Dumbing gown at Cannes


Dumbing gown at Cannes

From ‘princess’ to ‘picture perfect’, the Indian fashion press drenches Deepika and Ash in cliched superlatives. The reality isn’t as ‘osm’

Glamour will always be in fashion but fashion usually needs more than glamour to talk its walk. Walk and talk now are blurring sports for the faces of fashion, once the domain of tall, lean, languid walkers called models. Speaking up was never listed in their job descriptions. This though is the age of “woke models” and activist actors who speak their minds about political misdemeanor and race issues, about body positivism and women’s rights. Or as The Guardian’s Hannah Mariott wrote earlier this week, “The hot thing in modelling is not a look but a viewpoint.”

No viewpoint has walked the red carpet so far at the 2017 edition of the Cannes Film Festival. It has all been about looks. In 2006, if it was Kazakhstan’s television star Sacha Baron Cohen in a fluorescent green mankini and moustache; in 2013 it was Vidya Balan with her head covered with a veil as a jury member inviting conspicuous attention. In 2015 vanity and viewpoint locked horns. There was dissent against high heels, considered mandatory for entry even as festival director Thierry Lemaux banned red carpet selfies. Last year, the young cast of American Honey danced in abandon on the red carpet. This year though, the event still hasn’t found a meme, a defining leitmotif to hang its stories on, even as tired adjectives and repetitive Instagram posts continue to decode the event.

Overused expressions don’t just numb us to the real experience but also give away how fashion vocabulary and symbolism differ across cultures. Indian fashion bloggers, magazine reporters and representatives of brands like L’Oreal Paris who sponsor brand ambassadors like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone are all drenched in superlatives. Media has been competing with brands while using the same expressions. “Princess” (Indian fashion has long had a maharani fixation) is a favourite descriptor followed by “drop-dead gorgeous”, “picture perfect”, “stunning”, “ethereal”, “effortlessly enchanting” and “spectacular”. “Magical” and “goddess” were just a natural progression in this hierarchy of adjectives when Rai Bachchan walked out in an uninspiring, funny but not boldly whimsical, emerald, two-tiered frock with large multi-coloured flowers by Yanina Couture.
“Slay”, the millennial tag for killer looks and “Osm”, a thin abbreviation for awesome, were supposed to take the pressure off hot and cool which were losing tactical impact anyway. They were first used for Padukone and then Rai Bachchan. Stand by to hear them for Sonam Kapoor next week or whoever wears the sponsored wares and walks the walk.

How the fashion press describes celebrities tells us a bit about these stars of course, but it tells us more about how as a society we react to glamour. Praise is our immediate reaction; we are in extreme, slavish awe of glamour. Especially if we are in the media. There is plenty of nuanced observation about what stars wear but it lies in the comments posted online by ordinary readers, who respond intuitively and honestly regardless of what a beauty brand might think. So if you really want to know what people thought about Padukone’s bra-less appearance in a mauve Galvan London dress (not ?sexy at all), then read the comments, skip the story.

The Western media isn’t as gushy about red carpet couture which it has seen for ages. Consider for a moment though, how American model Bella Hadid, the reigning deity of red carpet glamour has been described in the last two days in the context of her nude underwear showing on the Cannes red carpet. While the Us Weekly and Hollywood Reporter described it as “suffered wardrobe malfunction” and the UK Mirror called it a “serious wardrobe malfunction”, the Sun, a British tabloid described it as a “flash of knickers”. It was Vanity Fair though that found a well-fitting sentence for Hadid’s hyper glamour moment. “Bella Hadid pays homage to herself at Cannes,” it read. That’s one hell of a headline. It is in fact the story itself.

Eventually what we make of fashion on the famous comes from how it is interpreted. In this era of “woke models”, if publications must still describe a flash of underwear as a “wardrobe malfunction”, a term that’s long fallen off the trend chart, then our knickers are indeed caught in a twist. If we use a slew of fairytale superlatives to describe all our stars who wear gowns created by international designers, sponsored jewels and makeup, then Nandita Das in her Anavila linen sari and barely there lipstick will never be our princess.