KARACHI, Pakistan — With paramilitary Rangers deployed to prevent terrorist attacks on the host hotel, Pakistani designers and models challenged firebrand mullahs and Taliban insurgents Wednesday by staging the country's first "Fashion Week" in Karachi.
Models strutted down the catwalk in couture fashion that was elegant, racy and indelibly Pakistani, a riot of colorful style and a show of women's flesh that's considered scandalous in this conservative Muslim country,
In a country where the all-enveloping burqa is common for women and a hijab to hide the hair or full face is growing in popularity, daring amounts of female skin were on display. Exposed midriffs, bare shoulders, plunging backs, modest cleavage and legs to just above the knee were visible. One designer, Fahad Hussayn, sent out his models with their faces covered by veils but their shoulders bare.
"It's defiance, sheer defiance," said Rizwan Beyg, one of Pakistan's leading designers, who once dressed Britain's Princess Diana. "This is about saying they're not going to threaten our lifestyle. We want to show the world that we're survivors.
"There's so much more to Pakistan; it's not just suicide jackets and al-Qaida."
The four-day show at the luxury Marriott hotel — whose sister hotel in Islamabad was devastated by a truck bombing last year — is an attempt to project a different image of Pakistan to the outside world. International fashionistas who were slated to attend, including Beth Sobol of Miami Fashion Week, canceled at the last minute at the request of the organizers, who feared that militants might strike.
The prize for the best newcomer in Karachi is a free slot at Miami's fashion week.
The Karachi hostelry has taken on the appearance of a fortress over the last two years as al-Qaida, which is based in northern Pakistan, the Taliban and other militant groups have staged violent attacks.
The fashion event originally was set for last month, but it was postponed after extremists attacked Pakistan's military headquarters.