Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari

Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari
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Banarsi saris sold at Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony in Khairpur, Sindh. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari
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Zafar Abbas Ansari holds up sari fabric at his shop in Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony in Khairpur, Sindh. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
A boy walks past Banarsi Sari Market in Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony in Khairpur, Sindh. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Updated 15 May 2021

Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari

Woven together, the rise and fall of southern Pakistan’s Banarsi sari
  • Banarsi silk was a luxurious hand-woven fabric once made in the city of Khairpur, in Sindh
  • No official data exists on the history of the industry and the stories are told by the weavers themselves

SINDH: At the Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Colony in the city of Khairpur, in Sindh, 47-year-old merchant Zafar Abbas Ansari was waiting, hoping for a few additional orders of silk Banarsi saris as Eid Al-Fitr approached.
The sari is a garment native to South Asia, where a long piece of cloth is wrapped elaborately around the body — usually in cotton or silk — and worn with a matching blouse.
Although the city does not make Banarsi any longer — it is now made in Karachi, more than 400 km away — customers still come to the city to purchase the fabric.
Inside the deserted 70-year-old market — once a bustling place — Zafar’s shop is among the last three Banarsi shops left. His family is one of the 40 weaver families who brought the industry to Khairpur when they migrated from India in 1952.
“It is almost two decades since Khairpur stopped producing Banarsi saris after the industry’s collapse. However, even today, the brand is popular among customers. They keep demanding Khairpur’s brand,” Zafar told Arab News.
In its heyday, Khairpur’s Banarsi sari was synonymous with luxury, with vendors supplying the fabric not only locally but also exporting to Pakistani families living in the UK and other European countries.
Inside Zafar’s shop, unstitched pieces of colorful saris — the blouse, the petticoat and main sari fabric — are displayed. The shop shows off different varieties of saris, including the traditional katan — a plain woven fabric with pure silk threads — chiffon, as well as synthetic fabrics.
“Banarsi sari has distinction and standing,” Zafar said proudly. “It is worn by royal families because of its grace and elegance. In some families it is an essential part of the bridal trousseau.”


The price of a sari depends upon its type. The most expensive sari fabric available in the Khairpur market currently is worth Rs45,000 ($300) a piece
Khairpur’s Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Colony is named after the city of Banaras in India (now Varanasi) because of the silk weavers who migrated from there.
There are no official records, and the story of the garment comes from the weavers themselves. They say the history of the Banaras sari industry in Khairpur is linked with Ghulam Saddiquah Begum — the wife of Khairpur state’s then ruler, Mir Ali Murad Khan Talpur of the Talpur dynasty.
Saddiquah Begum herself came from Bahawalpur state, and in 1949, the weavers said, during a visit to India’s Hyderabad Deccan, she offered Mohammed Yusuf Ansari — a sari trader from Banaras — the chance to start manufacturing in Khairpur.
She is said to have offered her state’s support for the establishment of the manufacturing units required.
In 1952, about 40 families of the Ansari clan migrated from Banaras to Khairpur and sari manufacturing began on handlooms. Later, the saris were exported to other countries.
Arab News could not independently verify this information.
According to Anjum Sajjad Ansari, grandson of Muhammad Yusuf Ansari and a representative of the Banarsi Silk Weavers’ Association Khairpur, at its peak there were 400 handlooms in Khairpur. Today, not a single handloom remains.
“At Khairpur’s Banarsi Silk Weavers Colony today there are 16 houses of traditional weavers. However only three are involved in this business of selling Karachi-made fabric,” Anjum said.
Like elsewhere, the Banarsi brand was associated with pure silk thread work. Initially, Khairpur used silk imported from China, but later the silk came from Punjab’s Changa Manga as Pakistan developed hatching silkworms and silk fiber producing factories.
The whole family engaged in the manufacturing process, including silk weaving, dyeing, warping, and reeling. It took between two to three days’ work to complete a single sari.
The silk weaving industry was thriving into the 1960s.
“In 1965, Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan visited and gave incentives and subsidies that boosted the industry,” said Anjum.
“However, in the later years successive governments paid little heed to this industry, and manufacturing units were shifted to Karachi by 2000,” he said.
For Anjum, there is still a chance to revive the past glory of Khairpur.
“We have given proposals to the government at different forums. But nothing has been done yet. The Banarsi sari has become a trademark for Khairpur,” he said.
“Khairpur’s distinction was to produce only handmade silk fabric, unlike other areas where machines are involved. If the government is sincere, factories could be re-established and skilled laborers could be recalled once more from Karachi.”


