Death Of The Blue Shirt


Death Of The Blue Shirt

Men’s fashion has become unapologetically androgynous on the Indian ramp. But it will be a long time before the lacy black shirt leaves the runway for the market.

In a quirky coincidence,Bipasha Basu of the sexy curves and her boyfriend John Abraham of the beefy male body both wore lace for recent fashion appearances. She,a moss green creation for a magazine cover; and he,erotic black lace as the showstopper for Rohit Bal’s menswear collection “Shararat”.

Men have enrolled in the fashion club,but machismo in dressing is out. Flock prints,kurta-shirts,fluid angarakhas and informal jackets with sandals have given the boot to sharp,tailored suits and muted shirts. Mix is in,match is out. The Indian aesthetic rules. Freedom of form is the new player,as the male obsession with pelvic-flattering clothes gets time out. That would be a quick wrap of the recently concluded Van Heusen India Men’s Week in Delhi.

Men’s fashion has turned out to be a master storyteller of our times. It is experimental and sexually more confident than women’s fashion. Open to androgynous influences,it challenges the very definition of malehood,which was trapped inside pant-shirt combos or dark suits as primary garments for the authoritative,heterosexual,conventional breadwinner. Now,glistening abs,bare,shaven chests and pink drop-crotch pants hint at a nuanced exploration of masculinity.

First,the bare facts. The menswear market in India is the fastest growing apparel segment. According to the market-analysis company Datamonitor,it is expected to grow by 40.6 per cent to $13.8 billion in 2012. The India Menswear Market Analysis 2010-2014 by Venn Research found that total revenue from menswear was $11.8 billion in 2009,representing a compound annual growth rate of 8.6 per cent from 2005 to 2009. In comparison,the Chinese market increased only by 5.7 per cent.

Designer wear is still to catch on,but trendy ready-to-wear is burgeoning. “Van Heusen party wear alone raked in a turnover of Rs 100 crore in India in 2009-10,a growth of 50 per cent over the previous year,” says Shital Mehta,COO of the shirt brand that sponsored the men’s fashion week.

The ramp echoes this confidence,as designers bust boundaries without worrying about whether men would be enamoured or intimidated by it. Rajesh Pratap Singh says the new,edgy segment is too significant to ignore and doesn’t just consist of young buyers. His rock ’n’ roll line ushered in kalamkari and ajrak prints in washed-out vegetable colours,flared shibori suits and cargo jodhpurs accessorised with silver jewellery. On the other hand,Narendra Kumar’s collection,inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s samurai film Kagemusha,had drape jackets,easy pants and Zen slippers styled with MacBook bags. “After 10 years of designing form-fitted silhouettes for men,I feel ready for creativity,” he says,adding that the market buoyancy indicates “time for the turn”.

He is not alone. Be it Varun Bahl-Karan Johar’s New York-inspired sketched jackets,Troy Costa’s Madras checks with sandals,Manoviraj Khosla’s carnival colours,Ashish Soni’s cropped slim trousers with striped socks or Sanchita Ajjampur’s relaxed pants in washed drills and twills,men’s fashion is now unapologetically androgynous. And it is fast losing the distinction from gay dressing. This was evident even in the choice of models this season,as many skinny,cute boys with gelled hair walked the ramp.

The divergence may have begun,but it may not be easy to bury the old blue shirt. Liberal runway fashion is a good story,but not a viable market yet. Designers face serious competition from global brands. Says designer Ravi Bajaj: “We can’t compete with international menswear. There competition is with everyone from Zara and Van Heusen to Zegna and Armani. It is a losing battle.” He adds: “Instead of linen shirts for Rs 4,000,I would rather make sherwanis for a lakh rupees. Seventy-five per cent of everything that sells from designers is Indian wear. Let’s not have any illusions about that.” Bajaj’s collection “Dandy March” at the men’s fashion week last year was an exception,for he believes fashion weeks are not business hubs. He was validated by the near absence of buyers at the fashion week this time. Rohit Bal too agrees that drama is for the ramp,an open playground for spectacle.

That’s why partnerships between clothing brands and designers make sense. Van Heusen’s Vdot clubwear created with designers Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna,and Killer Jeans’s association with Narendra Kumar are about wearable fashion. Jointly they address what fashion alone cannot. It is not purely designer wear — fanciful and outlandishly expensive. Nor is it the classic,striped shirt,silk tie and tapered trousers that men are bored of. “Internationally,fashion may thrive on inaccessibility,but in India,fashion needs to become accessible. Men are desperately in need of good sartorial advice,” says Jamal Shaikh,editor of Men’s Health.

Men’s fashion may be progressive on the catwalk but trickles down to retail in conformist versions: men’s magazines recognise this dichotomy. Last year,the cover of GQ’s Men of the Year issue showed men in black bandhgalas,jackets,tuxedos and sherwanis with formal shoes and bow ties. The only sexy accessory was Katrina Kaif in a luscious red gown.

For now,John Abraham could wear that lacy top to bed.