In a print advertising campaign featured in a local Pakistani glossy magazine, Diva, a svelte model dressed in the designer’s clothes is featured posing with a young, darkly-tanned boy. The shoot, titled “Be My Slave” depicts the ethnically dressed child holding an umbrella over the model’s head as she sits on a chair, sleeping at her feet as the model reads a magazine, among other subservient scenarios – all shot in a dark, empty room. The shoot has created a stir online and has been labeled racist and downright offensive.
Interestingly, the designer told The Express Tribune that she wanted to initiate dialogue and debate on the issue of child labor in Pakistan. Even if this was the case, Aqeel’s strange, sadistic shoot stands as a glamorized, almost sexualized depiction of an incredibly sensitive and distressing issue in the country.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Also, if the designer really was sincere in her desire to bring to light a social issue via fashion, perhaps she could have, for example, initiated a campaign whereby she designed and donated clothes to underprivileged children in Pakistan. Perhaps a fashion “campaign” like that would have been able to deliver the message in a far more sensitive, productive and proactive manner. But to reinstate the cruelty of child labor via a print campaign advertising Aqeel’s latest line, only serves to romanticize the social issue in a nightmarish, apathetic manner.
In a similar case last year, the Pakistani fashion duo, Sana Hashwani and Safinaz Muneer – who go by the brand name, Sana Safinaz – were criticized for one of their fashion shoots that portrayed a local model amidst porters and her Louis Vuitton luggage at a railway station in Karachi. The argument that the critics of the Sana Safinaz shoot were being too self-righteous in their judgment of the well-known fashion powerhouse is invalid.
In any guise, fashion featuring the poor and underprivileged is distasteful and exploitative. Further, these types of fashion campaigns only tend to reinforce the class divide in Pakistan. The procedure is well-known: doll up a social issue, package it with a pretty model – makeup, lighting – and use Photoshop to turn it into a glamorized spread. This practice reveals a severe indifference to social issues, and emphasizes the stark divide between the haves and have-nots.
But fashion and controversy isn’t limited to Pakistan. This year, Flaunt Magazine recently came under fire for its Guantanamo-themed party set to take place at the Coachella Music Festival. In collaboration with a nightclub, Le Baron (where the party was to be hosted), the “New Guantanamo” party was advertised as a “pop up experience” of “pleasurable torture” .
Raunchy party invites featured models (one topless) on a beach with guns in the forefront, and blindfolded men and women on their knees in the background. Given the backlash against its bizarre, repulsive and completely insensitive theme, the magazine backtracked and swiftly changed its theme to a “pop-up experience of peace & love” .
Most wouldn’t expect fashion designers (and the fashion industry as a whole) to warp into preachy, self-righteous do-gooders. However, it seems reasonable to expect fashionistas to treat fashion as fashion – as a pure art form, that can be edgy and sexy – minus racist undertones and insensitivity to pertinent issues.
Sonya Rehman is a journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan. She can be reached at: [email protected].