Morocco’s Casablanca to stage physical show at Paris Fashion Week 

Morocco’s Casablanca to stage physical show at Paris Fashion Week 
Updated 15 June 2021

Morocco’s Casablanca to stage physical show at Paris Fashion Week 

Morocco’s Casablanca to stage physical show at Paris Fashion Week 

DUBAI: Moroccan-helmed label Casablanca is among six other fashion houses set to present a physical show during Paris Men’s Fashion Week, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode – which organizes Paris Fashion Weeks – announced on Monday.

After two seasons of digital presentations, the hybrid event will return with a selected number of brands showcasing their Spring 2022 collections in person and others presenting digitally from June 22-27.

Casablanca was founded by Charaf Tajer. The menswear, Paris-based label is known for its ultra-wearable clothing made out of luxe silks and cashmeres that is inspired by Tajer’s Moroccan roots. 

His debut runway during Paris Men’s Fashion Week in 2018 was a love letter to his parents who met while working side by side in a clothing atelier in the fashion district of Casablanca.

Besides Casablanca, Dior, Hermès, Bluemarable, LGN Louis-Gabriel Nouchi and Officine Générale are also listed to present physical shows. 

Digital presentations will feature runways for Louis Vuitton, Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, Loewe, Dunhill, and more. 

Just last week, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode announced that Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad will present his Autumn/ Winter 2021 couture collection in person at Paris Fashion Week, among seven other renowned labels including Dior, Azzaro Couture, Chanel, Giorgio Armani Privé, Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier and Vaishali S. 

A limited number of guests will be allowed to attend the physical shows to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Gigi Hadid: ‘I’m sometimes made to feel too white to stand up for my Arab heritage’

Gigi Hadid: ‘I’m sometimes made to feel too white to stand up for my Arab heritage’
The model recently sat down with i-D magazine. Instagram
Updated 15 June 2021

Gigi Hadid: ‘I’m sometimes made to feel too white to stand up for my Arab heritage’

Gigi Hadid: ‘I’m sometimes made to feel too white to stand up for my Arab heritage’

DUBAI: Part-Palestinian model Gigi Hadid recently opened up about a host of personal topics in an interview with i-D magazine, shedding light on her experience of giving birth during the COVID-19 pandemic, feeling “weird” during her pregnancy during fashion month, her multi-cultural roots and how she intends to help her daughter embrace her different heritages, something, she reveals,  she  previously faced difficulty standing up for when it comes to her Arab roots.

Hadid and Zayn Malik, father of her nine-month-old daughter Khai, are both from mixed race households.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)

The 26-year-old model was born to Dutch supermodel and “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Yolanda Hadid and Palestinian property mogul Mohamed Hadid. Meanwhile, the former One Direction singer’s father is British-Pakistani, while his mother is English and Irish.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)

The parents of Khai revealed that their multicultural roots are something they talk about a lot as partners as it’s “something that we first experienced ourselves because both of our parents are their own heritage.”

Hadid went on to note that she sometimes felt that she was “too white” to stand up for her Arab heritage.

“In certain situations, I feel — or I’m made to feel — that I’m too white to stand up for part of my Arab heritage. You go through life trying to figure out where you fit in racially. Is what I am, or what I have, enough to do what I feel is right? But then, also, is that taking advantage of the privilege of having the whiteness within me, right? Am I allowed to speak for this side of me, or is that speaking on something that I don’t experience enough to know? Do you know what I’m saying?” she said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)


She added that she thinks it will “be nice" to have such conversations with Khai someday, "and see where she comes from… without us putting that onto her.

"What comes from her is what I'm most excited about," she added, "and being able to add to that or answer her questions."

 


London Fashion Week: Reem Juan’s latest offering pays homage to Egypt-born music icon Dalida

London Fashion Week: Reem Juan’s latest offering pays homage to Egypt-born music icon Dalida
Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied
Updated 14 June 2021

London Fashion Week: Reem Juan’s latest offering pays homage to Egypt-born music icon Dalida

London Fashion Week: Reem Juan’s latest offering pays homage to Egypt-born music icon Dalida

DUBAI: London Fashion Week is hoping to be back on track with the usual line-up of physical shows come September, but until then LFW’s “digital first” approach continued with another selection of online presentations from the capital’s designers alongside a handful of in-person events that took place from June 12-14. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Reem Juan (@reemjuan)

Held over three days, the latest edition saw 32 womenswear, menswear and accessories brands showcasing their collections on the LFW digital platform, including regional label Reem Juan. 

The Abu Dhabi-born womenswear designer presented her eponymous brand’s Fall 2021 collection via a four-minute fashion film as part of the fashion event. 

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

Inspired by the late Egyptian-born French icon Dalida, Juan decided to embrace femininity by churning out an ultra-romantic collection that included sparkling miniskirts embellished with tiny beads and worn with jumpers embroidered with famous Dalida lyrics such as “En chantant jusqu'au bout” and “C'était le temps des fleurs on ignorait la peur.”

