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An outsider's 'inside' view on Pakistani fashion
A Norwegian of Pakistani origin, stylist and modelling agent Amar Sarfraz puts Pakistani fashion and modelling in perspective, talking to Instep on all that and how he plans to take Rabia Butt out into the international arena, where she deserves to be.
By Saba Imtiaz

I plan to meet Amar Sarfraz at Espresso on a sweltering afternoon in Karachi. I clearly don't know what to expect, but Amar surprises me by texting to say he'll be five minutes late. I'm thrown: being late is such an accepted standard that no one ever informs you in advance they'll be delayed.
Amar Sarfraz walks in with an immaculately styled pouf and wearing shorts with a striped jersey. The instant phrase - 'creature of fashion' pops up in my head - and he proves to be just that: knowledgeable about global fashion and passionate about what needs to happen for Pakistani models to advance.
Born to Pakistani parents in Norway, Amar moved to Pakistan during his childhood and then went to Norway. Back to Scandinavia, he got into fashion: started as a model, worked as an agent and then at the age of 19, opened up his own modelling agency,
.Idol Looks. Amar also works as a stylist - his portfolio ranges from work done for Harper's Bazaar, Numero and Elle to Sva, Muse and Vixen. Last year, Amar styled a shoot for Teejays with Fayeza Ansari, and he was back in Pakistan this summer to do a cover shoot aiming to put Pakistani fashion on the Scandinavian map. The shoot is for a new Norwegian magazine called Vixen (which he describes as a "bad-ass" magazine) featuring three Pakistani models. The cover came about after Amar had styled the cover for Vixen's previous issue - and the Norwegian editor, knowing that Amar was Pakistani asked him to do a feature on Pakistani models. He insisted: 'If I'm doing a feature, I want to do a cover too' and so he came back to Pakistan to do the shoot.
"Vixen is for young urban women and the problem we had was that we have a lot of mature models here, and so the look was important. We had to have the present legend Vinnie, and Fayeza (Ansari) who has an unconventional face and the real emerging beauty Rabia (Butt)."
"The results are amazing," he enthuses What does he feel about the current crop of models, given that even though we have so many promising faces, no one has emerged in recent times to become a supermodel?
"The first time I came to see Pakistani fashion was in 2006, and I brought a Norwegian model here because people were tired of the old faces. We worked for a month and she literally did two shoots a day! So I found out how it works with models and clients and the problem we have here is that we don't have proper modelling agencies. We don't need talent agencies, we don't need 'something here, something there', we need proper modelling agencies who promote models in Pakistan, act as their publicists and promote them abroad because we have girls who would work internationally."
Who would work internationally? Indian models have already managed to make it big abroad, including current favourite Lakshmi Menon. "Its very hush-hush right now, but I'm taking Rabia out," Amar tells me emphatically. "She has a contract." Amar is reluctant to give details - not wanting to jinx it for her. But he does cite Canadian- Pakistani '90s supermodel Yasmeen Ghauri as an example - saying that after her, Rabia Butt will be the next Pakistani model to break out. Are there any other girls who can make it out? "I told Vinnie she should've done it fifteen years ago, and she said 'oh I know, but I was busy, I was making my money etc'. The problem really is the height. We're going to try and push for more…maybe Rafia? Fayeza we're going to push for, but we're going to need a lot of work: not as a model, but just because unconventional faces aren't in anymore. We're back to the '90s - everyone's beautiful. There's no one with quaint faces anymore. Eva, Christie, Naomi, Linda are all back. They're looking for girls who can remind them of the old times.
"It's very hard for us to find a Pakistani girl who isn't intimidating for a market used to the European or Caucasian look; I found that Rabia was the one who was good enough for the market. Even Lakshmi gets a hard time - she's the muse of Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier but is she doing the runway? She's doing five shows in New York, five in Milan… they make her look taller, because they want her to work. She's conventional looking but she still isn't that appealing to a European market."
"As a Pakistani, I always thought 'we have more beautiful girls, they should be out!'" he adds laughing. "But the models here have no idea what's happening outside. They don't know what editorial shoots are. They're used to people driving them around, coming at 4 PM for a make-up call scheduled at 10 AM!"
I ask him what else needs to happen in Pakistan for models to improve. Is it grooming? Amar disagrees, quoting examples of Naomi Campbell and Adriana Lima who couldn't talk when they first started, saying that being in the industry helps them to adapt and grooms them automatically. "I can bet on my life that if I send Rabia abroad for one year, she's going to come back and you'll be like 'who the hell is she?!'"
He reiterates that modelling agencies need to open up in Pakistan. "A good agency will change a lot - and maybe a brand like Elite, IMG or Ford."
So what does Amar think about the local fashion industry?
"Pakistani fashion is getting there. It has changed a lot since the '90s. There are certain designers who are doing their best. The only thing we lack is professionalism. All this fighting with each other, I don't get it. There are a lot of grudges and hatred in the industry. Look at India: they have grudges too but its professional jealousy. They work on a 'you scratch my back; I'll scratch yours' basis. I think our work is better than India. International designers are outsourcing their clothes here. Why can't designers get into retail and why are they stuck on joras? I can think of so many names - Umar Sayeed can do it, Sana Safinaz can do it. Feeha Jamshed is doing it. She is the only one doing retail. Ammar (Belal) is doing it but in a little wrong way. We don't have fashion week, we don't have retail."
What does he think about stylists in Pakistan, considering 'styling' here is always done by hair and make-up artists, and shoots are often styled by designers or photographers?
"I don't consider a lot of people here as stylists. Styling is creating a look by putting different pieces together, a whole story together. Advertorial is happening here, editorial isn't. I don't see any creativity. We need wardrobe stylists and that will happen if magazines start doing editorials. That's how readers will learn how to dress. Stylists have a lot of power in Europe; they make or break models and designers. Look at Patricia Fields (the stylist for Sex and the City) and Rachel Zoë. We need an international magazine here. India has Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, GQ and Harper's Bazaar is coming too. I'm working on bringing one in but setting up a new publication is quite difficult because you have to go through the whole company to get it done. There are lot of companies here that can advertise in an international fashion magazine."
And when is Amar coming back to Pakistan next? "I have a love-hate relationship with the country. I'm very punctual and I believe that time is money. If Pakistan would learn that, it would be great. I've worked with everyone - Americans, British, Indians - and everyone's on time.
"Putting together a shoot here took me over a month. The dates would keep getting delayed. I keep hearing 'if you're working in Pakistan you have to work with the mindset' and I'm like 'no, I'm going to do it my way'. On the Vixen shoot, everyone was on time, they didn't crib that they didn't get food! Everyone was a professional. If the person arranging the shoot is professional, then everyone acts that way. I've been to shoots here that start at 5 PM. When I say it's a 10 AM call, I hear 'arghhh'. Plus there's so much cribbing: 'I don't like this person or that person.' There are so many personal grudges here! I may not like someone's work personally but that has nothing to do with professional grudges."
"But I will be back - but to do something big." As Amar leaves Espresso sporting a Pakistani flag pin - the café gives them out to customers - I feel a bit more optimistic about the future of the Pakistani fashion industry. Why aren't there more people like him working 24/7 in the country?