The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made a visit to Pakistan last week, and the pair both embraced the country’s traditional dress in a variety of delightful ways.
Kate was seen in number of beautiful shalwar kammez, a tunic worn over trousers, often with a matching dupatta, worn over the shoulder and used to respectfully cover the head. The Duke’s mother, Princess Diana, effortlessly adopted this look years before on her own visits to Pakistan, and Kate took the same approach, her wardrobe of gorgeous embroidered tunics, dresses and button-though coats accessorised with a casually perfect pashmina.
William wore a deep green sherwani to a reception, apparently the first member of the Royal family to have donned that particular attire, and he looked both appropriate and regal. Kate drew high praise from fashion critics around the world, and at lot of this stems from the fact the traditional dress of Pakistan is just so naturally chic.
National costumes are generally wonderful; the essence of everything there is to love about fashion – fine fabrics, bright colour, embroidery and jewellery with deep cultural significance. I attended a performance at the Sydney Opera House this week of the Zohra Afghanistan All Women’s Orchestra and there were a number of women in the audience in gorgeous, colourful traditional Afghani embroidered dresses over pants with chaadar (head covering) that would blow any couture show in Paris out of the water.
There was even a tiny girl and her even tinier brother in a pram wearing national costume; it was a joyous display of fashion and pride.
Australia has always struggled with the concept of a national costume, and I would still like to strangle the person at the meeting of geniuses who decided our national sporting colours should be green and gold.
Green and gold is a lovely combination if it is, say, emerald and byzantine gold, but the Aussie version is usually school uniform green and yellow.
There is a glorious exhibition called Step Into Paradise, which opened at the Powerhouse in Sydney this week, that showcases fashion pioneers Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson, who celebrated the colours and surrounds of Australia with their vibrant opal prints and motifs that included waratahs, cockatoos and wildflowers.
Their clothes were kooky, irreverent and fun, and one particular chunky sweater featuring a cute koala was famously worn by Princess Diana, a photo that was beamed around the world, giving Australian fashion an international boost. But often, attempts at designing some type of Aussie national costume have ended in a kitsch mess, as a score of Miss Universe and Miss World contestants will know too well.
The popular thinking has been that the national dress of Australia is stubbies and thongs, but there is a lot more to be celebrated than that, such as designers being inspired by and working with Indigenous artists.
There is a lovely summer collection out now, Camilla X Warlu, that grew out of Camilla Franks’s collaboration with the Warlukurlangu art co-operative, and labels such as Ngali Australia, an indigenous fashion brand featuring beautiful prints.
For real fashion inspiration, look close to home.