The Dummy’s Guide to Fashion Week Front Row


The Dummy’s Guide to Fashion Week Front Row

New Delhi : Fashion week is a great spectator sport and front row its uber-glamorous seat. But you should know the rules of this Me-Too game, its charades, half-celebs and chiffony splendour, to indulge in it. If you are a first-timer at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, here is a primer on what to applaud and ignore.

If you are a fashion week newcomer, be prepared to be bamboozled upon entry. A stab of doubt about your own dress is an obvious sign. The fashionatti are an adept people; they make their own puzzling clothes look like a service to trendiness. As a result, every normal dresser feels like an idiot for the first five minutes at any fashion week. Making the newbie feel out of sync is fashion’s oldest ploy. Put that sudden temptation to assess your wardrobe on hold. There are many illusions here. You buy one, you definitely get another free.

Once you are past the bouncers who smile only when they can disallow entry, focus on the front row. The site of power play, fashion politics and dressing games, it is the battleground of those who drive the buzz and biz of fashion. In Paris, Milan and New York, this is where you spot the Vogue US editor Anna Wintour as she sizes up new collections and assigns them their place in the season’s pecking order, where Jennifer Lopez claps for John Galliano, where Madonna waves kisses at Marc Jacobs and where the pope of modern luxury, chairman of LVMH Bernard Arnault, looks on as Silvia Venturini Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld take a bow.

In India, the front row is the new Me-Too. The seat of envy, hype and satire, it is, at the same time, the place where you can learn fashion’s fabulous lessons. It may be where Twinkle Khanna unzipped hubby Akshay Kumar’s Levi’s or where Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor held hands as new lovers, but this is also where the Seven Sins of Fashion take a bow. Officially reserved for stars, store owners, fashion editors, select bloggers, guests of designers and the rich who buy fashion, the front row has been Indianised. The straight-postured, cross-legged, not-a-hair-out-of-place body language of a fashionista with an I-don’t-care-what-you-think-about-me (read, I-only-care-what-you-think-about-me) attitude gets amusingly mixed with the unselfconscious fuss of first-timers. A front row could have a Bollywood-crazy jeweller from Chennai (the sponsor’s cousin, you see) taking pictures of Bipasha Basu on his cellphone, a local politician’s son wearing power on his sleeve or the mother-in-law of a bureaucrat with her kitty party gang. Fashion week organisers now use front-row seating to oblige a variety of people who have no connection with fashion. Such an invite is a seductive gift, like a bottle of Macallan whisky.

The accidental democratisation has led to amusing front-row conversations. At a couture week in Delhi some months back, I sat next to a government official at Sabyasachi’s show. “I will send you the photos from parties I have attended at houses of actors,” he said, by way of conversation. Star-struck and indifferent to fashion except its celeb quotient, he sat as a VIP, having usurped, perhaps, a small-town retailer’s place. He also clapped at all the right moments, reminding me of Nicholas Coleridge’s brilliant lines in The Fashion Conspiracy: “In the insecure world of fashion, applause at shows spreads like bushfire; it is difficult to pinpoint the start.”

In contrast, three ladies from Delhi’s Kamla Nagar who sat in the front row of JJ Valaya’s couture show deserved their seats more than many junior fashion reporters did. Loyal customers of JJ, they sat in pretty salwar kameezes without any nervous tension of fashion week newbies. The salwar kameez has become such an oddity in fashion that they were like a whiff of fresh air. Besides, they knew about jamevar embroidery, the difference between “fancy” (Indian usage for flamboyant) and corporate clothing and argued why celeb showstoppers were a nuisance.

It is easy to be surprised at fashion weeks. You will never see a Giorgio Armani standing in a dark corner in Milan clapping for a fellow designer, but here you will spot a Rohit Bal doing that. If a young designer is showing, his peers cheer him on. Something older designers haven’t learnt to do. If at all they attend each other’s shows and clap, they do it with measured restraint.

Refresh your fashion week checklist every other hour. Urgent mobile messaging right when the shows are on; the fashion media behaving like celebs with a cause; all the designers wearing black as if in repressed rebellion; coffee and sandwiches selling for the price of Dal Bukhara; the jostling jamboree of photographers every time a slim, tall girl in a short dress walks in; the carefree chutzpah of gay dressing; the Sari Complex (sari is not the stuff of fashionable debate); a half-celeb inaugurating some installation; models snatching languid moments at cafes unmindful of the fuss around them. Add to that PR armies walking around as power brokers of the moment, the mad rush of the bacchas and fucchas to get into booze lounges, stunted vocabulary with “amazing”, “great”, “lovely” and “babe” used with equal emphasis; groups “stepping out for a smoke” and you have a draft of a dummy’s guide to a fashion week. “Good to see you,” they all insist. Right.

Seven paragraphs down and not a word about clothes! That just mirrors the irony that greets you at the Week. Recently, well-known fashion critic Suzy Menkes asked upon the conclusion of the New York Fashion Week: “Have the clothes become an aside?”, adding how going backstage to meet a designer had become an exercise in waiting. “If you’re pretty and well-groomed and in heels, chances are you’ll be stopped by — and indulge in — a barrage of flashbulbs…. What about the entire point of this whole thing in the first place: the clothes?”

A question you may well ask here. People politics over clothes, pre-show cocktails and after-show parties sponsored by booze companies (why do the fashionable party so much?), limp controversies over who is doing the finale and inordinate fuss about minor celebrities could become your staple diet if you live by fashion. Ignore, ignore.

Instead, make clothes your treat. Notice the details around shoes, jewellery, the styling, hair and make-up on the ramp. If you are a sceptic, you will soon be a convert to the wondrous nuances of fashion. Some designers deserve more than just applause. They take up creative themes and convert them into commercially successful collections. They stage these by combining 21st century techniques with the social realities of India Now. You will never see all this in a store, for most of what walks the ramp doesn’t make it to the Indian market. Ramp clothes go through a creatively unnerving de-dramatisation — with zari borders, tassels, big buttons, altered hemlines and add-on sleeves — to become “saleable”.

Catch the clothes before this mutation. Touch and feel them to experience the sheerness of lace, the softness of suede, the sparkle of sequins, the way a garment falls and how another crinkles. It is a fascinating world of silk and spangle; chiffons and threads, metallic colours and colourful metals; matte and gloss.

You’ve successfully logged in to Fashion Week. Password: Dry Clean Only. Do not forget that it is a ping pong world, where something is in because something is out. Whichever the order, it will keep getting reversed.