Storytellers of the Pandemic

Storytellers of the Pandemic

In search of visual merchandisers, copywriters, faces and voices who can decongest the pandemic moment for the fashion world 

This morning, I was a part of a video conference with 30 brand heads from the leadership teams of Reliance Brands Limited (RBL). Chaired (on a meeting app) by Darshan Mehta, its CEO and President, this team had a phalanx of fashion and marketing experts who manage brands like Hamleys to Mothercare and Satya Paul, Paul Smith to Luxe Bridge. Sanjay Kapoor the founder and president of Genesis Luxury Pvt Ltd, Deepika Gehani, senior VP, marketing and PR design, Tarun Puri, who manages Hugo Boss and Michael Kors and designer Rajesh Pratap (surprise name from the RBL panel perhaps for some) were on this meet. A pre-appointed but freewheeling conversation on the future of fashion, consumer behaviour, marketing and promotional strategies, it saw questions emerge on the market for global luxury, forecasting and course correction.

With enough pointers that could be developed into standalone cohesive arguments.

Here, I want to bring just one nugget from that conversation. It is the search for the fashion and luxury storyteller who ‘decongests the pandemic moment’.

Starting very soon, those who will photograph brand campaigns, who will style models, choose the face of a brand, write advertising copy, dress windows and “influence” will need an unprecedented crash course. Those who can adapt and reconfigure quickly and with sensitivity will survive. What the fashion industry needs today is a new crop of discerning storytellers of the moment, who can forge a strong connect with the tragedy of the pandemic and bolster it with ideas on renovation, re-imagination and opportunity.


Right now, Chanel’s Mademoiselle Stays at Home campaign, designer Tarun Tahiliani’s #ThingsThatMakeMeSmile posts on his Instagram page or Elle India’s just-out April issue with Franco German artist Kera Till’s interpretation of social distancing on the cover (instead of a Bollywood star featured for the nth time), are just three examples of storytellers already on the road not taken.

Like Benetton, the Italian fashion brand once known for its edgy, radical, campaigns—from race issues to world unity, from diversity to discrimination—changed the way fashion expressed itself. Benetton campaigns captured vulnerability and injustice, they showed that fashion hurt too, that it could be melancholic even angry, and needed to speak up on the disavowal of certain groups of humankind by the powerful.

That palpitating urgency, beyond “stay well”, “stay at home, “stay safe” Coronavirus terminology, is what we need at the moment. A new breed of COVID-19 storytellers.


Photo: Oliviero Toscani/benettongroup

An image from ‘Nudi Come’, Benetton’s Fall 2018 campaign which made a statement against ethnic conflicts, identity violence and racism.

There is a job out there folks.

It is perhaps revelatory that no fashion influencer from anywhere in the world has managed any story, post or idea that has gone viral in the last month. If at all, every few days articles on “the end of influencers” surface in global press. Just yesterday. Vanity Fair magazine put out a pertinent question through an article: Is This the End of Influencing as We Knew It? it asked.

Last December for our year-end edition The Year of Dissent, I wrote a piece called The Decline of Fashion Journalism talking about the current and futuristic fashion media pit with enough front row seating for influencers and bloggers but none for the journalist. And why therefore, the journalist must stand up.

That the time will come so soon to stand up reclaim our jobs could not have been predicted. Though Wuhan had begun to fall sick when I was writing that piece.

Now that we stand employed by an unexpected script of life and death, let us ‘decongest the pandemic moment’ with sensitive, timely, stories. That stretch the arch beyond product trials, junkets, luxury travel and freebies.

Let us find celebrities of the future, tall in their stature and fair in their handling of the wreckage. Let us ask and answer what brands must place and sell through their store windows when the malls open up. How will they define accessibility and comfort by the end of the year?

Let us find out what will reassure and help the world that is fashion led. For fashion journalists, it is time to fire themselves from front row jobs and start filing the next COVID-19 story.

Banner: An image from French luxury house Chanel’s Mademoiselle Stays Home series of Instagram posts. Instagram/chanelofficial–3690