An Ill-Timed Obituary of the Fashion Hug and Kiss

An Ill-Timed Obituary of the Fashion Hug and Kiss

Liberal, fashionable and “with it”—the socially stylish kiss was fashion language. Let’s grieve a moment for the party without the mwah 

Among caricatures that sprang from fashion stereotypes in the last hundred years—the tall, anorexic model, party revellers on coke, the silicon-rich trophy wife, the brilliant but temperamental designer, the scathing gay activist—was the “fashion greeting”. The air kiss or the proper cheek kiss-kiss, the quick peck or the hug-kiss—well, take your peck. Not to be confused with the social kissing minefield of different cultures—the French and Spanish kissing both cheeks, Americans mostly one but with the hug as side order, Indians perennially unsure and awkward, British upper-lipped even in their kisses and so on…no, no.

This is not about a Valentine’s Day or The World Is Watching red carpet kiss between Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra for Instagram. Nor is it about the clumsy, let-us-be-done-with it political greeting between former British PM Teresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (2016). It is not the cinematic erotic moment between the late Vinod Khanna and Madhuri Dixit in Dayavan, or the sweaty-hot one between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic.


Photo: Gabriel Bouys / AFP

Guests are pictured in the street before a show during a previous edition of Milan Fashion Week.

This is about the peculiar and visible intimacy of kissing in fashion and celebrity circles. By and with fashionable and famous people. Britney Spears and Madonna at the 2003 VMAs is more like it. Zeenat Aman and Rekha at the Lux Golden Rose Awards in 2018 too.

The kiss and sell high society in Madhur Bhandarkar’s filmi satire Fashion was the ultimate kiss and tell proof of this pretty pursuit. As are puckered, red and pink lips of fashion party regulars that lunge between unexplained over-familiarity and risqué what-have-you.

Fashion, and the famous, loves kissing as a “communitas” (British anthropologist Victor Turner who used the term to explain structured and unstructured communities) thing. John Travolta kissed Scarlett Johansson at the 2015 Oscars for no reason at all, perhaps just to “celebrate”. So did Richard Gere, smooching actor Shilpa Shetty at an AIDS awareness event in New Delhi in 2007.

The kiss has a certain blasé lightness in fashion and society. It runs around unattended like an adolescent at a prom, among the FROW, among the backstage gangs. People kiss in real and mock delight at fashion weeks, parties, at socialite events, wine and cheese soirees. The socialite (now an endangered being) comes vaccinated with good immunity to passionless but continually cheerful social kissing. From quick lip symphonies orchestrated mid-air followed by a range of hug options—the warmth settings of which can be modulated as simply as changing gears in an automated car.


Photo: Instagram/pppiccioli

Models at a Maison Valentino haute couture show.

Now with new COVID-19 guidelines of social distancing and shuttered socialites, the fashion kiss is imperilled.

Is it time then for an ill-timed obit?

The Kissing Story

In 2001 while being interviewed by India Today news magazine for the job of a special correspondent, my then editor Swapan Dasgupta, a well-known columnist and Rajya Sabha member asked me if I could report on fashion. “No, I really do not enjoy fashion events with people air kissing all around,” I said, quite foolishly. “What is your problem with people kissing,” asked another editor who headed the “society and the arts” section and was playing bad cop during the interview. My defence was feeble: I bit my lip (what else). I got the job but was not assigned fashion reporting.

A few years later, by the time, I quit India Today to join Marie Claire India; I had begun to “read” fashion’s body language and “communitas” rituals as facets of communication and symbolism. Air kissing merrily and hugging total strangers was a symptom of wanting to belong to the cool club. Some did it naturally with heartfelt fondness and a commitment to free expression. It was liberating to watch them as it spoke of a progressive society (one that I was not too familiar with). These are “forward” people, as friends from my hometown would admonishingly remind me.


Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images/AFP

Issa Rae (in green) hugs Oprah Winfrey onstage during the 2018 CFDA Fashion Awards.

Others aspiring of membership to the same club faked this coolness, their quickly assembled faux smiles breaking into uncollectable fragments even before they had reached the jaw of the-to-be kissed. Yet others could fake it beautifully like a female orgasm whose origins as well as last sigh sprint too fast and spring too high.

Page 3, both the third page in the city supplement birthed by Times of India as a place to publish socialite party photos as well as the playground of the wannabe mingling with the “arrived” was then in vogue. Those who did not kiss and hug, share and bare were conspicuous. Handshake was still an okay entry pass, but a “sanskari” namaste was a scoff to the rules of this game.

The worm has turned.

We must now keep our hands close to each other instead of letting them fly with our ambitions. The kiss must be masked; the hug has to be taken off the communication charter as coronavirus etiquette and thus a social trend.

Code Namaste is the new mode. Super stylish and au courant.

My question: will we miss the faux-real-or-warm-cool-club-card of fashion—the kiss and hug? Also, the quickest and most expressive way to show deep regard and affection for a club no longer exclusive? Will fashion parties be the same with the bland namaste and designer masks that auto edit the range of one’s smile?

For someone who did not want to trail fashionable air kissing even for very promising “fashion” assignments 20 years back, I can tell you I will find it hard not to kiss and hug my friends in fashion.

Yet we also know that for many, it will be a relief as they embrace the new age.


Banner: (Left to right) Models wearing Monique Lhuillier ensembles; Priyanka Chopra Jonas with fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg; Britney Spears and Madonna onstage during the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards in New York City.–3760