Closing arguments


Closing arguments

Clothes, festivals or social memes, Indians find reassurance, and take cultural pride and comfort, in fanfare. The fashion week “finale”—a delightfully local and innovative concept—assimilates elements from mass and class ideas to rustle up a spectacle. Like Dussehra, which signifies the conclusion of Navratri, like the visarjan (immersion) after Ganesh Chaturthi, like Diwali, the day Lord Ram returns home to Ayodhya at the end of his exile period, there is something about the “final” moment that we cherish and cheer as a people.

However, that reasoning only partially explains the significance of a “grand finale” at a fashion week. It is also about business, A-list film stars as showstoppers, opulent and grand sets, especially conceived soundtracks or live dance and music performances and an enviable front row. It is like theatre, Diwali and an Indian wedding all rolled into one. More carnival than spectacle.

The two crucial holding elements are how much the title sponsor is willing to spend (a finale costs between Rs.70 lakh and Rs.1 crore) and the finale designer. By an unwritten code, a finale designer is someone who is widely popular, who can invite the rich and famous to the front row, is endorsed by Bollywood and is at ease with ceremonial jewellery and clothes.

In the West, designers working with luxury brands create expensive sets and imaginatively spectacular shows. This July, for instance, Fendi celebrated its 90 years with a show at Rome’s Trevi Fountain, while in 2007, the brand had sent out 88 models on what was called the longest runway of the world—the Great Wall of China. John Galliano’s many mesmeric sets for Dior Couture over the years, Alexander McQueen’s memorable recreation of a shipwreck and the rainforest in 2003, Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2017 show at Rio de Janeiro’s Niterói Contemporary Art Museum and Gucci’s Autumn/ Winter 2016 show at Westminster Abbey in London (both this year) are among many examples that reflect how Western designers serve fashion spectacle.

“In the West, the brand or design house is bigger than any sponsor and can afford to put out an extraordinary show at an unimaginably exciting or exotic location, but in India, it needs a sponsor to pull off this act,” says Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India.

And not just a sponsor. A “grand” finale needs a couturier to deliver the magic. That is why names such as Rohit Bal, Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Manish Malhotra, closely followed by Manish Arora, Tarun Tahiliani and J.J. Valaya, keep coming up as finale favourites. Arora, now more of a Parisian fixture who has converted hyperlocalism into a global-Indian art form, rustles up shows with “shock and awe” even for his prêt collections.

Sethi’s memories of “unforgettable” shows include a Sabyasachi show called Ferozabad at the opening of the India Couture Week in 2014, in which the designer recreated a vintage train with theatre-style seating; a Rohit Bal finale held at the Qutub Minar in October 2014, sponsored by Wills Lifestyle, in which Shubha Mudgal sang live, bringing the house to its feet; a Manish Malhotra finale (couture week 2014, with actors Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan walking the ramp) for which the designer opened up the seating area to create a mesmeric set with candles and velvet seat covers; and a J.J. Valaya Ottoman empire themed show (Autumn/Winter 2012 finale), in which he elevated the show area by a storey, recreating a Turkish souk soaked in blue-purple light.

The finale lobby has sometimes also been seen as the glut of hierarchy, or the power sway of a few. It prompted the Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) to open finales to designers such as Kallol Datta, Pankaj and Nidhi Ahuja, Namrata Joshipura and Rajesh Pratap Singh, who were not linked with opulent couture. But Manish Malhotra and Sabyasachi continue to reclaim this space either with an opening show or a closing show, as in August. At the LFW, the finale designer is also the creative director of Lakmé’s cosmetics line for the season, making the branding collaboration stronger. Kareena Kapoor Khan, as the face of Lakmé, is the default showstopper for the finale, whoever the designer may be.

The concept of a finale as distinct from all other fashion industries in the world burst from a commercially smart idea in 2000. In an interview to Mint last year, Anil Chopra, the former chief executive officer of Lakmé Lever Ltd, credited designer Wendell Rodricks with suggesting a finale as a stand-out event and adding that Lakmé as the title sponsor should own it. The first finale of the first fashion week, in 2000, showed clothes by three designers: Rodricks, Raghavendra Rathore and Tarun Tahiliani.

Since then, the finale has mutated into a power statement. Sentiment has sometimes overtaken pomp. In 2009, an LFW opening show celebrating the 10-year fashion week milestone brought more than 20 designers to the ramp for a collective bow. Last year, to celebrate 25 seasons of fashion weeks, the finale of the Amazon India Fashion Week invited 25 designers to participate and take a bow.