STATES OF UNDRESS is Viceland’s newest travel and fashion show that debuted on March 30. Hosted by Hailey Gates, the revealing series takes viewers on a journey around the world, exploring the culturally diverse fashion scenes that exist beyond the four fashion capitals of the world.
In the first episode, the former Miu Miu muse travels east to Pakistan for Karachi Fashion Week. At first glance, the small, yet bustling event doesn’t look all that different from its distinguished Western counterparts. Beautiful models strut and pose in front of flashing cameras, attendees socialize while sipping from cocktail glasses, designers and makeup artists scramble backstage, and everyone is intoxicated by the thrill and chaos. But behind the surface of familiarity lies an undercurrent of conflict, and upon closer examination, the differences become glaringly obvious—like the fact that the event is hosted in a bombproof venue, and alcohol and provocative dressing are strictly prohibited. Coming from a milieu where showing skin and drinking booze are customary, such modesty and abstinence might seem egregiously conservative.
For Pakistanis, it’s normal. As a nation rich with deeply rooted cultural and religious ideals, tradition is omnipresent and pervades through all aspects of life. But in an age of progression and revolution, the Islamic Republic is stunted with reluctance and remains torn between the then and now.
This tentative relationship between the modern and the traditional was especially clear on the runway. Compared to the audacious collections presented in New York, London, Milan, or Paris, Karachi fashion seems relatively tame. Some designers pushed the envelope in the way of low necklines and high leg slits, but most abided by the custom of concealment. But not all designers played it safe. Emerging designer Hassan Riaz took a more radical approach and presented a sensational collection of bondage-like designs that had no shortage of leather, buckles, and masks. Even the short and fitted silhouettes were decidedly contemporary and diverged from the common salwar kameez look.
While the runway is a platform for expression and diversity, fashion off the stage can be a matter of life or death. In Pakistan, fashion and religion are directly correlated, and women who don’t adhere to the customs of dress may suffer perilous consequences. One of the most extreme forms of assault is acid attacks, in which a perpetrator (who is usually the woman’s husband or in-law) throws acid onto a woman out of revenge to disfigure, torture, and even kill her. Gates’ encounter with these victimized women is perhaps the most poignant, eye-opening part of the episode.
As Gates ventures into the depths of the Islamic Republic, she speaks to a number of people including an infamous cleric, a misogynistic acid thrower, and a trans makeup artist who found refuge in the fashion world. Together, they unveil the complex layers of a volatile nation and highlight a culture that’s as inspiring as it is controversial.
Watch the episode below: