Aamna Aqeel: It’s certainly not fashion!

Published: May 9, 2013
Aqeel vehemently denied any racist angle to the shoot at all. PHOTO: AAMNA AQEEL FACEBOOK

Aqeel vehemently denied any racist angle to the shoot at all. PHOTO: AAMNA AQEEL FACEBOOK

French Vogue did a shoot with sexualised images of models as young as ten. PHOTO: FILE 
Vogue India did a feature with impoverished Indians carrying wearing $100 Fendi bibs. PHOTO: FILE
Designer Aamna Aqeel’s latest shoot is titled “Be My Slave”. PHOTO: AAMNA AQEEL FACEBOOK
Aqeel vehemently denied any racist angle to the shoot at all. PHOTO: AAMNA AQEEL FACEBOOK

It’s not easy producing a memorable fashion shoot; pictures of pretty women wearing pretty clothes can get boring fast. The best fashion shoots are engaging, compelling and imaginative; they require talent, hard work and vision from the designer, stylist, photographer and model. Of course, if you can’t manage all of that, the other way to ensure you get noticed is to make a fashion shoot so controversial and tasteless that getting media attention is guaranteed.

Designer Aamna Aqeel’s latest shoot titled “Be My Slave” falls squarely into this category. Obviously designed to shock, it shows a model being pandered to by a dark-skinned child slave. The images are repulsive with racist and colonialist overtones. The fact that the slave in the advertisements is a child, makes the images that much more inexcusable.

Aqeel has barely been designing for two years. She won some critical acclaim at the fifth edition of Fashion Pakistan Week held recently in Karachi, but she remains very much an emerging designer with a lot to prove. It seems that she’s decided, by hook or by crook, it’s time to get noticed.

Fashion loves to be provocative and sometimes it seems nothing is taboo. French Vogue did a shoot with sexualised images of models as young as 10, Vogue India did a feature with impoverished Indians carrying Burberry umbrellas and wearing $100 Fendi bibs. A Bulgarian magazine 12 did a shoot called “Victim of Beauty” showing bloodied, bruised models that appeared to glamourise domestic violence.

In each case, the magazines had an explanation to give, that they were trying to highlight the use of child models, or attempting to say fashion was for everyone or trying to show the juxtaposition between horror flick make-up and beauty. In each case, the real reason was simple: commissioning distasteful fashion shoots to ensure media coverage and boost sales.

When contacted, Aqeel vehemently denied any racist angle to the shoot at all. According to her, the choice of a dark-skinned Baloch child was purely incidental. “He works in a garage and wanted some work,” she said. Obviously the parents of usual child models wouldn’t have agreed to the shoot. The pampered little cuties who advertise soap, toothpaste and biscuits on TV may not have looked right for the part but even if they had, no one would have let their child play such a degrading role.

Aqeel’s argument is that she wanted to spark a debate on child labour. She says she is involved with a children’s charity and wanted to highlight how ‘society madams’ employ child labour in their homes. She is educating and supporting the child used in the shoot — it seems the least she can do after exploiting him in this fashion.

It’s facetious of the designer to claim that she was trying to stimulate a debate on child labour. The model wearing her clothes is clearly comfortable with her dominant position. She is not made up in a way that shows her to be the villain of the piece. The use of a dark skinned child in a shoot entitled “Be My Slave” certainly reeks of racism, however much the designer may deny it. And if anything, the shoot seems to condone child labour.

Aqeel went on to deny that this was a publicity-seeking move on her part and says she is happy at the pace her brand is developing. Her purpose for this shoot was apparently not to publicise her brand, but to raise public awareness of a social issue. Apparently, she feels so blessed with her success that she wants to give back to society and feels that it’s every individual’s duty to do what he or she can to make life better for the underprivileged.

To me, Aqeel’s stance stinks of hypocrisy. Designers do fashion shoots to sell a vision of their brand and to raise their profile. I wonder at the magazine that published the pictures. The stylist and photographer may have had to bend to the designer’s vision but the magazine had no such compulsion. I feel ashamed to be involuntarily publicising the shoot but we need to speak up against vile images of racism and exploitation. There are some taboos fashion shouldn’t break.

Oxford-grad Salima Feerasta is a social commentator and lover of style in any form or fashion. She blogs at karachista.blogspot.com and tweets @karachista

Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2013.                    

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Reader Comments (20)

  • ashar
    May 9, 2013 - 10:25PM

    Whatever nonsense you can put in will be admired and accepted. This is present day fashion industry.


  • May 9, 2013 - 10:56PM

    Wanting to spark a debate against child labour? Now THAT’S ironic.


  • NT
    May 10, 2013 - 3:23AM

    Pathetic sense of sparking a debate. I don’t see that its gonna be sparking any debate, rather it will “spark” the designer herself. Be provocative, controversial and you are super famous no matter how low-talented your work is.


  • Omar
    May 10, 2013 - 5:20AM

    when all the hemming of ‘Designer Clothes’ is done by ‘Chota’ of tailot master, then how can they deny or provoke a so-called debate on child labour? Shame!
    good take Saleema, but in my opinion, its the stylist to be blamed more then the designer.


