Pakistan fashion crowd soaks up Monsoon's reign


As Pakistan's third annual fashion week finally got under way after a spree of strikes and deadly clashes between political parties in Karachi, a new trend appeared on the catwalk. Showing alongside traditional bridal wear and more innovative offerings were British high-street brands such as Next and Monsoon.

"If we are showcasing British fashion on our catwalk it's because that's what people with buying power in Pakistan now want to wear," said Deepak Perwani, creative director for Pakistan Fashion Week and one of the country's most famous designers.

In turn, Mr Perwani and the Fashion Pakistan Council are hoping the British High Commission will help them sashay on to a more international ramp at London Fashion Week this September.

If buying British is indeed the new fad in town, then Pakistanis needn't go far now to find a label. The last six months have seen staple British brands like Next and Monsoon pop up in flashy malls in Pakistan's most violent city. Baroness Warsi and Lord Green, the UK Minister for Trade and Investment, caused a stir when they flew in from London for Debenhams' media launch earlier this year. Scheduled to be housed in a 27,000 sq ft space at the snazzy new Dolmen City mall in Karachi's affluent Clifton neighbourhood, it is set to be Pakistan's first international department store when it opens this summer.

At the Crabtree and Evelyn launch last week, the British High Commissioner, Adam Thomson, announced that the UK was aiming to increase the its trade with Pakistan from the current £1.9bn to £2.5bn by 2015.

Yasin Paracha, the entrepreneur whose Team A Ventures is leading the great British style invasion, explained that "fashionable people in Pakistan have been travelling for years to Dubai to buy outfits from stores like Next. Now they can buy them here at 10 to 15 per cent less than what they would pay there."

He did not seem too bothered by the constant strikes and bombings that have rocked the city. "The sales we lose on a strike day are made up easily. Pakistan has been the fastest-growing country for Next for several seasons," he said.

Promoting Pakistani fashion would be a tough call even without the backdrop of political chaos and widespread terrorism that has been instrumental in keeping international buyers away. The fashion itself has been largely ignored – or, when noticed, celebrated more for how much flesh it dares to flaunt in a country with a conservative backbone.

Conversely, reviewers have skirted around the fact that alongside blasphemy laws, political assassinations and terror outfits, Pakistan has, in the past five years, witnessed the mushrooming of more than 50 television channels and an ever-expanding cult of celebrity and consumerism.

Fashion, more than any other industry, seems to have caught the popular imagination, with those who can't afford couture brands opting for cheaper rip-offs or diffusion labels.

"Our film industry can't compete with Bollywood and large concerts have become a huge security risk. And there are all these TV channels and sponsors who are dying for the glamorous content we can give them," said Frieha Altaf, one of the top event managers in the country. "There is big money to be made in Pakistani fashion."