The slim-fit obsession


The slim-fit obsession

A common strand runs across images fashion’s popular culture offers us.

The Louis Philippe model in the brand’s new commercial watching whirling dervishes; Shahid Kapoor as the enviable new bridegroom on GQ India’s September issue, in a striking black and white Tom Ford suit; a ponytailed Farhan Akhtar canvasing for on TV; and a London-based turbaned blogger on Singh Street Style, billed as “a fashion blog for Singhs”.

They are all dressed in slim-fit clothes.

This has shades of India in the 1960s—the fitting jackets, slim ties and drainpipe trousers worn by Rajendra Kumar in the 1964 film Sangam or by Raaj Kumar in the 1965 blockbuster Waqt. Then, of course, the bell-bottoms took over.

The current trend, though, is of ensembles tailored specifically to suit a gym-perfected, thin body.

Snugly fitting men’s clothes define menswear maestro Raghavendra Rathore’s new Autumn/Winter collection. They were also emblematic of designer Narendra Kumar’s show Monaco Diaries at the Lakme Fashion Week’s (LFW) Winter/Festive edition in August. “There is a phenomenal adoption of the slim fit, but actually it is a loosening of the Indian mind, which now insists on good tailoring, new, untried colours and prints in menswear from socks to blazers as style. We have finally lost the (classic) shirt,” says Kumar. He emphasizes that it is a parallel outcome of the fitness craze that has seized India. Kumar can afford to smile; he presented Brooklyn-style nerdy chic with tailored menswear almost 10 years back, also on the LFW ramp.

“While the entry of Zara into the Indian market has democratized the idea of slim fit, it has a lot to do with the more body-conscious customer,” says Rathore. Associated with classic bandhgalas and his signature royalty-inspired Jodhpurs, Rathore believes slim fits have advanced into a seasonal pattern. Customers like Delhi-based industrialist Vikrum Baidyanath, who works hard to maintain a fit body with exercise and a controlled diet, admits that slim fits are a motivator: “I only wear slim fits, nothing else. Some I would pick up from ready-to-wear retail outlets but mostly I get slim-fit clothes made by my favourite designers,” says Baidyanath, describing clothes by Rohit Bal, Rathore and the duo Rohit Gandhi-Rahul Khanna.

Similar echoes are evident in online shopping. “Over the past couple of years, the slim-fit segment has seen a gradual growth, with all the big brands integrating slim range into their product lines. It has grown from 30-40% to a dominating 70% at an industry level. Given the younger target audience for e-commerce industry, the numbers stand at 75-80%,” says Rishi Vasudev, vice-president, fashion, at e-commerce firm Flipkart. Vasudev adds that while usage occasion (for slim fits) differs, buying behaviour is the same in metros and non-metros. “For men’s clothing, we see a majority skew at about 74%, and for women’s clothing, it stands at 80%.”

Sales data at the reasonably priced, ready-to-wear label shows 46% of the men in their customer base like slim-fit denims. The statistic is 51% for women. Yasho Gupta, menswear designer at Bhane, which opened its first shop at Delhi’s Mehar Chand Market a few months ago, says she keeps the slim-fit quotient in mind when she designs. “The classic shirt itself has become better-tailored but boxy fits are out.“

Skinny fits also retain top of the charts status in women’s fashion, which has been riding the trend longer. “Currently, the most interesting fashion on global catwalks from labels like Givenchy to the dressing choices of fashion’s It Girls is about the avant-garde; high street mixed with sporty styles and bits of expensive clothing. But India is a different story,” says designer Namrata Joshipura. For her designs, Joshipura innovatively fuses the sporty look with body-conscious fabrics like jersey and neoprene. “In India, women want the fitted dress. This obsession with fitness is at a never-before high. Women in their 50s are wearing dresses, which was never the case,” she says, adding that even those who don’t have a great body now want contoured clothing. She admits that she listens to the commercial director of her brand, who insists on some fitted styles every season.

For a story I reported last year from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, after a mahapanchayat issued a “ban” on girls wearing jeans, each girl interviewed spoke about snug jeans as her route to “modernity”, “liberation” and, in some cases, “rebellion” against censorious social expectations. Those who weren’t “allowed” to wear jeans as a pair of trousers, wore them like a churidar or tights—turning it into an Indian staple. Meerut’s Begumpur Market, one of the cheapest in the city, reflected this choice—store after small store sold skinny pants for women and slim-cut shirts for men.

