A museum dedicated to fashion and a gala event with a red carpet showcasing a new theme every year, helmed by three women who have been associated with Pakistani fashion from its very inception. Event manager and publicist Frieha Altaf, stylist Nabila and journalist Fifi Haroon are coming together for this very ambitious, exciting project — and it makes so much sense that you wonder why no one has ever thought of it before.
We live in a time where fashion weeks have more or less bitten the dust. Designers don’t feel the inclination to set aside retail aspirations and create entire collections that are creative, artistic but not necessarily wearable. Fashion, having weathered the financial losses meted out by the pandemic and later hyperinflation, has become dominated by retail-friendly bridals, lawn and pretty desi formals. No one from the design fraternity wants to spend money and time on creating an entire collection that may be vivacious and push boundaries but is not sellable. Fashion, the way it used to be, is but a distant memory.
However, a glamorous gala, modelled after the Met Gala, where the red carpet serves as the event itself may prompt designers to invest in one, adventurous, head-turning outfit designed for a celebrity or an influencer that they select as their muse. A single standout outfit, after all, can manage to draw eyeballs without requiring too much effort.
A museum honouring the benchmarks set in the past is long overdue. It would serve as a powerful reminder of Pakistani fashion’s proudest moments over the last 75 years. It may inspire designers to — at least occasionally — think beyond commerce and awaken their creativity. It may help nurture a new generation of designers who are more willing to take risks.
“The museum is going to recognise and honour the benchmarks achieved in the past but we also want it to be a living, breathing house of fashion that acknowledges the present and paves roads for the future,” says Haroon. “We want to make it a common ground where the community can meet and celebrate the spirit of discovery and adventure that characterises fashion’s most magical moments. Perhaps, it will become a place where seminars are organised and the work of fashion graduates is showcased.”
It’s going to take time and research for our plans to come to fruition, she says, with the hope that it becomes a place that people want to visit when they visit Karachi, where they will be able to experience some of the finest work done in Pakistani fashion.
While the museum, which will be located at an undisclosed UNESCO World Heritage site, may require time to be launched, the Fashion Gala is likely to take place much earlier. “I am aiming for either the end of 2023 or spring 2024,” says Altaf. “Select designers will be invited every year to participate. They will design according to the theme decided upon for that year and will dress their muse for the red carpet. The muse could be a model, an influencer, a celebrity,” she explains.
“We’re very intent on making the gala an exclusive event with a curated guest list. That’s how fashion weeks were back when they started out. The Carnivale de Couture, back in the day, had a limited, very select, audience. Fashion weeks, now, had become open to the public at large, with very little exclusivity to them. We don’t want the gala to be like that. We want it to be exciting, with memorable fashion moments. We haven’t experienced such moments in so long.”
The museum will take longer to launch but, I point out to Altaf, should the gala prove to be successful, the hype generated could help draw in more sponsors to invest in the museum. “Of course,” she agrees. “It’s a long process. We will need the help of sponsors and they won’t just be organisations from the fashion and textile industries but businesses from all over who want to play their part in the creation of a site that showcases some of Pakistan’s proudest achievements. I have had this idea for the museum for so long now but it’s taken to time to develop it. And once I was sure that I was ready to go on ahead with the plan, I needed to work with like-minded people. Nabila and Fifi were the best choices.”
“I think Nabila, Frieha and I have this great synergy because we are all very experienced, about the same age, have worked together in the past and even though we have won laurels in our respective careers, we are not ruled by nostalgia,” says Haroon. “We are very much living in the present and have modulated our lives and our careers accordingly.”
What will Nabila’s role be? “I will be looking over the hair, makeup and overall styling,” she says, “and applying the knowledge that I have gained over the years in curating the museum and looks for the gala. My own area of display will showcase my work, its evolution over the years and the milestones that I have achieved as an image maker.”
It all sounds exciting — but also very ambitious. There have been times in the past when high-end fashion events have been planned out but have gotten lost in translation and never actually taken place. Those events, though, haven’t been ones planned out by Frieha Altaf. The Frieha-Nabila-Fifi triad is one that has always made things happen, whether it’s helming the country’s longest standing entertainment-related awards or pushing the boundaries constantly with edgy styling or making strong, bold statements with fashion shoots at a time when there was no concept of them in the country.
Pakistani fashion is badly in need of a few jolts to revive it into action and a high-end gala and diligently curated museum may be able to serve this purpose. And if anyone can do it, it’s these three.
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