PAKISTANI designer Deepak Perwani, a Hindu whose creations include glittering bikini tops, believes fashion can help Pakistan polish its 21st century image in the media.
Perwani, who was named Pakistan’s cultural ambassador to Malaysia and China, told reporters on a visit to London that stereotypes of Pakistan heavily laden with references to the Taliban, violence, political strife and poverty failed to reflect the fuller picture of his country.
“You only print the pictures of poor Talibans with guns,” Perwani told, smoking cigarettes as he sat in an octagonal room overlooking central London. “The media always portrays the negative… We don’t live in the dark ages.”
Perwani comes from Pakistan’s financial capital of Karachi and has been in the designer business for 15 years. He was in England to give a talk about Pakistan and the political importance of fashion at Christ’s College, Cambridge.
“Clothes and art reflect where a country is in time,” said the designer of yellow wedding gowns that bare the midriff and strapless cocktail dresses that seem more London than Lahore.
He described his Philosophy line, which includes polka-dotted halter tops and beaded handbags, as “modern cuts with ethnic embellishments.”
“Fashion influences everything,” Perwani said. “It’s such a strong medium of communication as to how we perceive ourselves and people.”
After a debut show in London, the Philosophy collection sold out in 17 minutes, Perwani said.
“People don’t expect this from Pakistan. That’s the problem,” he said. “The international world has a very different idea of what Pakistan is, and that idea needs to change.”
He said one of his biggest examples is former President Pervez Musharraf, whom Perwani supported. Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999 but resigned in August 2008.
Welcomed by many Pakistanis as a force of economic progress, Musharraf’s popularity declined after he dismissed a popular chief justice in 2007.
“People loved him in a sherwani, they commented on how good he looked… so presentable and so regal.”
Sherwanis are suits with knee-length jackets and Nehru collars worn by Indian and Pakistani men, often for weddings.
“The moment they see him in a uniform, they don’t like him, he’s a dictator.”
Perwani has shown his collections at the Pakistani High Commission in Britain and before thousands at a celebration of Pakistan’s national day in London’s Trafalgar Square.
He said he would like to show at London Fashion Week, but that he cannot because of its residency requirements. He showed his collection in Colombo, Sri Lanka instead.
Nevertheless, Perwani said he looks to Britain for inspiration and says that Pakistani women want Western clothes.
“As designers in Pakistan, we don’t look at Bollywood fashion,” he said. “I find eastern wear not fashion forward.”
He said that out of financial necessity he designs clothing for Pakistani weddings, for which women can spend $10,000 (£7,005) on hand-embroidered wedding dresses with a veil called a dupatta.
“London inspires a lot,” Perwani said. (Pakistani women) want to be part of the global village, like everyone else.”
Perwani said jeans have become ubiquitous among affluent women in Karachi and that his mother, 55, whom he describes as a “total diva”, wears them to go shopping in the bazaar.
Though there are hardliners in Pakistan who regard Western cultural influences as an assault on traditional values, Perwani says European fashions are becoming more accepted.
“With fashion comes tolerance.”