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Last night, Sam, Mac and I went to Vice Magazine‘s admittedly badass office in Williamsburg for the premiere of their new series on Vice.com, Fashion Week Internationale. Devoted to the world of fashion not constricted to the runways of New York, London, Milan and Paris, each episode of FWI explores fashion weeks from a unique perspective; from countries in political and economic unrest to shows centered around unconventional themes. To wit, the first two installments of the series covers Islamabad’s second ever fashion week and New York’s Full Figured Fashion Week.
Pakistan, a country known more for extremist violence than for extreme couture, possesses a thriving fashion community of dedicated individuals working for something in which they truly believe. Pakistani designers won’t see their clothes in Bergdorf’s or Barney’s anytime soon, let alone on their country’s own women, many of whom still don traditional burqas from head to toe. Despite this passion, it’s hard for Islamabad Fashion Week to shake the stigma of fear and religious conservatism — after all, the fashion shows were staged in a former bomb shelter.
Even for Charlet Duboc, the lovely and statuesque hostess of Fashion Week Internationale, going to the Middle East was a challenge for which she wasn’t sure she was prepared. “I consider myself a fairly worldly person but it made me start thinking: fashion week in Islamabad. What do I know about Pakistan? Militant…a fucking load of shit going down. Nothing good! Fashion? No way, everyone covers up. But there was a story that really needed to be told.” Charlet then went about educating herself but along the way she had to deal with her family, who actually staged an intervention to keep her from going. But as soon as she arrived in Islamabad, she didn’t want to leave.
Greeted by “wonderful, warm” people, Charlet was struck by the youth of the country and their dedication to fashion, particularly the women, who were volunteering backstage and sitting front row. “I couldn’t quite believe it. How does that work? How can you look at that and admire it and yet know you can’t wear it? But they were there, they were appreciating it and it didn’t feel like there was a divide. Like, ‘You do your thing, I do my thing’ and everyone got along.”
Islamabad Fashion Week ultimately proved to be a learning experience for Charlet: “Pakistan is strictly not what we see on the news. There’s shit going on [but] they’re wonderful people, it’s a beautiful country…They have a budding textile industry, even though the economy is up the creek without a paddle. It’s still massively divided, but the people are some of the warmest, most open people and I’ve remained friends with them. I have friends that come visit me in London and I’m going to go back there.”
Throughout the documentary, the thing that intrigued me most was the gay culture in Pakistan, if one even existed. After all, and speaking from experience, fashion is a queen’s industry. “The few guys I spoke to, and that I recognized as gay, when I asked them ‘How is it being gay here?’, they were like, ‘You know, there’s opposition but we get by. We have our own network, we just cope with it. Not a big deal.’ Some of the models weren’t so forthcoming about it. I got the impression that a lot of the men working behind the scenes, like the stylists…they were gay and that their wives quite clearly were like beards.” These men that Charlet came into contact with were very rich, however, and she noted that being gay and poor was probably “not as forgiving.” But then again, where is it?
New York’s first Full Figured Fashion Week was more of a celebration of women than of the clothes themselves. Whereas in the mainstream shows, the clothes often end up wearing the models, at FFFW, the models most definitely wear the clothes. And the celebratory air of the show was contagious, causing Charlet to enthuse that it was one of the best fashion weeks she’s ever been to. And the after party, making no qualms about it, was the best fashion party she’s ever been to. “They were fucking wilding out! You go to fashion week and everyone’s going to faint, no one’s had anything to eat. They were just the most warm-hearted and open [people].”
But like Islamabad, Charlet, being tall and thin (hard life, I know) was a bit wary about infiltrating the world of plus-sized fashion. But turns out she had nothing to worry about. “They were so accepting of me. They were happy to make jokes about it. And when I spoke to them off camera they were like, ‘We were bullied at school. It’s not like I was born being confident about my body.’ That’s what’s inspiring. At the time, I felt like if I woke up tomorrow and I was a size 22, these women are here. There’s a support network. It’s not the end of the world.”
After Islamabad and Full Figured Fashion Week, we saw a preview of the third episode, taking place in Medellin, Columbia, renowned for being Pablo Escobar’s old stomping grounds and thus high on its reputation as a cocaine capital. To shake that stigma, the government stages its own fashion week, Colombiamoda. But downtown is the “real” fashion week, Colombia Para el Mondo, put on by the people and purportedly funded by drug money. Aside from a different clothing aesthetic, the models in Colombiamodo represent a European ideal whereas girls in Para el Modo are curvy and cosmetically-enhanced. Plastic surgery is so prevalent, in fact, that 70 percent of Colombian women have had plastic surgery, starting as young as 16 or 17. To better understand the phenomena, Charlet actually sat through a butt implant procedure — an experience that left her feeling much better about her own assets.
Further installments of Fashion Week Internationale are planned, with Las Vegas International Lingerie Week, followed by Russian Disabled Fashion Week and then Charlet and co. are off to Lagos, Nigeria. But to catch the completely enthralling first episode on Islamabad, log onto Vice.com next week.