Some much needed fashion optimism a la Kamiar Rokni

By Maliha Rehman

On a chilly Lahore night, on a terrace bordered with brooding, lush amaldas trees, benches were laid out to create a winding catwalk. It was a weeknight but here, in a home deep within the crevices of a residential area, some of the city’s most-coiffured were all set to make merry.

They cheered, even when there was a delay of several hours and they habitually braved the cold, making do with a shawl, slung sideways on a shoulder or a jacket that was more chic than warm. Audiences at fashion shows in Lahore do revel in making winter fashion statements. Eventually, a cocktail of exuberant music began playing out and the show began.

And I thought to myself that Pakistani fashion had so desperately needed a dose of Kamiar Rokni.

Glittery palm fronds on hot pink a la Kami!

There were bursts of color and pattern, haute little off-shoulders, dragons flaring fiery tongues on canvases of white and silver, eccentric florals meshed together, palm trees with wide, glittering fronds and a little path, weaving through it all, reminiscent of the designer’s two decades long journey in fashion. It was beautiful but with an insouciant edge, a tongue-in-cheek take on glamor. It shook you out of the ennui of ubiquitous lehngas and ghararas, singing out loud that this, this, this was what Pakistani fashion could also be.

My favorite design from the collection; the color, the embellishments, the avant-garde take on the lehnga and Eman Suleman’s hair!

Staying true to its name, ‘The Optimist’, the 34 piece strong collection inspired a sliver of optimism, which had long fallen dormant, stifled by the blingy, mundane design that has lately flooded Pakistani catwalks. Kami, sprightly and grinning from ear to ear, brought back hope with a range that was so quintessentially him; high on color, craft, art and technique, catering to a select crowd consisting of family, friends and media, eschewing the strange oglers and sponsors that inevitably bring down the razzmatazz of a fashion event.

“I journeyed through my own archives, taking inspiration from my work over the ages and reinventing them for this collection,” the designer had told me.

Sure enough, many of the designers were reminiscent of the House of Kamiar Rokni’s hits over the years. Semblances from some of my favorite Kamiar Rokni collections were visible: dragons and cherry blossoms from the fantastic ‘The Orientalist’ and black, set off by bright bursts of color, from the extraordinary ‘Alchemy’ and black with star-dust reminiscent of ‘Moonrise’. A rilli pattern was a throwback to the pret ‘Neo Folk’ line, the eye-popping lime yellows and whites, worked with multi-colors were takeaways from ‘Golestan’ and a classic gharara in yellow and turquoise reminded me of Kami’s days as part of the ‘Karma’ brand so long, long ago. Little silken bows added quirky, anglicized touches here and there.

Classic Kami – throwbacks to two decades of design

There was so much to love: a figure-hugging salmon pink gown cut out at the waist starting off the show, a white sari twinkling with sequins with a multicolored chata-pati border and a dragon curling at the pallu, a hot pink column shirt set off by brilliant embroideries, a long off-shoulder gown worn by Noor Bhatti, Eman Suleman in a flared off-white lehnga paired with a cape, black flared pants embellished with multicolors and set off by a diaphanous black and gold top with flared, layered sleeves. It was eye-opening for a market that has argued itself hoarse that wedding-wear needs to be conventionally beautiful. Under Kamiar Rokni’s paintbrush, even the blingy diaspora of wedding-wear was replete with creative possibilities.

There were interesting design elements to be spotted even the more commercially viable pieces; embroideries set in interesting patterns, unique color ways, a bow here, some beading there.

Conventional, viable Kamiar Rokni … but not really conventional at all. How refreshing!

I did not understand, however, why the designer decided to intersperse a few gowns splat in between the collection. They seemed disjointed in a lineup replete with color and embellishment and I did not particularly like the design in yellow and the one in blue, worn by Nimra Jacob. Amna Babar, on the other hand, looked extremely glamorous in an off-shoulder deep blue gown and yet, even she looked out of place.

I was not a fan of the gowns – except for the deep blue exquisite number worn by Amna Babar. I do think that the gowns would have been placed better within the audience

Perhaps the gowns were the designer’s way of adding diversification to the collection and he tells me that there are now pre-wedding and post-wedding parties where gowns are the need of the hour. However, perhaps these particular designs could have been set aside for the red carpet, worn by models who could have roamed within the audience.

Also, the choreography occasionally went amiss where models did not walk down one particular part of the catwalk. For the aficionado, it was like missing out on a treat – there was so much beauty within the show that you truly did want to see it up close, sweeping right past you, on the catwalk.

I did think that the show would have fared well had a smattering of completely new designs been featured along with those inspired by past collections. Kamiar Rokni’s aesthetics are stellar and he couldn’t have possibly gone wrong with a collection dedicated to the best of his designs. However, a few designs that were entirely new could have brought out a startling, memorable brilliance to the catwalk.

There was still plenty of brilliance on the catwalk. How it dazzled. The silhouettes particularly caught my eye – who else but Kami pairs a lehnga with a cape or has the refined eye for showcasing a simple white sari sparkling with sequins, that a girl could simply slip into and exude laidback glamor?

No one but Kami … glamorous, laidback, easy breezy!

Kamiar Rokni may not show as frequently as I wish he did but when he does, he brings out so much hope and beauty. At a time when fashion weeks are waning away and design is often pronounced dead, Kami makes me an ‘Optimist’.


The talented Mr Rokni – take a bow – and please do show more often!


Photography: Faisal Farooqui @ Dragonfly

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Some much needed fashion optimism a la Kamiar Rokni