by Aamna Haider Isani

Take a vow! It’s time someone stepped in to revive and reinvent the multi-million rupee bridal industry in Pakistan

While the world may never sit up and notice a ball gown designed by a Pakistani designer, the intricacy of a Bunto Kazmi Farshi gharara is mesmerising enough to get anyone’s attention. Barring those awful confectionary concoctions that are being churned out so very commercially, the quintessential Pakistani bridal is an art form that must not be lost.

T he biggest market for fashion in Pakistan isn’t the show. It’s the shaadi.

With Pakistan’s fashion- conscious middle class being a slim minority, the practical window to high-end fashion — for most women — is still wedding-wear. They can tally off designers for dholkis, mehndis, the wedding/baraat day, valima, trousseau, etc, even if they still go to tailors for everyday clothing. Weddings are what uphold the sartorial snob value here even though critics resist accepting bridal clothing as fashion.

To be fair, bridals cannot be slotted as ‘fashion’ in any contemporary sense of the word. They are repetitive, often monotonous and aim to revive rather than reinvent style. But the revival of centuries’ old craft and traditions of the East is exactly what intrigues the world. Foreigners are attracted to the opulence, so rich in its heritage and so colourful compared to the pristine whiteness of western weddings.

While the world may never sit up and notice a ball gown designed by a Pakistani designer, the intricacy of a Bunto Kazmi Farshi gharara is mesmerising enough to get anyone’s attention. Barring those awful confectionary concoctions that are being churned out commercially, the quintessential Pakistani bridal is an art form that must not be lost.

There is no reason why bridals shouldn’t be elevated to the next level. What we need to see is a high-standard bridal show happening in Pakistan, perhaps a separate bridal couture week (or even a segment for bridal couture at the existing fashion weeks as opposed to presenting bridals alongside stylish fashionwear), a museum dedicated to centuries of vintage bridal costumes that have been crafted in all regions of Pakistan.

Fashion councils should undertake this responsibility. And before all of this is anticipated, it would be helpful if authorities pushed for legalisation of the trade so that studio-operative bridal designers can be encouraged to pay taxes. All this has to change and only then will it ensure the steady evolution to benefit a very lucrative industry.

Giving bridal couture its own platform Fashion shows featuring bridal clothing are the most boring to watch when they’re thrown in as part of a fashion week programme. Having to sit through one tier of ‘opulent grandeur’ after another can be mind-numbing for an audience waiting to be inspired by cut ting edge designs that are trendsetting and associative with the word fashion. And yet they are thrown in, gharara after gharara, ghoonghat after ghoonghat because bridals are what get the average buyers (read women) interested in a place like Pakistan.

An event like Bridal Asia, which its CEO Divya Gurwara says taps into the massive wedding market in India, would be ideal if organised here.

“The wedding industry in India is roughly estimated as a 1,250,000 (Indian rupee) category which is growing at an annual rate of 25 per cent,” Gurwara said in an exclusive with Images on Sunday.

Bridal Asia has been successfully promoting these figures for the past several years and though critics argue that the event compromises on quality in exchange for revenue generation, it still is acknowledged as one of the important bridal platforms in India.

An event remembered as Bridal Waves took off on the right foot in Lahore several years ago but fell prey to bad planning and wrapped up all too soon. A local magazine, celebrating its 25th anniversary, brought the Bridal Asia franchise to Karachi in 2003. It featured Ritu Kumar, Anamika Khanna and JJ Valaya from India and Bunto Kazmi and Faiza Samee from Pakistan in an impressive show that year.

“Bridal Asia was organised in Pakistan as a one-off event,” remembers Andleeb Rana (Editor, Xpoze) who headed the organising committee. “It wasn’t continued because it’s logistically a nightmare to take designers and their clothes across borders. I think we need a bridal show in Pakistan but not necessarily a Bridal Asia. We need a show organised by people who know the industry well. Pakistani bridals are infinitely superior to Indian bridals. They just need to be promoted in a more interesting way. One of the councils should initiate a couture week eventually, which is the only way the bridal industry will evolve.” A sponsor like Veet, which finances the Celebration of Beauty shows twice a year, would make for ideal champions of the cause if they put the project in capable hands. The fashion shows already pick up on formal-borderingon-bridal-collections and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be taken beyond one show, into an event sprawled over a weekend.

A museum for bridal costumes and heritage Preserving history is just as important as pushing for evolution. Documentation is imperative but most bridal designers are either too disorganised or too finicky to care.

Bunto Kazmi deems it unlucky and unethical to photograph a young girl’s bridal outfit before she wears it. Since she only designs customised ensembles, that doesn’t leave one with much of a choice. Faiza Samee, on the go between Pakistan and India (where she has a huge clientele), never has the time. Sana and Safinaz have got back onto the publicity bandwagon but fears of plagiarism keep them from overexposing their creations. Despite everything, some of the work being created by revivalists like Kazmi, Samee (who have been commissioned to exhibit at the V&A Museum in London) Nilofer Shahid (who has shown in Paris) and Rizwan Beyg (who has shown in Milan) is nothing short of a masterpiece. Their creations need to be treasured in museums for future generations to cherish.

Legitimising the trade There are no concrete figures to evaluate the potential of the Pakistani market for bridal couture — as most studio-operated designers do not register as taxpayers for the millions they charge for their coveted labels — but it can be safely assumed that the figures are just as mammoth as they are in India. The government should take responsibility of registering all designers and ensuring that the generated revenue be put back into cementing a system. Just for the record, certain bridal couturiers are known to charge anything between Rs6 to 10 lakhs for one outfit and most of them accept cash only. Go figure! Simply put, fashion designers who do not make bridals are fashion designers out of business. Deepak Perwani gave in after years of resisting the lure of dabka designs. Adnan Pardesy does make bridals that conform to the typical, even if his runway collections are razor sharp and radical. The bottom line is that no matter how progressive we may claim or want to be, fashion in Pakistan depends upon the bridal market for sustenance. It’s high time the process was regularised.

Pushing a bridal (r)evolution One feels that the higher ready-to-wear rises in Pakistan, the more it threatens to burn out bridal traditions. There is no need for one to challenge or compromise the other.

Unfortunately that’s exactly what the LSAs have done this year. The Lux Style Awards fashion jury has done no one a favour by eliminating Best Couture from the fashion categories. While one admits that Pakistani couture does no justice to the term when compared to Galliano or Chanel, the category should have been redefined.

Bridal Couture, which perhaps has a greater significance and relevance in Pakistan than prêt a porter, should have been the substitute. The answer perhaps would be to have bridal awards at the end of a couture week.

There is a plethora of fashion magazines dedicated to the world of weddings. Their standards need to be raised. Bridal photography needs to appeal to contemporary sensibility instead of the obsolete. The over-done, over-trussed shy bride needs a drastic makeover. It’s time ancient craft were revived and preserved with dignity while contemporary bridals allowed to evolve, as they should. ¦ (Dawn)

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