Millennium Post

‘A Pakistani woman will never wear a skirt’

Of all things, you wouldn’t really associate Pakistan with the word ‘fashion’. The country is always in the headlines, mostly for all the wrong reasons. But a group of enthusiastic men and women are doing all they can to ensure that the word fashion also pops up in your mind. The country is fast catching up on the fashion map, assures Sahar Atif, one of the leading designers from Pakistan who was recently in the Capital to attend an exhibition — Lifetsyle Pakistan. ‘You will be bowled over by collections that students at the various fashion design institutes are churning out. It is creativity at its peak,’ says the designer.

And she should know, because Atif helped set up the department of design and textile at the Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design (PIFD) in collaboration with Cambridge University at the Lahore Grammar School, where she is currently the head of department.

‘The industry is competitive. You can survive only if you are very good and you have to be prepared to work on a large scale,’ she says.

Atif also showcased her collection at Lifestyle Pakistan in Pragati Maidan. Her cuts are crisp and the silhouettes flowy. Her creations merge Western sensibilities with Pakistani ethos. Colours, embroidery and silhouettes are her strengths. Her label SAAI focuses on bridal, formal and pret. ‘They are innately Pakistani with Western sensibilities,’ says Atif. And Atif is very clear on the boundaries that have been set. ‘A Pakistani woman will never wear a skirt,’ she declares. However, Atif rues the lack of clients for ‘experimental fashion’.

So she opts for options that would please both worlds. ‘The chicness and sexiness of a blouse will be transformed into a salwar kameez. Religion gives us boundaries and we innovate within it,’ says the designer who is also a member of the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC).

Fashion as an industry has really started picking up in Pakistan ever since the fashion weeks started in February 2010. ‘Before that we were a bridalwear industry,’ she quips.

Atif feels there is a ‘crazy demand’ for Indian products in Pakistan. ‘Say if a Lajpat Nagar store goes to Pakistan it will be sold clean,’ she says. The exhibition was an effort to convince the governments, she feels. ‘When the National Trade Corridor will be told about how much business we did in four days, the government will understand the importance of opening trade routes,’ says Atif.

As a Pakistani in India, did she ever feel any hostility? ‘When I come to India, I come on personal visits and I have never felt any animosity. I stock at Ogaan, send fabrics to a few places... the animosity is maintained at a political level,’ argues the designer.
‘The governments need to welcome each other like the people do. It’s not good for India’s image to have so much hostility,’ she adds.
Fashion in India, feels Atif, has a different flavour. Her favourites are Kavita Bhartia (‘I love the way she drapes’) and Sabyasachi Mukherjee. ‘The discipline with which he designs his shows is amazing. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan would have been incomplete in Guzaarish without his clothes,’ says Atif.

And when you talk of fashion in India, how can Bollywood be left far behind. Atif, too, would love to design for Bollywood. ‘But I am not interested in fashion that is the item number type. I want to do something which will show my potential to mould a character through clothing,’ she declares. And we shall wait for it.
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