Fatima Butt
Fatima Butt Image Credit: Supplied

The thing that I remember the most about Fatima Butt in the years that I saw her socially in Lahore was her effortless ability to stand out in a crowd of almost identically attired women. Understated yet glamorous, the always chic Fatima was and is still a head-turner in any setting.

In our ten years of following one another on Twitter, I have seen Fatima’s quiet evolving into a woman of substance with her deep interest in spiritualism, raising two lovely daughters, 22 and 18, and her love for poetry and everything beautiful—be it tangible or ephemeral. What Fatima has been doing for the last few years is simply an organic next step in her quest to add beauty to everything around her: styling artists and models with an imperceptible glamour that accentuates their real selves while adding a newness to their temporary reel identity as they move and twirl and dance and stride and stroll and create art and sit in repose.

A freelance stylist and a style strategist, Fatima’s work, since her first project Zarrar, a 2016 Shaan Shahid’s movie, is a versatile array of looks that despite being very Pakistani have a universal feel. Twenty-first century starkness doing a tango with the old-world jauntiness. Working with some of the biggest artists and brands of Pakistan, Fatima’s signature style is a delightful amalgamation of the traditional and the whimsy.

Fatima Butt with stars
Fatima Butt with stars: Seen here are Ali Sethi and Shae Gil (Pasoori), Abida Perveen, Mehwish Hayat, Momina Mustehsan, Shaan Shahid and Shahid Afridi, and Atif Aslam Image Credit: Supplied

From when, as Fatima says, “stylists were not recognized a few years ago, and were considered merely hair stylists” to “now they are a vital part of the core team of a project,” her work is a major contributor to the mainstreaming of styling in the world of advertisement and songs.

In the last six years, Fatima added her special touch to several ads, for some brands multiple times: Jazz, Ufone, Telenor, Zong, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Tiktok, Sooper biscuits, Wall’s, Foodpanda, Peanut Pik biscuits, National Foods, Habib Bank Limited, Ndure shoes, Dayfresh, Gul Ahmed, British American Tobacco, Khaadi, Infinix, Xiomi, Pond’s, Insignia, Tecno, Sprite, Muslim Commercial Bank, Lay’s, Brook Bond Supreme, and Servis shoes. Fatima’s portfolio includes work for Coke Studio 14 (four songs and half a promo), Kashmir Premier League 2021, Pakistan Premier League 2022, and a few ISPR music videos. Currently, she is styling a music video and advertisements for Velo Digital and Jazz.

For Gulf News, I asked stylist Fatima Butt a few questions:

Mehr Tarar: What is style for Fatima Butt?

Fatima Butt: Styling for me is something that reflects one’s inner state of mind through clothes, colours, accessories, hair and makeup, body language, and demeanour. I feel style also changes as one evolves. At one point in life, one could love prints and bright colours, but at another, only solids or a few colours rule one’s wardrobe. The same goes for one’s body that changes throughout life. So, for me a lot of factors contribute to my style statement.

Also, I feel style is not just limited to projection via external means; style is also inspired by the journey of one’s life. Style is also borrowed, at times, from the people we look up to; I may have done the same seeing my mother dress and carry herself in a certain way. I feel style is an ornament that is passed over generations and evolves every time it is handed over and is then repeatedly enhanced or manipulated in reflection of who we are at that stage in our life.

My job as a stylist is to bring out the best in people, which plays a huge part in terms of one’s execution toward success. Translating the same concept to the younger generation of stylists, I give them examples, one being that imagine yourself as an employer and five people walk in for an interview. All of them are carrying identical resumes but the individual who stands out more often than not would be the one who is delivering on the style statement, resonating and reflecting who they are, which creates an aura of confidence that rubs off on the other person, leaving a lasting impression. So, I feel style for me makes up for at least sixty percent of who we are.

The look in the traditional and the twenty-first century ads of Pakistan, what do you think is its most distinct characteristic? What do you add to the ads you become a part of?

