People feel modelling isn't a respectable profession: Freiha Altaf
KARACHI: When you talk to her, you realize that Frieha Altaf has seen it all. She started out at a time when the Pakistani fashion industry was still in its infancy, and modelling was not considered a respectable profession for women. In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, Frieha talks about her journey in the world of modelling and fashion.
Frieha described how she was introduced to the world of modelling by Saira Irshad of Herald magazine, who first spotted her at an art exhibition at Sheraton in September 1986. She did her first cover forFashion Collection with Asif Reza, and there was no turning back from that point on. Saira’s encouragement prompted Frieha to accept an assignment with model Atiya Khan and photographer Rooha Ghaznavi.
She recalls the restrictions on fashion shows during Zia’s time with a laugh, “You did fashion shows covered up or camouflaged as cultural events. The public and media would be told we were only walking the ramp for charity.”
1986 was a very special year for Frieha. “Mahnaz Rabbani of Gul Ahmed forced me into a fashion show. It was here for the first time I met Tariq Amin, and we became good friends. Then in October, we travelled to the Gulf region with Maheen Khan for the Sharjah Cup.”
She added, “My modelling career started to pick up from that point on. I flew to Hong Kong to star in Junoon’s instrumental video Heer for MTV International, and later did some assignments from Gul Ahmed. I became a muse for Maheen Khan and Sana Safinaz and became Sehyr Saigol’s favourite model. They gave me a chance to work with names such as Rizwan Beyg, Noorjehan Bilgrami and Shameel Ansari.”
She also recalled her relationship with other models. “Simi Shoro, Nina Dubash and Anisa Rashid Khan were all very active at the time. Most of them diversified into other fields. Nabila entered the field as a model, but later she and Tariq Amin began experimenting with hair-styling and make-up. I kept myself exclusively to modelling, only moving to PTV dramas and plays after I had become a successful model.”
Frieha also told The Express Tribune about her acting stints. “I played Khurr for a Haseena Moin play. It was interesting, but I didn’t care much for being paired up with Shakeel. Later, I did Rosie which is still remembered very fondly, and that was the start of a great friendship with Moin Akhtar.”
The former model was very candid about the stigmas attached to the field. “There has always been a feeling that modelling is not for ‘respectable’ girls. I was the first model for Sunsilk in Pakistan, but my face was not shown clearly on the billboards. People used to have a sick mentality. Girls were asked to avoid the field to protect their reputation and ‘because you have to get married’.”
She confessed she too was a victim of this mentality. “I got engaged in 1988 and was forbidden to model, so I had to give it up. Giving up on my dream wasn’t easy but I did it for the sake of my family. My marriage only lasted ten months, and I re-entered the field not long after. I had no choice – I had to earn a living!”
In 1993, Frieha quit modelling and started Cats agency in 1993 with Aliya Zaidi and Rehan Ali Khan, through which she has successfully launched as many as 80 models through its contacts in advertising agencies. “I launched Iffat Omar and Kiran (Tahira Syed’s daughter) in Lahore and Seemi Pasha and Sadaf Malaterre in Karachi, as well as Vinny and ZQ. HSY tried his hand at modeling but I told him, please do something else, and then later he decided to become a designer.”
She added, “The best part of it was I was roaming around Pakistan, I used to pick and choose girls and boys for modeling campaigns. I would visit photoshoots, to Pasni, Kalash and Moen jo Daro and Thar, and now it all happens in a studio.”
She explained that things changed in 2002, when she decided to be more pro-active. “Previously, advertising agencies would contact me for models. But I realized that I needed to launch some new models on my own. Natasha Hussain was the first, and Khawar Riaz brought me Nomi Qamar and Farooq Manan. Athar Shahzad introduced me to Imaan Ali. Times have changed.”
In 2007, Frieha partnered with Veet for the Veet Model Hunt which helped to further propel the modelling industry. This partnership has helped to launch models such as Neha, Saima Azhar and Areeba Habib. Frieha remains committed to her quest to bring more “tall beautiful girls in this field”.