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Coming Tomorrow: Islamabad Fashion Week

We went and had a blast that didn't involve a bomb.
5.10.11

(l-r; Pakistani badass, VICE host Charlet Duboc, Pakistani badass, Pakistani badass, VICE director Will Fairman)

In January, our friends Will and Charlet travelled to Islamabad, Pakistan to film the country's second ever Fashion Week. The final film was so good that it spawned a series: Fashion Week Internationale. Less Paris and Milan, more terrorism and surgery, they've been shooting in New York for Full-Figured Fashion Week; at Medellin, Columbia's Colombia Para el Mondo, where the girls are curvy and cosmetically-enhanced; and Las Vegas, for the International Lingerie Week, where everyone had a gun.

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Fashion Week Internationale premieres tomorrow on this very site, so I sat down with Will and had a chat about the series' first episode, Pakistan Fashion Week.

VICE: Hi Will! So how did the idea for the series come about?
Will: It was Charlet’s idea. She somehow got an email about Islamabad Fashion Week, and talked to Andy [Capper, VICE's Global Editor] about it. She said, “I’ve got this idea. There are hundreds of unknown fashion weeks around the world that people don’t know about and we have this opportunity to go to Pakistan. What do you think?” So then, I got an email from Andy saying, “Pakistan Fashion Week, do you want to go? Tell me right now!” And, my immediate thought was “Fuck. I really don’t want to go to Pakistan.” Why not?
Just because. You can’t ignore everything you see on the news. I mean, you can’t help but think: “I’m bound to come back with at least one leg missing.” Charlet had never done any presenting before, I hadn’t really done any fashion work before, we didn’t know what the format would be… But in the end, I thought, “Fuck it, let’s do it.” What was it that changed your mind, then?
Quite honestly, it had been a very quiet month and I was starting to get really worried about not having a job. So, I thought that Pakistan may not be ideal but a job nevertheless. In the days before our trip there I got so nervous, I couldn’t eat. I mean, even up until minutes before the cab arrived, I had every instinct in me say, “Don’t go there!” But then we got on the plane, and we took some Xanax, and that seemed to help. And after we arrived, I thought, “Fuck it! We’re here now. We might as well have a great time.”

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What were your initial thoughts upon arrival?
Well, we arrived at this giant palatial hotel, and within the first day every preconception I had of this place was just gone. Everything that I thought was going to be scary didn’t exist and all the things that I thought wouldn’t be there were offered to us immediately. The organisers kept offering us hash and drinks. There were girls in mini skirts, high heels and blow-dried hair. It was just the opposite of what I’d been expecting. So, other than the adrenaline rush, what was it about the Pakistan Fashion Week that was so interesting you had to make a film about it?
Pakistan is one of the biggest textile industries in the world. So, there was a lot of traditional bridal wear and tribal wear. Also, many designers were greatly into channeling spirituality through their clothes. When they were dressing Charlet up they were very concerned about whether she felt spiritual while wearing them. They kept asking her if she felt close to God. Did they do anything to help her get closer to our Lord?
Well, they’d say things like, “If you close your eyes, hold your breath, and then breath for ten seconds then you will feel the spirituality coming through the clothes and into your soul.” I don’t know how well that worked, but they seemed very convinced. Surely there must have been a few Western influences here and there, too.
Yes. So, there was the traditional side of it and then there was also an attempt at a kind of western presentation of fashion. There was this one show where the guys walked with their shirts open, their chests waxed, sunglasses, and painted-on tribal tattoos. And the girls were in hot-pants. They were trying to do sexy, but they’d never done it before so it was a weird mixture of Western ideals with traditional Pakistani views on love and romance. You couldn’t judge the clothes by normal Western standards. They were more like prototypes, experiments at Westernisation. Was there one designer you’d pick out form the crowd for one reason or another?
There was this guy, Amar Belal. He was the poster boy for Pakistani fashion because a pair of his jeans appeared in an episode of Sex And The City once. So, everybody was talking about him. But in our eyes, that would just be like Topman circa 1995, when Blue were big. Those were the days. Do they get any buyers from the west?
They do, but mainly for the textiles and I think that was the main point. You could usually tell that the collections were made probably a week before the show. The only thing that wasn’t as stiff, were the student shows. They were genuinely trying to be creative and forward. We got this girl to explain the whole concept behind her bizarre architectural, unwearable designs, and she’d talk about Mondrian and some Fauvist art movement. And then, there was this other guy whose collection was based on a chess board. Charlet got dressed up in this black and green PVC bishop’s outfit and I had to try on the horse outfit. And that at least is funny and different, completely bonkers, but creative.

You said something the other day about a rapper you met.
Oh yeah, we met this rapper kid who was the godson of the guy who had been organising the event. He was completely set on being the alternative bad boy. He took us to his home studio, and was going through all of his raps, which were basically about young men venting their frustration through porno on the Internet. What else?
One day, we were invited to the organiser’s house so we drove through these incredible rich suburbs, with giant houses and an army of armed men outside each of them. And when we walked in the house we were immediately met with this heavy smell of hash. It was all quite familiar; there was a creepy photographer who kept offering me coke. What was funny was the girls talking to you in a way that they’d obviously never been able to talk to guys before. Super-flirty but not in a creepy way. All the things that we take for granted, just normal boy-girl interaction doesn’t really exist there. And the models weren’t as skinny as in the West?
Actually, there was some emphasis on being skinny. There was this Italian stylist whom we overheard talking to this model, but we only caught the end of the conversation. She was saying, “Did you say I’m fat?” and he went, “No, no, you’re beautiful, but you can always be more beautiful by being slimmer. “ And then he said to us, “That’s just part of the game. If you want to be a supermodel you’ll have to starve yourself a bit.” We were really surprised to see that kind of attitude already being imported in the fashion world over there. Where were the models from?
They were all local girls. There were a couple of women in their thirties who were big names, but the rest were just people from the nearby towns who hadn’t done that before. Some of them were even hiding it from their parents, because they would be walking down the runway with skin exposed. They were taking massive risks by doing that. And what was the crowd like? Who would sit on the front row?
It was strictly high-society. A mixture of government officials, and a handful of fashion-bloggers, who were mainly guys, would be on the front row. There was this one super bitchy girl, who was trying to play up to the idea of traditional fashion journalism and nothing was good for her. The day after the first main show, she wrote this piece for the main Pakistani newspaper, titled “Pakistan Fashion Weak”. That's a fucking terrible joke.

But apart from that, there was a lot of government people. And in fact, one of the guys that attended was assassinated three weeks later due to some kind of blasphemy law. Which reminds you that even though they are very protected, they’re still doing things that really piss off the rest of the country. 99% of the rest of the country hate an event like Fashion Week. They see it as a complete attack on every value and belief that they hold true. But you didn’t come across any trouble?
No, there was a a 2km deep security ring set up around the hotel. You couldn’t drive through it without being checked five times: Bomb checks, mirrors, sniffer dogs. But even when we went out to the local markets we didn’t get that sense of anger and fear that had been sold to us. Well that’s good.

Watch the first installment of Fashion Week Internationale: Pakistan tomorrow on VICE.COM.