It would be wrong to claim Pakistani models don’t always get famous. But one thing is for sure: none of them can ever be as famous as Vaneeza Ahmed was back in the day.
As one of the pioneers of the industry, Vaneeza – lovingly known as Vinnie – started from the ramps and went on to cover virtually every magazine and every billboard in the country. And once she had conquered the modelling world, Vinnie branched out into merchandising with her very own clothing brand.
And yet, the superstar remains as humble as can be. “It was quite a fight, being a model in our time. It was a fight against our families, against society. And I think, at the peak of my career, I managed to prove that modelling was not a bad industry,” Vinnie told The Express Tribune. “Back then, youngsters were given only three career options: medicine, engineering or teaching. Modelling was not even an option.”
According to Vinnie, this is why most of her contemporaries lead alternate professions as well. “Nadia Hussain was a dentist, Aliya Zaidi was doing her MBA and Iraj was in school. On top of that, we had to work very hard as models, considering we had only four magazines and two channels then,” she said. “Things are different now. People just randomly come up to me and say ‘Please help my daughter become a model and make her famous’.”
Ironically, Vinnie still does not find the fashion industry a hard place to survive in. “Actually, I’d say it’s one of the easiest, at least here in Pakistan,” she responded, when asked about it. “There are a handful of models who walk the ramps. The same models will be in magazine shoots, commercials, TV serials and films. And yet, they’re all minting money. If the late Qandeel Baloch can call herself a model then anyone can. One should know if they deserve to be a model or not.”
Tall, bright and ever confident, Vinnie always knew she was destined for stardom, not just domestically but in international fashion as well. In fact, the former model happens to be the first Pakistani to walk the ramps for acclaimed international designers such as Donna Karan and Calvin Klein.
After quitting the ramps, she took on the responsibility of running Pakistan’s first ever fashion channel Style 360, proving she is a beauty with brains, indeed. Vinnie also worked as a makeup artist and serves as one of the directors of Bridal Couture Week (BWC).
Now 45 years of age, the jack of all trades lives in Islamabad with her husband and two daughters, working sporadically. “I’ve always believed that there is no ideal time to quit modelling. Why quit at all? If Naomi Campbell can still be working at 46, why shouldn’t anyone else?” said Vinnie, when asked to describe the best exit strategy for models. “Marketing has changed globally. Brands now want models as young as five and as old as 80. If you’re still looking good and doing better than even half of your contemporaries, there is no need to quit. In Pakistan, everyone wants to stay 16 but for me, I’m physically and mentally more fit now than I ever was in my 20s.”
For Vinnie, the best part of modelling was having the chance to be part of something new and growing. “New things were happening for everyone back then, whether it was Arif Mahmood or Tapu Javeri, Athar Shehzad, Tariq Amin or Khawar Riaz. We were all part of one industry, trying to make our marks,” she recalled. “I remember once, all of us models took a Suzuki van to Faisalabad for a show by Nickie Nina. We were given just one outfit each, instead of a fee. Even for my first magazine shoot with Nilofer Shahid, I was given a lawn suit in return. Still, we remained professional and grateful.”
On a parting note, Vinnie shared some valuable advice for those looking to make it big in modelling. “I see a lack of professionalism today. Our models should concentrate on the quality, not quantity of their work,” she said. “We used to rehearse for days before solo shows. Nowadays, the girls don’t seem to want to come for more than four hours, even for an entire fashion week! All I see in models now are nakhray.”
Throwback Thursday is a weekly feature in which we document the lives and careers of Pakistan’s veteran models.