LAHORE: “It’s dreamy, nostalgic and just simply fantastic,” sighed stylist Asma Mumtaz wistfully as she tried to poke the train of bubbles around her like a little girl at a carnival. There is no better way to describe L’Oreal’s ‘Summer Fantasy’ which was an afternoon seeped in magical realism. Hosted at a private farm at the edge of Lahore, the event was, as L’Oreal Chairperson Musharraf Hai rightfully put it, “imagination at play”. One could have dreamt the whole experience nibbling on smoked salmon and sipping cocktails as beautiful nymphs dressed and adorned before one’s very eyes, and the Balochi folk artist Akhtar Channar delivered a stellar live performance.
The setting was a beautiful garden, bathed in lilac and powder pink which held influences of Eden in bloom, replete with mythical horses (dyed pink) and a centre stage that could have been lifted from a young girl’s story book complete with ornate dressing tables, ribbons, flowers and bubbles. It was as if one has slipped down into Alice’s Wonderland sans the Mad Hatter, as the bubbles enveloped guests with a slant sun beam striking down and one was lost in the gorgeous facade of beauty and imagination.
With the sun bleaching the pristine surroundings and French music in the eye, you could have been forgiven for thinking you were ensconced at some quaint Parisian establishment. And that was the whole idea really: to give a taste of France in spring and merge it with the bloom in Lahore. “It’s a unique east-meets-west of what the French would do and Lahore should do for spring,” said Nabila, the creative genius behind the event. With Emu’s unique musical composition of a medley of three songs to Akhtar Channar’s rap poetry narrating the story of three plants that return with the gypsies to celebrate spring. The whole ensemble of the event was designed to sweep you away to an alternate reality where the west is not divorced from the east, as Emu’s western contempo beats resonated impeccably to Channar’s deep voice.
L’Oreal’s spokespersons Aamina Sheikh and Sabina Pasha along with the model Ayaan, female icons with diverse skin tones and personas, walked to the centre stage in champagne capes unadorned and raw accompanied by two stylists each that then transformed them into divas before the audiences’ eyes. Each model sat before a dressing table that lacked a mirror and showed instead a model looking through the frame towards the audience, reflecting the onlooker’s own beauty and image that resonated the adage “beauty lies within the eyes of the beholder”. “It’s about showing the process of beauty that creates magic. We wanted to show that there is no secrecy to the process and that every woman can become just as stunning,” described Zain Mustafa, Nabila’s right hand man who brought her fantastical vision to life. “It’s about showing what Nabila as a group does, and not just about Nabila the individual,” added Mustafa.
As the beautification process ended, all models dramatically threw over their capes to reveal fanciful ensembles crafted from net, voile and floral lawn prints, courtesy of the textile empire, Gul Ahmed. Given that the event was themed on spring/summer, the models personified butterflies, emerging from their cocoons, ready to set flight and charm the world with their inherent beauty.
The entire event was an allegory of sorts that depicted how multinationals should conduct business by incorporating elements of indigenous culture, like the Chaap dancers that silently emerged from the trees, to aspects of modern western culture, such as high fashion hair and makeup. “We wanted the people in Lahore to know us but know us as a beauty business not as a corporation,” explained Hai. “Beauty must be done differently”, she insisted, as she rationalised over the company’s choice of an intimate brunch rather than a flamboyant and glamorous evening show that would have taken away the whole ‘freshness’ of it’s Summer Fantasy campaign.
What struck one about the whole experience was how much potential it had to go awfully wrong with merging high fashion creativity and aesthetics alongside a grounded earthy voice of the soil. Yet in the nimble hands of people as inventive and skillful as Nabila, Zain Mustafa and Emu, all these seemingly discordant elements blended in so seamlessly. Perhaps it was this unique blend that lent it that surreal dream like quality that one will always remember fondly.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2011.