Ammar Belal – The Fashionista Storyteller
“A lot of my recent work has taken into account- what privilege am I speaking from about my Pakistan through the language of fashion.”
From being the best menswear fashion designer at Lux Style Awards 2013, to one of the 11 Parson’s graduates from the MFA Design and Society Program, 2014 selected to show at New York Fashion Week, Ammar Belal is an eponymous name in Pakistani fashion industry.
He started his career in 2002 by launching a Bespoke Denim label, which deciphered traditional couture techniques into street-wear. Another 5 years saw him evolve into Pakistan’s first luxury Menswear label and expand to 5 retail outlets in various cities. By 2012, Ammar Belal had won National design awards for “Best Emerging Talent”, “Best Original Song” and “Best Menswear” after consistently showing his collections in over 20 fashion shows in Pakistan and the U.K. Currently, he teaches at the Parsons School of Design.
Being the first individual from South Asia/Middle East region to be offered a placement in the Parsons MFA (Fashion Design & Society) Program, translated into new challenges and opportunities towards a global identity in design.
“When I was in Pakistan, fashion was a vehicle for me to escape and pro-create, inspired from other cultures, but today I feel more responsible in engaging with critique and handling responsibility in fashion. I engage with an open heart than before and I introspect over what a particular piece of clothing is trying to communicate and why?”
He tries to understand and redefine the cultural identity and the hijacking of it. In his perspective, just like all National Identities, Pakistani identity is not one dimensional and has been hijacked to be one dimensional because it is never a part of constructive conversations. Ammar believes that recently he has translated his identity to the kind of clothing he designs.
“A lot of my recent work has taken into account- what privilege am I speaking from about my Pakistan through the language of fashion. Fashion is one mode of expression of formulating the narrative and answering questions about morality.”
Ammar’s thesis from Parsons – 1432 that touched on his work with activists, journalists and lawyers, focused on elaborating on the narratives that were not gaining any attraction here in the United States. 1432 has now evolved into a comet which talks about looking at the world around us not in a linear sequence but something that inspires us to dissect sequences, patterns and conventions- in that looking at the world with a 1423 approach rather than 1234 approach.
Ammar consolidates Entrepreneurship, Fashion and Journalism on a single platform.
“When I refer to fashion, I refer to my experience of the craft and designing garments to convey my message. Journalism in the sense that I am interested in stories outside the realm of clothing. Entrepreneurship in the sense of re-evaluating and challenging the hierarchal systems of production and consumerism.”
Ammar’s approach to fashion is not just about comfort and aesthetics, but touches the story of how and why that product was developed, what it signifies, how its manufactured to how its consumed. His community based business model system caters to having a seat on the table where stories are communicated through the language of fashion and where the source of production of that product is also part of the conversation of identity and traditional hierarchy of manufacturing systems.
Ammar’s trans-disciplinary approach is not just limited to the consumers in US and Pakistan but extends to creating opportunities for Grad students in Pakistan to explore design systems and conceptualize traditional concepts to ask ‘why?’. In his workshops at PIFD, he initiates discussions for critical and constructive conversations. in his two-week long workshops that culminate portfolios, he tries to prepare students for higher studies in fashion and design, and creating representation space for Pakistani designers in a market that is almost non-existent.
“I like embodying our craft in contemporary times. I work with designs from Pakistan and I do not try to imitate it into something which does not represent its Eastern identity.”
Ammar’s multicultural articulation of design is put to use in an intelligent way whereby he mediates Pakistani identity by expressing it in a global language.
In the future he extends on 1432 in developing a product that speaks to his identity. He has aimed at re-approaching ‘the Khussa’ which as a craft has great history in South Asia but is a technique which is dying. The hybrid khussa that he calls ‘the Jooti’ is something which could be comfortably worn in the streets of New York, as well as employs a crafting technique which is going extinct.
Ammar aims at building connections between Designers in US and Pakistan by bringing them together on a united platform and to let young Pakistani students, access opportunities the which were provided to him. Recently Ammar has been trying to link Sophomore Fashion and Design students to the council in The New School to create relevant support systems. He aims at bringing business back to Pakistan and create fashion for social issues where clothes are turned into canvases for an unspoken narrative.
Interview & Written by Anum Nawaz