Flower motifs appeared throughout, whether in the form of beaded appliques on tops or as prints on chiffon dresses and jacquard pant suits and skirts.

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

Black turtlenecks got an ultra-feminine touch by way of lace collars while sharply-tailored blazers looked all the more elegant when paired with pussy bow blouses.

1970’s influence seeped into the offering in the form of thick belts cinched around the waist and denim wide-legged jumpsuits.

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

If you’re in the market for a pretty frock, Juan’s latest collection provides plenty to choose from. The offering concluded with a lineup of elegant eveningwear that consisted of heavily-sequined, plunging gowns, tulle dresses with voluminous sleeves, beaded taffeta skirts worn with a matching bralet tops and embellished crepe kaftans in salmon, peach, lemon and mint hues.

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

By using technology, minimal production waste and sourcing local hand craftsmanship to create her garments, Juan’s collection is as chic as it is sustainable. For instance, the designer utilized recycled taffeta to create one eye-catching yellow shirt dress with open eyelet details.

Reem Juan Fall 2021 ready-to-wear collection. Supplied

Indeed, the designer’s efforts will resonate with the luxury consumer who values ethical clothing.


Arab stars Salma Abu Deif, Dima Al-Sheikhly pose for Valentino 

Arab stars Salma Abu Deif, Dima Al-Sheikhly pose for Valentino 
Updated 14 June 2021

Arab stars Salma Abu Deif, Dima Al-Sheikhly pose for Valentino 

Arab stars Salma Abu Deif, Dima Al-Sheikhly pose for Valentino 

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Salma Abu Deif and Iraqi model Dima Al-Sheikhly collaborated with Italian luxury fashion house Valentino to promote the brand’s latest launch, a new bag called “Rockstud Alcove.” 

On Monday, the Italian label shared pictures with its 14.8 million Instagram followers of Abu Deif and Al-Sheikhly flaunting the bag with bold studs and golden locks. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Valentino (@maisonvalentino)

Starring alongside the models are US singer and TikTok star Dixie D’Amelio and German blogger Leonie Hanne. 

The bag comes in two colors, red and black, and two sizes, medium and mini. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Valentino (@maisonvalentino)

Since its launch in May, Valentino’s Rockstud Alcove has also been championed by US superstar Angelina Jolie, Lebanese actress Daniella Rahme, Jordanian-Romanian designer Amina Muaddi, Dubai-based fashion blogger Ola Farahat and many more. 

US actress Zendaya starred in the campaign for Valentino’s Fall 2021 Roman Palazzo collection, which featured the Rockstud Alcove bag. 


How Arab menswear designers have made their mark

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark
Anamolous was founded by Lebanese designer Rabih Rowell. Instagram/@anomalous.monism
Updated 14 June 2021

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark

How Arab menswear designers have made their mark
  • While menswear designers once seemed a rare breed in the Middle East, today the region’s talent is not only surviving but thriving

DUBAI: The question usually arrived in stages, often introducing itself by way of physical cues. The furrowed brow, a pause for thought, maybe a tilt of the head – for variety’s sake – and then: “So, just where are all the Middle East’s menswear designers?”

For many years, it seemed a valid point.

Scan any red carpet during an awards season and a female megastar dressed by an Arab designer is likely to be there. Beyonce wearing Zuhair Murad, Cardi B in Ashi Studio, Kendall Jenner in Elie Saab; womenswear designers in the region have been much sought after for decades.

2D2C2M is a Saudi co-ed streetwear label helmed by Ahmed Al-Wohaibi. Instagram/@2d2c2m

By and large, the answer to all of this was a numbers game. Women bought more, they wore more, and had more diverse tastes. Men would often wear the same work shirt for years and think nothing of it. So, more demand and more opportunities to be creative meant more womenswear designers.

But perhaps it was also a cultural question.

Keanoush Zargham, GQ Middle East’s style editor, said: “I think the debate around the lack of menswear designers wasn’t just restricted to our region.

“For years luxury menswear shows, globally, were mixed with womenswear because the men’s market was always so small. However, in the Arab world the issue ran a little deeper, with something of a stigma attached to the notion of a man designing fashion for a living. Thankfully, perspectives are changing.”

Founded by Moroccan-French Charaf Tajer, Casablanca is one of the buzziest brands at the moment. Instagram/@casablancabrand

Fashion is changing, culture is changing, so should the question be changing too? Never mind the lack of menswear designers, due to a global shift toward genderless collections, maybe soon menswear will become a thing of the past – just clothes made for us all to wear and enjoy.

