is fashion design an art? YES

Can Fashion Design as an art form be a successful business? YES

Does one need formal training in the art of fashion? YES

Does one need to be naturally talented? YES

It sounds easy. And obvious. But it’s a careful path to follow to make that mysterious 1+1=11, not 2. Anyone with or without artistic talent, with or without formal training, with some interest can join the dots and create clothes, call it Fashion and have achieved that 2.

Does Pakistan have the raw talent to create Fashion designers with a business that makes 1+1=11. Yes. Then why when we look around does the large majority of Pakistani Fashion look the same, derivative and plagiarized from each other, when it was once from India? Yet, Fashion is the hottest industry to be associated with or be in. The media loves fashion, whether it’s TV or printed press. They love to support anyone and anything that is willing to be bold enough to show their work, if one is lax enough to call it that. Nonetheless, there’s an explosion of an industry that is making millions and giving millions food to eat. One cannot argue the benefit of that.

But, is this it? Is that its end goal achieved as a mushrooming industry filled with glamour and glitter? No further evolution or development? With such an impact on society as a whole and on the younger generations, should it not be looking at cultivating some standards, role models with a vision and direction for the country, or some quality control benchmarks?

These are not rhetorical questions. They are real questions with real tangible answers. Like Art, Fashion has a social responsibility. It has a responsibility to itself: Its designers, its corporate investors, its production teams, its models, its consumers and the media that is giving it miles of air time. It has to look inwards at itself, keep a constant eye on what it’s creating, regionalism, relevance, globalization, exoticism, competition, tailoring, conceptualization, quality of the overall product. It has to be aware of its weaknesses, not overlook them or brush them under the rug, but face them, identify them and know what should improve, what should be of value to anyone coming into the industry or anyone watching it from outside. It needs to critique itself with a global, historical, critical design set of rules, not just subject likes and dislikes or friendly loyalty based nepotistic favoritism. That was almost acceptable in its early days, 20 years ago, with little to no information at our fingertips, less students being sent to Fashion Design Schools abroad and none to attend here in Pakistan. Today, there’s no excuse. As I look at Fashion after a decade, with access to all the information thanks to TV and the internet there’s really no excuse to support for the sake of support.

This is a great time to step back and look at the Pakistan Fashion industry. It has tremendous potential. We have a history of excellence when we look at the quality of embroiderers, tailors and craftsmen. There is absolutely no shortage of fabrics or accessories. We have Fashion Design programs and schools too. We have talented, energetic, informed youth frothing at the bit to run the race, yet there seems a shortage of jockeys.No pun intended.

Fashion is a sexy Art. No doubt. But it needs to sell ideas, silhouettes, directions, innovative shapes, forms and textures, not be a gender free burlesque selling sex. Nudity for the sake of nudity seems overkill again in a day and age where one can go many places for that sort of relief.

Half-naked, hairless, waxed, bejeweled, with make-up on, male bodybuilders on the Bridal Couture Week catwalk, really? Is it a gender revolution, sexual revolution, live gay erotica for men and our own Chippendales for frustrated women, or just inappropriate? Bridal Couture week itself, really? Are we all pre-programmed to merely be married from the day we are born and that’s the only major goal in one’s life to aim towards? It is a little Pharoanic, other than the fact that the Pharoah’s preparation all his life was for his afterlife. Is this all that Fashion is promoting and perpetuating? An afterlife, other than lawn….

Back in 1995, the test question I used to ask anyone who considered themselves a Fahion Designer, critic or offficianado was, ‘’Do you know Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garcons?” No one had a clue. The sad truth of the matter is that some of the biggest names in the industry or even those writing ‘’critically’’ about the industry with tremendous confidence still have not heard that name. How does that happen? If the Architectural community can know about Zaha Hadid, Peter Esienman and Frank Gehry then the fashion industry should be equally educated on the history and strengths not only of Comme Des Garcons but also Anne Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela and for a country up to its ears with amazing textiles we should really know the technology behind Issey Miyake’s magic pleats. But we don’t. And don’t seem to think we need to. Wanting to not grow, not have more design information, more cross cultural understanding of the art of fashion and more competitive designs to take out into the world to build a national design identity, we don’t think we need. Why are we choosing to remain the world’s design under dogs?

Pakistan’s Fashion industry is blessed with a fashion week, in 3 cities. Each of these are productions that one could not have dreamt of 20 years ago. It’s a luxury to have them, even though leaders in fashion elsewhere in the world only have one show per country but nonetheless. Look at the armor we are producing for the ladies, so much for feminism and the freedom of woman from the shackles of embroidery; the equally over embellished uber metro-sexual males bordering on transsexual but not quite drag queen couture, if the men are not wearing women’s lawn to begin with; patchwork prints like there’s no other design solution for lawn, exorbitantly priced at the level of a very profitable joke.

We have it all; all we need is direction and quality control. Alexander McQueen was an artist, a genius, but also a superb craftsman who understood form and function. He pushed social boundaries of expectations from fashion, beauty, narcissism and questioned the objectification of ‘’woman’’. He was a visionary that has been inspirational to millions globally. And he ran a successful, viable business too. Like McQueen, there are more familiar household names: Galliano with his O.T.T. that has thought provoking yet beautifully presented daring work, John-Paul Gaultier with his magical collections inspired many times not only by South-East Asia, but also by remote cultures, minorities and forgotten exotic ethnicities, all contemporized for a globally aware clientele. The prolific Karl Lagerfeld produces several collections a year and does the most incredible interior design projects alongside too. Like Louis Vitton and Giorgio Armani, there are plenty of case studies, precedents and inspirational fashion houses running a very successful business for us to learn the ropes from.

Pakistan’s Fashion industry may be young in comparison, but if it sets a precedent now that excellence, quality control and an industry based unanimous direction to engage with the global industry was made its utmost priority, the right checks and balances put into place, then there is no reason why the 1+1=2 that we are celebrating ad nauseum and with cushioned mediocrity in plentiful, could easily be converted to a 1+1=11. Focus!

Zain Mustafa is a seasoned professional in fashion design, art installations, publishing and interior design. Having lived and worked in Europe, Asia and North America, Zain’s creations are a hybrid manifestation of both hemispheres. He is the founder and creative force behind ZAIN MUSTAFA Interiors and has conceptualized Cube, a design education initiative that aims to empower individuals to build Pakistan’s design identity. Zain can be contacted at


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