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Hip Pakistan snubs Taliban at glamorous fashion week

world Updated: Nov 06, 2009 17:34 IST

AFP
Highlight Story

Bare shoulders, backless gowns and pouting models are wowing Pakistan's glitterati as Karachi fashion week shows the world a different side of the Taliban-troubled nation.

While women in much of Muslim, conservative Pakistan opt for headscarves over baggy shalwar khamis or even burqas, on the catwalks of financial capital Karachi, designers are exposing midriffs and flashing cleavage.

Fashion week runs until Saturday, taking place three weeks late because of security jitters and as a mark of respect for more than 300 people who perished in a string of attacks blamed on Islamist militants last month.

Fashionistas in Karachi, however, shrug off security fears in the southern city of 14 million people, known for its glitzy malls and thriving cafe culture a two-hour flight away from militant hubs in the northwest.

"We, the members of Fashion Pakistan, feel great to be hosting this colourful event at difficult times in our history, when the entire nation is waging a battle against militancy," she said.

The eight local designers who opened the event experimented with twists on traditional Pakistani dress and western styles.

Intricate and colourful fabrics lit up the catwalk, while a towering black feather hat, off-the-shoulder dresses and halterneck gowns graced the frames of sultry models strutting in high heels past an awed audience.

"My design philosophy is as diverse as my collection, (which) shows a mix of eastern and western inspirations," said upcoming young designer Fahad Hussain, known for edgy accessorizing and striking silhouettes.

"My clothes are traditional and modern, and also focused on simple cuts. There is something for everybody."

Like designers across the world, Samar Mehdi -- who earned a degree in fashion and accessory design from Britain's Bristol University -- said she was striving to produce wearable and flattering creations for the modern woman.

"My design philosophy is to create for a client who wants to celebrate her womanhood and femininity, yet project her independence and attitude," she said.

"My muse is that quintessential modern woman who's self aware and knows what she wants. She's ambitious and driven but isn't afraid to flaunt her softer side in fear of contradicting that image. In fact, she embraces it."

Pakistani women wear varying degrees of Islamic dress with many covering their hair with a headscarf, although in Karachi jeans and a T-shirt are more likely to be seen on the streets than the ultra-conservative burqa.

Nadia Hussain, one of the nation's top models, said she was not opposed to some censorship of overly raunchy outfits in Pakistan, but said creativity needed to shine through.

"Censorship is not bad, it keeps our values and culture intact, but a little more space will really help our industry," said the model, who has a degree in dentistry.

"Despite all sorts of hurdles and difficulties our country faces, our designers are far more creative and our models are prettier than those of many other nations," she boasted.

Fashion week will showcase 32 local designers over the four-day event, with security fears keeping foreign models and designers away.

Pakistan is locked in an offensive against Taliban militants holed up in the northwest tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, which US officials call the most dangerous region in the world and the leadership base for Al-Qaeda.

Islamist extremism has plagued Pakistan for years, with the latest surge in violence blamed on militants avenging the fierce army offensives and the killing in a US drone attack of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.