Looking back, as the noughties came to an end, Saudi Arabia had a small, but burgeoning scene. There was the legendary Yahya Al-Bishri designing for royalty, and Hatem Alakeel doing all kinds of amazing things with thobes, but other than that there was little conversation.

“My work in menswear started from a personal requirement. I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the market, so I decided to design it myself,” said Alakeel, who has just launched Authenticite, a Saudi-centric agency forging collaboration opportunities for up-and-coming authentic creatives in the region.

Hatem Alakeel is known for fusing international styles. Supplied

“But fashion remains a female-dominated ecosystem, especially in Saudi,” he added.

While it may be slow going in some Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets, the scales are undoubtedly tipping, and men have gradually become more adventurous in how they dress. Combine that with streetwear hype gripping a generation and the numbers have acted accordingly. Figures from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce show that menswear dominated the UAE apparel sector in 2018, amounting to $12.3 billion in sales.

As a further signal of shifting sands in the Middle East, this year has witnessed an industry milestone with the first ever Arab Fashion Week – Men’s (AFWM).

Zar Douz at the inaugural Arab Fashion Week Men’s. Supplied

A three-day showcase in January, AFWM highlighted the extent of menswear talent in the region, from classic to avant-garde to streetwear, all produced under coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic conditions and presented as a digital project. Organized by the Arab Fashion Council, its chief strategy officer, Mohammed Aqra, said it was a clear sign of an exciting market.

“For quite some time the MENA region wasn’t ready to accept an adventurous wardrobe for men. At the same time, consumer behavior in the region was very much driven by international brands.

“This recently has started to change thanks to an ever-growing fashion scene that has allowed the culture to be more accepting and resulted in a growing demand for unique menswear,” he added.

He noted Proud Angels, El-Salam, and Anomalous as examples of fledgling local brands to watch out for.

Anomalous is a brand to look out for. Instagram/@anomalous.monism

Perhaps more indicative of menswear’s rude health has been the decision by some womenswear designers to migrate their work to men. In 2016, the Lebanese fashion designer Nour Hage did exactly that, launching her Zero One collection. The idea was to take traditional Middle Eastern garb and make it feel contemporary and relevant.

Her move received some vindication two years later, when the Emmy-winning actor Riz Ahmed wore items from her collection in a shoot for British GQ.

Riz Ahmed wearing Zero One in British GQ. Instagram/@nourhage_

Aqra said: “The prognosis (for menswear) is very positive. Since the launch of the first AFWM, many Arab womenswear designers have also started to create menswear, or genderless, lines too. Brands such as Mrs Keepa, Amato Couture, and Michael Cinco in the UAE, and Kojak Studio in Egypt.”

It is true that there are an ever-increasing number of Middle Eastern brands creating genderless collections.

Zargham said: “Personally, I really love the Moroccan brand, Casablanca. It has an eccentric, softer interpretation of masculinity which can really work on both men and women.”

Casablanca has an eccentric, softer interpretation of masculinity which can really work on both men and women. Instagram/@casablancabrand

Then there are brands such as the Saudi-based 2D2C2M and the stylings of Palestinian label Trashy Clothing.

Trashy’s co-founder and co-creative director, Shukri Lawrence, said: “We believe whoever feels comfortable wearing any piece from our collection should have the freedom to choose.”

When it comes to what men wear on the red carpet, the lines of what is expected are already starting to blur, whether it be Michael B. Jordan in a Louis Vuitton harness at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, or Billy Porter decked out in a custom-made white suit – including train – by Ashi Studio for the Emmys.

The Saudi-based brand believes clothing has no gender. Instagram/@2d2c2m

“We’ve entered a new era in fashion where men are experimenting. Both men and women shouldn’t be restricted to wearing specific pieces. We believe clothing has no gender,” Lawrence added.

Gendered collections aside, there is another shift that feels prevalent right now in menswear and beyond: A desire to bring attention to the region and shine a light, not just on talent, but also the issues of its people.

While brands such as the Iraqi/Moroccan COR-Project highlight socio-political problems via a military aesthetic, Lebanese brand Emergency Room has been built around sustainable style and a fair industry ethos. For Trashy Clothing, somebody wearing its products is about existence itself.

Palestinian label Trashy Clothing was founded by Shukri Lawerence. Instagram/@trashyclothing

“As a Palestinian brand, having a celebrity wear our label means solidarity and awareness to our cause. Bringing the name of Palestine to the mainstream is important since our identity is under constant threat of erasure,” Lawrence said.

So, that age-old question about Arab menswear does not really seem to exist anymore. No more furrowed brows or considered pauses. The style question has become a fashion statement.

Menswear, womenswear, genderless collections. In 2021, it no longer really matters. The work by an array of Middle Eastern talent is speaking for itself.