  • Zeenia
    May 10, 2013 - 10:37AM

    Why the outrage on just this? It’s just a reflection of how our society works.


  • S
    May 10, 2013 - 10:54AM

    disgusting and patehtic. What ever french and indians do is none of my concern but action should be taken anyone doing such things in Pakistan


  • Halee
    May 10, 2013 - 1:10PM

    Absolutely repugnant! If the images were meant to ignite a debate then shouldn’t they have had some sort of a subliminal effect? The images are blatant and a sad reminder of ignorance and insensitivity doused by glamour. She deserves to be ostracized from the industry.


  • Nadir
    May 10, 2013 - 1:42PM

    The problem is her customers will think this all high fashion!


  • MAK
    May 10, 2013 - 3:37PM

    I believe the article above most of the comments by ppl are denying one fact: that what the designer has said is true and xhuld labor is an issue which needs immediate attention. Although I appreciate that the author is commenting on the images from a fashion critic perspective – probably it’s best to comment keeping that focus in mind. While the others who have commented, ask urself , ur family and friends whether you/ they don’t indulge in modern day slavery , child labor and also sorts of act which characterize a master-slave contract. Lets not forget the truth and expunge the real meaning of the images. Btw I don’t know the designer or the author so not bias on either front


  • Punjaagi
    May 10, 2013 - 3:49PM

    It’s ironic that you accuse the designer of using these tactics to gain publicity while your article itself provides her that.


  • Sensible Voice
    May 10, 2013 - 5:58PM

    Putting in a child in a picture is horrific? What about trying to get cheap publicity by bashing designer? Throughout the blog (I refuse to call this an article) all I got was a feeling that this… blogger… is only trying to get herself popular by making other people her target.


  • Sensible Voice
    May 10, 2013 - 6:01PM

    Oh and one more thing. Just because you used the word ‘facetious’ without giving a basis for why the designer’s claim was ‘facetious’ does not make it ‘facetious.’ Oh look, maybe my comment should be published with a byline.


  • Aamina
    May 10, 2013 - 6:19PM

    I completely agree with zeenia. This photoshoot is a reflection of most of the Pakistanis, especially the class belonging to WADERA families. This is exactly how people treat those that are not as rich and powerful as them. This is how the government in 5 years has treated poor people. This is how an average rich person treats their slaves! Why then are you all so scared to look at your own reflection!

    I think that this is a very good shoot. It is not fantasizing life, it is reflecting human behaviour. Awesome work!!!!!


  • Faride Kapadia
    May 10, 2013 - 11:33PM

    Great picture shoot a discussion though provoking fashion picture that strangulates the inception of class warfare in Pakistan the separation of the rich and poor simulated by the intense plight of the those born in a poor neighborhoods. The systematic addition of corruption diluted with the fragrance of a nation struggling to find its identity in a self deprecating pool of insincere promises that the future will heal all!


  • Aamina
    May 12, 2013 - 5:24PM

    Wow Faride Kapadia, you said the same thing as me but obviously in flowery words… let me tell you – the simpler you write, the better people understand. But I must say, you have really transformed my opinion with your fancy words… but I think english needs to be simple in mass communication.

    Any how, yes the photoshoot is infact amazing… it mirrors our society and this is why it is hard for many to accept this truth since truth is always bitter! Wake up Pakistanis! Look in this mirror (photoshoot), this is you ! This is how you treat eachother! Look! Instead of blaming this photoshoot, have the guts to accept your reflection, your reality. Look!

    Now that PMLN, Nawaz Sharif who thinks he is the KING of this world and pretends like one is winning the elections – this photoshoot means more. This Nawaz Sharif treats people like what is shown in the Photoshoot! So good luck to all the slaves who voted for this so called King!


  • Aamina
    May 12, 2013 - 5:28PM


    You think this photoshoot is a nonsense?

    What do you think about all those people who in reality treat their servants, employees and eachother this way?

    This is how a pakistani society is, dont run from the truth!


  • Diana P.
    May 15, 2013 - 2:22PM

    This is similar to a shoot that was done by Style Quotidien magazine, but they did it the right way …… http://www.stylequotidien.com/sq-editorial-balance-of-power/


  • Saskia
    May 16, 2013 - 5:12PM

    I really do not feel that she tried to depict any racist stuff. I have seen pics like this before. People trying to find dirt where there is none — Artistic expressions are often doubted ..


  • sarah
    May 17, 2013 - 12:52AM

    i think the writer’s over-thinking stuff here.


  • zulfiqar
    May 19, 2013 - 6:58PM

    If the designer wanted to raise the issue of child labour then she shouldvr shown some underprivileged wearing her designed outfits. This is image promotes child slavery. Does the desinger have a fashion degree, nopes. Bcoz hsy and jamiar who are fadion school grads have never attempted to do something of this sort. Only an upstart newly monied fadhion designer would do this


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