The nude attitude


The nude attitude

I have always been interested in the concept of nude, not just as one but various colours of skin,” French shoe designer Christian Louboutin was quoted as saying ahead of the August roll-out of his new collection—The Nudes.

An otherwise flat comment which got new height and depth after a recent press release from Louboutin. It explains the forthcoming collection as “a spectrum of nude, re-imagining the perception of the colour as a pale blush and introducing it as the colour of flesh, which ranges well beyond this traditional reference”. The thoughtfully worded note adds that the “impetus behind this collection was to offer women the ability to find a pair of shoes that would match the colour of their skin”.

With five signature styles from “pale blush to rich chestnut”, Louboutin isn’t just ready to put out shoes for a diverse global clientele but is also addressing fashion’s discriminating if passionate use of the term nude. It is a debate that’s been blowing hot and cold since 2010. Nude has dominated international catwalk trends for the last couple of years in clothes, accessories and make-up. But with the exception of Western countries where pale skins lend nude the shade the fashion industry mostly refers to, it is a politically incorrect term. Nude is much more than a fleshy pink tone that makes body-con dresses, sheer stockings, natural make-up or lacy nude lingerie look sexy. The colour has a multi-ethnic native personality with different connotations in different continents. It implies various sensual definitions ranging from off-white, gold, beige and ivory to champagne, honey and blush rose and in India, from wheatish, earthy, dusky and almond to terracotta. In African countries, it could mean hues of deep charcoal brown.

Which is why when US first lady Michelle Obama wore a “nude” Naeem Khan gown to a White House state dinner to welcome Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife in 2010, fashion writers debated the use of the colour nude as the gown was not of Obama’s skin colour. It made journalist Paula Cocozza ask in an article in The Guardian if the hot fashion colour was racist. Cocozza also referred to an edition of InStyle magazine which called nude the new black, adding that it was “the surest way to exclude black-skinned women from adopting the trend, since it’s apparently not acceptable to wear black as black, nor black as nude”.

Ditto for India where nude now rages as one of the most sought-after fashion colours, especially in bridal attire, giving new competition to traditional vermilions and fuchsia pinks. But its definition changes widely from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

A couple of months back, for a story on tunics in this newspaper, designer Nachiket Barve said wearing “skin- coloured” tights with coloured tunics was a style faux pas. “It gives the impression of wearing nothing under the tunic, which doesn’t look elegant,” he had said. A large number of Indian women indeed favour “beige-coloured” bottoms, almost like staple black trousers. But a wrong shade could make the whole outfit look tacky. Many of us pick a “Westernized” nude, thinking we are opting for a neutral colour, without realizing that it could clash jarringly with our skin tone.

No wonder “natural”-coloured Indian fabrics look drab on some skins, making them look washed out, while lighting up others. Curiously, many Indian textiles look best in natural shades ranging from mud browns to champagne creams—like the almond-coloured Khadi woven from red cotton grown in Ponduru in Andhra Pradesh; Tussar from West Bengal or Banarasi tissue in butter-gold shades. How good we look in them is often determined by the colour of our skin.

Perhaps one way to wear these shades well could be by transferring Louboutin’s nude shoe principle to clothes and make-up: “Nude elongates the leg without taking away space from the body. The shoes disappear like magic and become a fluid extension of her legs, as in a sketch, elongating the silhouette,” explains the designer.

Nude then turns out to be a colourful term in style. Not only must it be chosen appropriately to be “fair” to who we are, but it needs dressing up rather than undressing to make a point. Ah.