Straight Lace


Straight Lace

Indian fashion buyers are too safe to try on the individualism of anti-fit.

Kallol datta is the Lady Gaga of Indian fashion. A male diva with an “I-give-a-damn-to-the-Anarkali” attitude. Long,wavy hair,nails polished black,a girly bag,plastic hairclips,silver nose ring,bizarre pendants on long chains,a black pathani shirt worn with a red-checked salwar,that’s him — a curious mix of goth and grunge. His Gaga-ness lives in the personal whimsy that dictates his dressing and the candidness with which he admits that his personality dominates his work. “I am a weird child of a polished family. But like the little black dress,I can’t change,” he once told me over chocolate muffins at a coffee shop in Kolkata.

Conservatively speaking (conservative is the last word in Datta’s style dictionary),he is a talented designer from Kolkata whose label,Kallol Datta 1955,is synonymous with Indian anti-fit. Frustrated by geometric shapes,he wants to dress women in sacks and crab-shaped clothes. He creates top-heavy,enveloping silhouettes with drooping sleeves and crazy prints (crabs,ants or cats). Anti-fit garments are like Datta. An oddity. Great to look at but tough to carry off. Associated with rebellion against commercially successful trends,anti-fit is part of the alternative clothing movement that has given the world some significant fashion subcultures: grunge,goth,cyberpunk,hip hop and Lolita fashion.

The Kallol Datta anti-fit is one among other expressions of alternative fashion such as shape-defying pants by Arjun Saluja,or outrageous headgear by milliner Little Shilpa. In Indian street fashion,they appear spasmodically as harem pants,patchwork pajamas,shapeless tops and include what is loosely termed hippie chic.

Alternative fashion challenges the form,embellishment and style of traditional garments. It offers a choice to those keen on expressing a non-conformist attitude through clothing. Yet,anti-fit doesn’t sell well in India. The impression we get through images of Page 3 parties,celebrity appearances on the red carpet,designs on the catwalk and fashion weeks in small cities is of a fashion-forward India. It is a myth.

The majority of Indian fashion buyers is under the spell of cling and bling. Partying socialites and Bollywood stars are the least experimental. Aamir Khan’s wife Kiran Rao is an exception,but she can’t be typecast as either a Bollywood or a Page 3 person. For most others,sexy means tight-fitted,revealing garments. If it’s western,it is short dresses or leggings,stretch jeans or structured jackets. The lehnga-gown,the strappy choli,the tailored sari,the net churidar are all expressions of the same idea — safe,starry,fitted. “Most people who buy designer clothes in India look for versions of the salwar kameez without a dupatta. Very few want garments that are well cut,as against garments that are well embellished,” says fashion strategist Sabina Chopra,who advises stores like Muse and Creo in Mumbai on buying decisions. “As a result,few designers make anti-fit clothing,” she adds.

So,the terrific new shapes we see on catwalks mutate into tame tunics,waist-hugging dresses and lehngas on racks. While a few Mumbai boutiques like Bombay Electric,Melange and Muse promote a contrary fashion ethic,it is not easy in cities guided by traditional buying habits. Ask Vinita Passary of Anonym,an alternative fashion store in Hyderabad. Anti-fit garments,grunge dresses and tin jewellery sit in her shop. Raging business? “No,” she admits. “These clothes are for confident individuals who are not dictated by fads. I don’t see them wanting to possess a Rohit Bal outfit,” says Passary.

Datta too is realistic. He doesn’t see himself as a “big commercial success”. “As tempting as it is to make an Anarkali with a fake gota border,I want to make peace with what comes naturally to me,” he says.

A Rohit Bal ensemble is like a classical painting,liked universally,whereas a Kallol Datta garment is like edgy modern art. The distance between the two is as great as the time most fashion consumers in India may take to travel from assuredly pretty clothes to unconventional shapes.