Fashion Week is nothing new for a fashion editor but being on the ramp as opposed to sitting on the sidelines was a scary proposition – not least because all my friends and enemies from the FROW would be watching. But how can you say no to Maheen, the Coco Chanel of Pakistani fashion, an iconic designer who has dressed some seriously stylish women (not only the Duchess of Cambridge but also Begum Salima Aga Khan, Jemima and Benazir) and who IS fashion royalty herself.
The idea for a showcase featuring real, strong women was put together by Maheen and Mishayl Naek of the Yummy Mummy Network who’s one of my favourite Pakistani bloggers for the realness she brings to the blogosphere. Unafraid to discuss social moires and the messy challenges of motherhood, her Facebook group the Yummy Mummy Network is THE place for mums who are more than just socialites. She put together a fantastic selection of women for Maheen’s showcase that included a stylist who’s worked at New York Fashion Week, a ballet teacher, several entrepreneurs and even a mum with a 6 month old baby.
Maheen herself tapped people for the line-up – most memorably Maaham Khan, a high flying banker, who she stalked at a coffee shop in Dolmen Mall and eventually approached with the line “Are you a model? If you’re not, you should be!” Anyone else would have been sent packing but as Maaham said, “how do you say no to Maheen?”
From the bubbly comedian Zehra Ariella, whose alter-ego Lady Pinki$h is screamingly hilarious, to the more private Sana Raza of the health food company Bean and Peanut, this was an incredible bunch of talented women of all shapes. Very few of us had “model” figures and several felt very daunted by the ramp. Quite a few had never worn Maheen’s label before.
The showcase was tagged “something old, something new, something borrowed, something not so blue” and aimed to be an eclectic, curated collection of upcycled samples from Maheen’s archive, some new and some borrowed from the new collaborative with INDOI. INDOI, a label started by Maheen’s niece Mallika Chauduri-Hill in March 2019, celebrates the legacy of strong women who fought for something else, something new, something different. As it happened, once Maheen started styling us all she customised several pieces to suit our personalities and even created the odd new piece.
Maheen’s clothes have very little hanger appeal. If you go into her store and don’t try anything on, chances are you may walk right back out again. In a country where “kaam” seems an integral part of “value for money” from a designer, Maheen’s love for and expertise in structure and form are seriously underappreciated. The genius about her designs is how they fall, how they move with you and how they fit. Once we wore Maheen’s designs each one of us gained a renewed appreciation of her sublime skill.
The collection focused on solid colours; grey, and ecru contrasting with lime and hot pink in structured or draped pieces that featured no embroidery but which played with form. Each one of us were involved in the process of choosing our outfits but ultimately it was Maheen, with her experienced eye, who decided what would look best. Ace stylist Amal Qadri of Shake Things Up by Amal was one of the models and Maheen quickly co-opted her as a deputy to help style the outfits.
The fittings and backstage were like a masterclass in dressing with style. One of the many pieces of advice that Maheen gave that resonated with me was “There’s no need to wear an outfit in the way it is made. Roll up the cuffs, belt it, layer it – change it up in a way that suits your body and sense of style.” Maheen and Amal spent a considerable amount of time showing us how to wear the pieces; how to belt them, how to adjust the neckline or cuff – little details that made a world of difference.
My own outfit was a structured long grey jacket worn with flowy silver trousers. This wasn’t my initial outfit though. Until two days before the showcase I was due to wear a gorgeous plum silk shirt-blouse with a silver half-sari – something that was very me and an outfit I would easily wear in real life but somehow an outfit that didn’t reflect how Maheen saw me through our years in the fashion world. Two days before the show she called me in, and the minute I saw the new outfit I knew it was perfect. More fashion-forward and expertly structured, this was just what I would have wanted to wear on the ramp in front of my fashion media colleagues. Even better, the clever cut disguised my poor posture and the fact that, after three kids, my body is far from ideal. No matter how I stood, there were no unsightly bumps and bulges which gave me immense confidence.
Another fabulous piece of advice from Maheen was the importance of changing up your style as you grow older. Herself a walking advertisement for ageing with style and grace, she encouraged us all to re-examine our style
“You should change up the way you look every decade. What worked in your 20s is not what you should be doing in your 40s – not only is it ageing, it’s boring!”
This encompasses hair and makeup as well as clothes. That same heavy eye-liner that looked great in your 20s can make you look older than you are if you’re still doing the same makeup decades later. Maheen was particularly careful about hair and makeup for the showcase too. Where one of us wanted to stick to a signature style, she was happy to give way but otherwise she directed every detail with the hair and makeup team. She made them change half the hairstyles, she had them completely re-do Fuzzy Faruque’s makeup and tweaked the makeup on a lot of others. For example, the makeup artist had given me a very “shadi” type look, which might have worked with a sari but which didn’t suit my fusion outfit and which was somewhat ageing. She had them open the updo and put my hair in a soft, curly half-up style. After that she wanted them to remove the kaajal but when that wasn’t possible, she swapped out the pink lipstick for a nude one for an edgier, younger, more modern look.
The actual ramp walk itself was daunting but the choreographer Nubain had encouraged us to be ourselves. During the rehearsal I realised what a huge bunch of cameras and lights face you at the head of the ramp and several of us went back up to the head ramp to try and work out where to look once we got there. Maheen had carefully coached us on our walk what works in terms of poses at the head ramp. She particularly emphasised how we should keep our hands and feet close to our body for a sleeker silhouette. Needless to say when I actually did walk, I forgot all her advice and in my shots my arms are all akimbo!
Nevertheless, the ramp walk was an amazing experience. Luckily all those times ramp-side translated into a decent ramp walk. I felt like a million dollars in Maheen’s outfit and with so many friends in the audience cheering me on I think I blew kisses all the way down the ramp! And all of us, no matter how private we are or how far from the fashion world, had a great experience doing the show. All of us felt confident and fabulous in our outfits and the end look was polished and vibrant – which is entirely down to Maheen’s vision and experience. I’d definitely rather leave modelling to the professional models but this is an experience that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.