Ali Xeeshan envisions designs complete with backdrops, props, the whole nine yards
Sitting in what Ali Xeeshan calls his â€œzenâ€ garden, we are chatting about all things un-zen: the high-powered world of art and Pakistani fashion. Ali is a designer with a penchant for audacious statements.
A graduate of the Pakistan school of Fashion Design, Ali thought long and hard about how he would distinguish himself in the rigmarole of Pakistani fashion. â€œIt is a cut-throat market that gives no second chances,â€ he says. His inspiration comes from his culture embedded in his DNA. â€œI come from a Punjabi family and we love our colours.â€
â€˜I always wanted to be an actor. You know, Iâ€™m always so excited to see a poster of Aamir Khan!â€™
Ali attributes his success partly to the schools where he studied. PIFD is noted for its ability to consistently churn out designers who go on to make a mark in Pakistani fashion. But Ali also has praise for Mrs. Sehyr Saigol, the Chairperson of the Executive Committee of PFDC, who was astonishingly cool about his scattered debut collection. A green parrot perched on one of Aliâ€™s mannequinâ€™s caught her eye, and that became the deal clincher for Aliâ€™s career. He says, â€œIt was very encouraging for me at that fragile time. I was terrified of failure at every turn.â€
So, what does it take to make it in the competitive industry of fashion? Imagination, to begin with, followed by tremendous stamina. Ali envisions designs complete with backdrops, props, the whole nine years. In other words, the designer must create drama in his collections. â€œI always wanted to be an actor. You know, Iâ€™m always so excited to see a poster of Aamir Khan!â€ laughs Ali. Under the umbrella of Ali Xeeshanâ€™s Theatre Studioâ€”where he is also quietly undertaking event managementâ€”he practices complete artistic freedom. â€œI love making areas and creating ambiences, with light, furniture, cut pieces, heights and shapes.â€
A green parrot perched on one of Ali’s mannequin’s caught
Mrs. Saigolâ€™s eye
The Ather Shahzad shoot at the Lahore Fort was a particularly memorable styling extravaganza for Pakistani fashionistas. The models, crew and extras amounted to a whopping 70. This kind of creative excess has become synonymous with Ali Xeeshan whose signature style is one that turns heads. So much so that Ali is particularly well known for his runway show at PFW in 2010 where Nadia Hussain walked onto the stage cuddling a furry white cat. His shows have included dramatic jewelry that covers the face, oversized turbans, nurses hats, and much more. His dream as a fashion designer is to do a solo show, consisting of characters for whom special clothes are designed. The show would have props, lights and music to match. â€œWith Fashion weeks,â€ he says, â€œthere are certain lines drawn already. I try to break them all, but, realistically, there are only a few that one can breach. You canâ€™t just do anything you want.â€
The most consistent request Ali gets from his clients is, â€œI want to look like a princess.â€ â€œNow,â€ he says, smiling, â€œI can guess it before they even say it!â€ But itâ€™s clear that a client doesnâ€™t always know whatâ€™s best for them. â€œOne client wanted me to make her veil long enough so that five of her friends could carry it,â€ he says, â€œBut it turned out being so heavily embellished that it wouldnâ€™t even stay on her head!â€
Every model wants to be a showstopper
The modelling pool has some ways to go. Ali reports on occasions where models have interfered with art direction and asked to be favoured. Every model wants to be a showstopper, he says, â€œOne show where the model was going third-last made a fuss that she wanted to walk out with me onto the ramp; in the meantime, she missed her turn!â€ The unprofessionalism, he says, is the result of a lack of education in the industry. In the West, many models have a working knowledge of art history and fashion genres, or a sense of how to carry the ball gown or whatever it is they are modelling. But in Pakistan, raw talent and raw beauty dominate. In a developing industry, is that really a bad thing? Ali agrees that Pakistan is bursting with talent. A number of models, he says, are extremely professional: Mehreen Syed, his muse, is on top of the list; Zara Peerzada and Cybil, he says, are also great models to work with.
As I leave his â€œzenâ€ garden, I think back to Aliâ€™s quote about fashion shows: â€œThere are certain lines drawn already. You canâ€™t just do anything you want.â€ If anyone has defied the rules, it is Ali Xeeshan. And he has done it with blazing creativity.