As far as styling for commercials is concerned, it has a certain guideline—brand colours, a particular look, and a little or no room for experimentation. But what I add are some updated fashion elements; it could be in the cut of the clothes, hair or makeup, or even accessories. These little details add a distinct look to a commercial.

As for commercials that are culturally themed, I try to show the traditional look with a different style by playing with patterns or colours or hair and makeup techniques. The point is to show the traditional in a refreshed, revamped way. Ultimately, a commercial is a complete product of how it is shot, the lighting, the set design, and the music. All these things paired up with the right styling defines a commercial.

What is styling for some songs of Coke Studio Season 14 mean to you?

Coke Studio has been the most gratifying project of my career so far, not only because I have been a fan for years and always wanted to be a part of it in any capacity possible, but also because this platform enables all those who are a part of it to reach a global audience. The most enjoyable part was that every song had its own vibe. When the producer of Coke Studio Season 14 Zulfikar Khan [Xulfi] and his team had me listen to the songs, I instantly knew the kind of wardrobe and style that would encapsulate the producer’s vision.

For Xulfi, it was paramount that his team members felt the soul of each song they were working on. He gave me full authority, encouraging me to bring my conceived style board into reality with absolute freedom; when a stylist, or for that matter, any creative person, is given that kind of space to experiment, beautiful things happen.

I feel it’s the pinnacle [so far] of my career, which stretches over many years, from a fashion designer to a stylist. Starting from where there was no recognition of a stylist in the industry to being applauded for my work in Coke Studio, having an opportunity to work with some amazing people, and creating something outstanding would always be some of my biggest achievements.

Have you noticed any real difference between how an advertisement and a pop song were styled a few years ago and in 2022?

Yes, I see a profound difference. Since the advent of the Internet and an influx of information, the audience has evolved as it is no longer limited to a country, a language, or a genre. It is also because of the access to the entire globe that opens horizons, enticing artists and creators to merge and infuse different cultures, languages, and styles to portray their vision. A simple example is the local boy bands of the nineties when their audience was limited to Pakistan, and that also through a couple of television channels. Songs and art were created for the consumer that those bands or artists could reach. Now compare that to today when an artist, a singer or any creative person’s work can reach, via social media platforms with no barriers, to billions of people across the world.

These platforms also give the artists of today the motivation and the opportunity to express themselves fully as they are not targeting just one audience, and the barrier to experiment has been removed. Styling has also evolved keeping in mind the huge audience that is being reached—incorporating bits of different styles from around the world with our rich cultural heritage, we create a fusion of something totally new that would appeal to anyone who is watching it anywhere.

What do you consider your most important or your most memorable styling experience so far? Or both!

Well, I have done quite a few memorable commercials like Sooper Azadi and Coke, but the songs that I have styled for Coke Studio Season 14 have been my most memorable experiences to date. From the songs I styled, “Pasoori” and “Thaggyan” were the most special for me. Before I became a stylist, I was a fashion designer and creating custom pieces was what I enjoyed the most. All the clothes that you see in these songs were created and designed according to the vibe and the feel of the songs and the individual who was wearing the clothes.

“Pasoori” was extremely fun yet preparing for it was not easy. Listening to the song over and over to feel its spirit, then keeping in mind the singer or the musician, and all the people you see in the video, and designing something totally new and different was definitely challenging. We were given full freedom to play around with looks, and that was a big plus. It was me, my production and art designer Hashim Ali, and makeup artist Saima Rashid Bargfrede, and we were on the same page. The three of us were instrumental in creating and bringing together a final styled visual.

Pasoori’s vision is limitless and that is why it has reached all ages, social standings, and cultural backgrounds, breaking every barrier that could have existed in the execution of a global reaching art project. We personally went into this project like an artist equipped with thousands of colours and brushes but a blank canvas, where the entire team came together in perfect harmony to create a one-off masterpiece that spoke to a global audience.