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instep review
Inspiration: Armani
The Samsung Giorgio Armani show in Lahore finally happened and five designers went all out to put on a fashion spectacle

By Khadija Malik Hasan

The launch of Samsung's Giorgio Armani cell phone took the vein of a tribute to the international house of Armani. Organized by Catwalk Productions the show was held in Lahore at the Royal Palm Golf and Country Club and featured collections by five top local labels including Shamoon Sultan's 'Khaadi Khaas'; men and women's wear by Ammar Belal and HSY; and women's ready to wear and couture lines by Maria B and Saadia Mirza. The designers invited to show their work remained mindful of the spirit of Armani and offered their respective interpretations of the ethos of the fashion house.
Giorgio Armani is synonymous with luxury. The style it offers is deliberately refined, fashioned to preserve the charm of the aristocratic past in the forms of the decadent present. The structured look that defines the collections presented by Armani over time found easy translation in the atmosphere of the evening and set the tone for a show that promised glamour worthy of an international fashion event. Accents of classic black and white were manipulated through the marquee to throw focus on a dramatically effective straight black ramp. The backdrop consisted of two panels that showed images from Armani's 2008 Season Campaign spliced at angles that looked seamless from the media pit at the end of the catwalk. These panels framed a white wall fitted with a flat screen that projected glamour shots through the night. Unfortunately, the angles were awkwardly placed and the dressing room, barely curtained with a sheer black cloth was visible to the front-row audience.
An hour late, but nonetheless, the show began with a bang. A remixed Madonna cooed to music that pulsated in the background. Engaging the audience's undivided attention was the fabulous silhouette of a model standing against white light in the darkened space, hair sleekly rolled back in an elegant twist striking a pose in her knee-length dress. With a spectacular shift of the lighting Shamoon Sultan's creations came to life.

Shamoon's 'Khaadi Khaas' was a delight to the senses. The clothes, primarily comprising of straight dresses, were minimal in design and worked to maximum effect. His play of colour, line and texture was delivered with finesse, and the looks arrested both one's sight and imagination. His use of soft textures such as leather added dimension to his collection, while keeping the garments distinctly feminine. A fringed leather dress in earth tones was especially notable, well accessorized with heels in high-contrast hints of rust and turquoise. Black and gold numbers included in the collection were striking in the intensity of the shades rendered; suggesting heavy weaves that create deeper hues affected through plush fabrics. Also interesting was Shamoon's use of stiff patent leather geometric patterning on soft chiffons - black shimmered on black and graced stark white heightening the essence of the night.
The emphasis of the 'Khaadi Khaas' collection was on a play of fabrics, which the designer himself indicates are still experimental in nature. The Khaadi label is strongly focused around developing textiles to revive the art of hand woven cloth in Pakistan. Khaadi Khaas has taken this one step forward and positioned itself as a source of fabric for high-end couture. Shamoon's innovative fusion of textiles and fashion transforms into wearable clothing designed along simple lines that would be a welcome addition to any fashionista's wardrobe.
Second in the line-up was Ammar Belal, who began his segment with the presentation of his menswear collection. There is only word that encapsulates the verve of this designer, from his styling to his choreography, and that word is "bold." His clothes are not for the shy or the meek. The man who would buy Ammar's clothes would have to be supremely confident of his sexuality. Ironically, Ammar uses soft textures to create hard, structured looks. His clothing is also very tactile. The play of rough embellishments on smooth fabrics is enticing.

It is not enough to look at his designs for one is moved to touch them. He combines moleskin and silk to cut a lean silhouette in a well-tailored black suit; trousers in a hounds-tooth weave are topped with a form fitting jacket contrasted with denim and brown cotton, and crowned with a chapeau; a paisley printed waistcoat in bright colors is tucked tight on the torso and paired with pleated trousers to enhance the male frame. These looks - opulent, significant - are not for the faint of heart.
Ammar Belal's women's wear was an extension of the menswear collection, the drama of the designs often appearing as feminized forms of the men's outfits. In contrast to Khaadi Khaas which seeks to develop textiles locally and take these to the international market, Ammar's clothes are made in Italy. There is nothing local about his fabrics, designs or stitching. While the garments are impeccably finished, they add little value to the meaning of Pakistani fashion. To most people, Ammar's collection will be unpalatably over the top. But the designer has a niche market, and to his credit he designs quality couture garments (which are otherwise only available in the form of foreign brands) that may be worn by all as designer separates

The next designer to commemorate the Italian Guru was HSY, whose clothes truly echoed the design sentiment of Armani. Though the collection was limited, HSY showed a fair cross-section of his style repertoire especially in his menswear line-up. Starting with jackets and cropped pants, he displayed a contemporary sherwani paired with black slacks, followed by a long georgette jacket that evoked the image of the whirling dervish. His tailored cuts were designed to enhance the stance and figure of the man to wear them, clearly seen in the way the models who just minutes before had strutted about in Ammar Belal's musings walked even taller in HSY's well-executed cuts.

HSY's selections from his haute couture and R2W lines for women heightened the interaction with fashion classics that marked the mood of the evening. His synthesis of classic and ethnic cuts was impeccably implemented in embroidery accents worked in an array of black embellishments on sheer white chiffon. This was the designer's signature fare. But what took HSY to the next level was his presentation of trendy tops whose design and tailoring promised to push the boundaries of Pakistani fashion retail.

The women showing their collections that night had markedly different interpretations to offer, both from the men whose work preceded theirs, and from each other. Maria B's was a well thought-out line that graduated from casual wear designed primarily in white to cocktail dresses shown in earthy tones and culminated in formal gowns shaded in chocolate browns and black. Maria's styling may be viewed as three-dimensional fusion as she combined eastern fabrics and embellishments with western cuts to create formal wear with unfinished hemlines and fabric trailings that evoked an old-world romance.

Maria's clothes offered a very distinct identity. Even though a variety of cuts and forms showed a diversity of design, her collection was pulled together by her choice of fabric. Both her casual and formal wear used single stitch Multani embroideries. Thus the breezy chiffons became the backbone of her collection, appearing as white balloon tops accentuated with further handiwork and paired with printed tights (the prints of which were also designed by Maria) for daywear; and flowing ball gowns dyed in deep browns worked with diamantes and thread innovatively substituting formalwear in regular black. The combination of balloon tops with reduced volume skinny pants and tapered tights gave the wearer an allusion of greater height. And the unfinished hemlines of the formal garments also served to lengthen the body.

Adding the third dimension to Maria's fusion line was that in evoking the rustic through couture inspired by woodwork, the embellishments she used consisted of wooden beads and thick cord. The use of desi gota on cocktail dresses made of net also added interest to her collection, as did the appearance of chunky fabric jewellery, which further highlighted the handwork gracing the outfits.

The theatrical statements of Saadia Mirza were a fine conclusion to the staggering scope of the show. Her heavily embellished work, exaggerated lines, and rich materials had the feel of French luxury. To the extent that her work was more eastern in nature, Saadia's collection looked refreshingly original, especially after confronting strong western lines by all the designers who came before her. Her colours were feminine with an emphasis on peach and beige, which looked even mellower in heavily layered chiffon and net.

Saadia Mirza's canvas was grand. Her presentation sadly did no justice to her creativity as her clothes were ill-fitted and poorly accessorized. Most models struggled to hold up the elegant one-shoulder necklines and contain their waists in otherwise graceful bustiers. And black suede boots worn under delicately embroidered trousers paired with a beautiful kameez were a certain eyesore.

However, this was not a problem that was restricted to Saadia's collection alone. With the exception of a few veterans, the models were sorely disappointing. Very few of the girls who walked the ramp that night were well maintained. The ramp placed the audience's eye-level with the model's knees. It was bad enough to be in clear-view of love handles, stretch marks, cellulite, body (and facial) acne, stubble and bruises; stockings cut at the ankles which had awkwardly bunched up along the length of the leg; and shoes that simply did not belong with the clothes on display. What made it worse was the frequent mouthing of invective each time a model almost tripped on the step that was located down the center of the catwalk. There were one too many declarations of "f***", and the girls rhythm was often easily fazed by the rogue step.

While the format of one model walking the ramp at a time brought individual flaws into greater view, every cloud has a silver lining. The emphasis on a single subject placed one's undivided attention on the quality and design of the garment on display, and the accessories used to bring a designer's muse to life. This direct confrontation with individualized forms is a departure from the days when models walked the ramp in quick succession dividing the focus of the eye. That previous format made it difficult to understand the philosophy behind a designer's creations, especially with multiple talents on display. This, then, was a welcome change.

The evening ended with the presentation of a Samsung Giorgio Armani phone to the best dressed person in attendance, the jury for which was the designer duo Nickie and Nina. While the choice of Shahzad Raza may have been justified it looked like an ungraceful one since Shahzad was a part of the team that put the show together. The hair and make-up came under his purview and the facility with which he styled all the looks was a considerable achievement in itself. The team behind a show should not be competing for awards with the guests in attendance especially when the crowd was remarkably well-dressed, and hence not short of contenders for whom the prize was fair game.

Overall, the Giorgio Armani show proved that while there are still glitches that need to be redressed, the Pakistani fashion show has evolved into a phenomenon that is moving towards meeting international standards in design and organizational capabilities.

Photography: Faisal Farooqui
Hair and make-up: Shahzad Raza
Choreography: Frieha Alta