The Indo-Pak fashion and lifestyle trade fair

The script has become familiar by now, so no one was surprised when Aalishan Pakistan, the Indo-Pak fashion and lifestyle trade fair, was cancelled last week “due to the current situations between India and Pakistan”.

South Delhi housewife Sabeena Mehta was, however, somewhat disappointed. “I’d picked up some really nice suit pieces at the last fair. In fact, I went twice – the first time my mother wasn’t with me, but after she saw what I had bought she too wanted to come. I’m a nationalist Indian and Pakistan has gone a bit too far this time in Uri. But there’s something about Pakistani fashion that’s much smarter than what you get in India.” That Mehta isn’t the only one to think so was evident from the crowds that thronged the last edition of the fair held in 2014. According to TDAP (Trade Development Authority of Pakistan), which organised the fair with FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), Aalishan Pakistan, over four days in mid-September, attracted 500,000 and did business of $15 million, with deals worth another $20-25 million signed.

“There’s not much difference. But yes, Pakistan is known for its fine lawn. Their cuts are better, more fashionable,” says Rashima Singh, a Delhi-based designer who runs the label, Ministry of Design, with her mother Winky.

The Pakistanis have the exact opposite to say. Karachi-based Huma Nassr, who has been running a boutique called Braahti in the capital’s Greater Kailash-I for many years now (perhaps the only solo Pakistani fashion store in India), feels Pakistani women beat their sisters across India hands down when it comes to dressing. As a Pakistani participant at Shaan-e-Pakistan, an “exhibition” of India-Pakistan designers that Nassr organises, told me last year, laughing as she looked at my a little-worn top-trousers, “Maaf karna, I don’t mean to give offence, but Pakistani women won’t even go to the market dressed in what most Indian wear to office!”

Like with many other things between India and Pakistan, that’s a hard issue to resolve, but what’s undoubtedly true is that in the last few years, Pakistani fashion has flooded the Indian market. As Mehta reminds me, “exhibitions” of Pakistani suits have been happening for many years now. But you now have permanent stores to buy Pakistani designerwear. Delhi’s popular Lajpat Nagar market has the very popular The Cotton Lawn Shop, which stocks Gul Ahmed, Sana Safinaz, Saadia Asad, etc. At the higher end, there’s the PFDC (Pakistan Fashion Design Council) outlet in South Extension-1 that’s been there since 2012. Last year, well-known textiles manufacturer OCM tied up with Sana Safinaz to launch the designer under its label.

But as both designers and exhibitors reveal, India-Pakistan trade is never easy. Nassr is now waiting to put up the third edition of Shaan-e-Pakistan, re-named Kya Dilli Kya Lahore. She’s already got big names like Deepak Parvani and Bibi Russell (the Bangladeshi designer), but given the uncertainty, pushed it to January 2017. “Inshaallah, this current situation will have eased by then,” she says.