coterie, Kalashis, aren't too fond of exposing their culture out in the open. But Stella Jean convinced them otherwise.
Jean wasn’t alone in her efforts to make this hidden art global. The designer had associated with the afore-mentioned Chitral Women’s Handicrafts Center’s founder, 22-year-old Karishma Ali, on her Spring-Summer 2020 collection. Karishma, who was named in Forbes 30 under 30, is originally from Chitral and helped Jean tie the project together. "We were connected through Zahir Rahimtoola from the Emerging Pakistan initiative of the Ministry of Commerce in the Government of Pakistan," Ali told Masala!. "The basic idea of the collection was inclusion of a culture, people were largely unaware of. Kalash and Chitral seemed the perfect fit for it. Stella initially came to three northern regions of Pakistan; Hunza, Chitral and Karimabad in the Kalash Valley. She became particularly interested in the embroideries adorned on the clothes of women of Kalash and Chitral."
The duo then narrowed down to 46 women - 16 of whom were from Kalash. Together, they produced over 4000 metres of material for Jean's upcoming collection. It only made sense for Jean to have at least a few models from Pakistan to walk her show at the coveted Milan Fashion Week. Mushk Kaleem and Alicia Khan were the chosen ones who flew to Italy to be a part of the show.
THE MODEL SIDE
Mushk says she felt incredibly proud to have represented Pakistan on such a huge forum. “When I entered Milan, I had a huge responsibility on me that I am here to represent my country. It’s about Pakistan, not about me. Even when I opened the show for Stella, I was just so incredibly proud of myself, I was so grateful. Stella told me, ‘Now that you are opening up for my show, you’re the face of my entire collection’!”
Talking about what the future holds for her, Kaleem shared that MFW could only be the beginning. “The response and feedback of the show was so positive and fruitful that I just felt right at home. We aren’t all that different and I think, with right connections, we can make it to New York Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week and even few solo shows!”
While this wasn’t the first time, the latter walked for an international fashion show (she strutted the runway for Manish Malhotra’s 2018 Doha Fashion show!), Alicia feels it was an experience of a lifetime. “I think this could just be the beginning for the Pakistani fashion industry! The question is how are we going to interpret such an achievement in future prospects? Pakistan is a land full of people with extraordinary talent and crafts. Stella’s collection itself is a huge illustration of it.”
"It was Stella's idea," Rahimtoola says. "She thought it was the perfect fit. Stella even made Mushk open her Milan Fashion Week. It only made Stella's strive for representation stronger."
WHAT NEXT FOR PAKISTANI FASHION?
The recently concluded Milan Fashion Week seems to be the foundation Pakistani fashion industry promises to build on globally.
As Rahimtoola reveals, "Stella Jean's show was extremely well received in Milan. What stands next for the collaboration between Pakistani arts and celebrated designers is an initiative and aim of Emerging Pakistan to bring the local culture to the centrestage of the world."
He further adds that soon after Jean's show, many designers and artists have become interested in the craftsmanship and handicrafts of the northern regions. "Spectators at the Milan Fashion Week seemed to love what Stella presented and how she portrayed Pakistan in the video she showed at the beginning of her show. What we, the ministry of Commerce, plans to do to elevate this is to institutionalise and industrialise this process."
Hopefully, this would be the much-needed fillip that the industry requires to make a mark on the world stage.