Fashion heritage: A turbulent era for turbans

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The traditional headdress, which is a representative of Pakistani culture, is seldom seen these days . GRAPHIC : AMNA IQBAL
Not just a literary rock star and renowned ladies’ man, Lord Byron was also known for making bold, striking fashion statements — perhaps in an attempt to prove that his genius could find more outlets for expression.
Thomas Phillips’ influential portrait, “George Gordon, Lord Byron” (1914), depicts the poet in a red velvet jacket and a remarkable turban, layered in orange, gold and brown. The turban adds a debonair charm to Byron’s ‘mystique,’ immortalising him in a timeless ensemble — the best of East and West.
Lord Byron’s portrait fits into a larger 18th century trend marked by a fascination and longing for the ‘Orient’, with western luxury and art markets turning to Arabia and India for inspiration. Nearly a century later, it’s ironic that Pakistani men — as modern day Orientals — still remain confused when it comes to fully channelling their fashion heritage. One wonders where have all the turbans gone?
This is not to say that it isn’t ‘done’, that exciting headgear options aren’t available. Only recently designers and labels the likes of Fahad Hussayn and Lajwanti turned out their turbaned trends for Bridal Couture Week (2011) ramps. Hussayn’s aesthetic stuck to a darker palette dominated by black and grey sherwanis, complimented by similarly neutral but otherwise elaborate headgear. Lajwanti’s Bridal collection featured a red turban (with subtle gold embroidery) that would’ve been at home on Lord Byron’s head.
Designer Kamiar Rokni states, “In an ideal world, I’d love to walk around in a turban. I’m always the one who ties the turbans at mehndis. Headgear can be very elegant and regal; and turbans say both of those things. It’s not really a ‘new’ look — it’s the day time look for a lot of rural Pakistanis. But, then again, we do live in the modern world and the look can become difficult.”
On the other hand Designer Mohsin Ali, who recently showcased his collection at PFDC, stated, “Turbans have already been catered on the ramps as well as the racks in the West, but we can only spot them on the ramps in Pakistan.” He also added that, “Turbans don’t complement evening gowns but would look great if accompanied with day wear.”
However, runway trends aren’t exactly an accurate picture of reality. Our turbans exist within the ornate context of bridalwear but unravel entirely when it comes to day/evening use. We witness a sharp disconnect; Pakistani men with buying power are all about ‘culture’ when it comes to fashion-weeks but will otherwise bust out the infallible Zara or D&G shirt with a Hermes belt at parties and evening occasions. Is it possible that we’ve become a little too whitewashed?
With their roguish good looks and Mughal-esque stature, a great multitude of Pakistani men would look super posh, if not downright eye-catching, in looks that celebrate culture.
“Is this for a wedding?” asks a sales-rep at a Junaid Jamshed outlet, utterly shocked that anyone would take to the excellent turbans (Rs4,000 a piece — cheaper replicas also available elsewhere) for the sake of their artistry. One hot pink turban, in particular, would go well with one of Jamshed’s own black, gold-embroidered sherwanis (Rs7,000 and up) and a pair of well-fitting black or even navy jeans; if worn with the right attitude, the man will find himself the centre of attention at any fancy soiree. Even a casual kurta (a nice, mustard-yellow one from Khaadi at Rs2,800) works with a darker turban. Rokni adds, “There’s a picture of me in a hot pink turban with a preppy outfit. The headgear seems to complement prep.”
For a more ‘toned down’ look, the turban may also be accentuated when worn with an all-black ensemble: a turtleneck and jeans (even trousers) — imbibing a sense of Byronic mystery while promoting and revamping the region’s timeless headpieces.
Finally, a call to all our local designers: Make desi headgear accessible for casual/evening wear (aka beyond bridals) before Lady Gaga steals the look entirely and appropriates it into the West’s hegemony on global fashion trends.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2011.

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