Coming from Pakistan, what was your experience of New York?
I was the first Pakistani person to be accepted onto the MFA Fashion Design & Society programme at Parsons. The melting pot of nationalities on the course and in the city was so radically different to what I’ve known. I was constantly grappling with how my identity related to that: how could I find balance in this culture? New York is so fast and aggressive in contrast to Pakistan; it was hard to combine those parts of my personal identity. Three women in particular became my friends and inspired my collection, because they were outliers in their own cultures and defined their sexuality and desire without any social expectations and boundaries. I think the culture in New York – the people – that is what has affected my work most.
“New York is so fast and aggressive in contrast to Pakistan; it was hard to combine those parts of my personal identity.”
How did your friends influence your work?
Meeting all three was a complete accident! I used to explore markets in New York for inspiration and I met this police officer at the 4th July fireworks in Times Square. It was completely packed and she helped me with directions. Since then, we have become friends. When I asked her how she defined sexuality and desire, she said it was her uniform and the authority that it brings every day. She asked me if women in Pakistan wear burkas and are suppressed, because that is what she knew from the media. The second woman was my classmate from Portland. She was a pole dancer and would wear lingerie to class, while I sat next to her wearing covered Muslim clothes. But we were friends and she never judged me for being Pakistani. I met my third friend, an older Jewish lady, in the subway – she liked my eye colour and asked me if I was from India. I told her I was from Pakistan and she would tell me stories about how glamorous New York was in the 1950s. My collection was about these three characters and my personality as well – we’re all representing different cultures, ethnicities and concepts about sexuality, freedom and desire.
“My classmate was a pole dancer and would wear lingerie to class, while I sat next to her wearing covered Muslim clothes.”