Back in the metros, whether you browse through global labels like Mango, Zara, Promod, Vero Moda or local brands like Ginger, Pantaloons, Westside, Globus, slim fits dominate the style offerings. The brand W, for instance, came out with an eye-catching tag line recently: “Flared kurtas are no longer fashionable. Unlike boring. Introducing column looks at your nearest W store.”

W’s column kurta isn’t a skinny fit but it is straight and narrow. Aarti Ahuja, head of marketing at W, says their campaign tag line wasn’t guided by slim fits but by a desire to beat fashion’s clichés. “We wanted to bring attention beyond coordinated sets like kurta, salwar, dupatta, the anarkali, and why black can be a festive colour too. All the same, yes, women are drawn to straighter and longer fits and the column styles are flying off the shelf,” says Ahuja. Pertinently, she brings up the nationwide popularity of the knitted churidar—both as a design solution for comfortable dressing as well as a “fitted” fashion separate—and that of the palazzo as essential to achieve the straight, contoured look.

Interestingly, the reasons and resonances for form-fitted clothing are vitally different in men’s and women’s fashion. Men’s fashion in India has moved closer to Italian cuts and fits—even in sherwanis, bandhgalas and other ethnic silhouettes. The lycra dhoti by Shantanu & Nikhil is one such instance.

The story flips in women’s fashion. A number of Indian designers are constantly at war against fashion’s two biggest clichés—cling and bling. They create layered ensembles, choose textiles instead of duchesse satin or silk suedes as their fabrics and strictly avoid decorative embellishment. Even so, what pervades the populist consciousness as fashion is what Joshipura rightly phrases as “an oscillation between bandage dresses or the anarkali”. She says India’s party set, or what was earlier called the Page 3 crowd, mostly pursues fashion in these two extremes.

However, not every customer is enamoured. As Vaishali Mathur, executive editor at Penguin Random House India, puts it: “I feel that some brands fixate on trends for the year or season with least regard to what the consumer, in a given region, or of a certain body type, might want. The slim fit is an example of that, where you have to buy a bigger size than your usual. As soon as I see the ‘slim-fit’ tag, I prepare to be uncomfortable or forgo the purchase.” Such trends, she says, only keep a very specific body type in mind.

“The idea seems to be not to enhance your looks in the way you are, but for you to ‘fit in’,” she argues, echoing the disenchantment of numerous fashion buyers. Mathur’s contention also highlights a technical flaw. When you are forced to buy a size bigger so that you can locate something in the slim-fit segment, it leads to a poor fit. Buyers who invest in a well thought-out wardrobe, like Mathur, end up feeling compartmentalized.

The most pertinent argument against the slim-fit trend is the pressure it exerts on consumer groups about a certain “body type”. It encourages “fashion” but discourages style, sometimes even comfort. It also does further disservice by marketing a cloned look, thus limiting a diversity of ideas, the bedrock of original style. Lastly, it bullishly banishes a large consumer segment from what’s called the “latest” in stores as the realistic-sizing requirements of a majority of Indians clash with slim fits.

According to a study published last year in the British medical journal The Lancet, India is the third most obese country in the world after the US and China.

Global fashion’s movement towards the avant-garde, which Joshipura points to, hasn’t become a change agent yet. Barring select international ramp shows, anti-form creations of Japanese designers and a few fashion-smart bloggers, body-contoured clothing rules fashion everywhere. Consider the stunningly styled Robin Wright in the American television series House Of Cards. Every garment Wright wears for work or play literally worships her fabulously fit body. Also, one of the most talked about collections at the New York Fashion Week’s recent Spring/Summer 2016 edition was Victoria Beckham’s. It was all about long and lean shapes. Beckham spoke eloquently about wanting to dress “all kinds of women” but her collection didn’t match the talk. Then, gown after couture gown on red carpets, whether they are worn by Bollywood or Hollywood celebrities, have at least a clinging bodice, if not long slits, butt-hugging cuts and figure contouring.

The veteran Tarun Tahiliani was the earliest visionary of this craze—he was the first to create contoured drapes and stitched saris—anticipating 20 years back that shape, contour and fluid fabrics would dominate fashion for a long time to come. Later, Manish Malhotra, who always admits he wants his clients to look sexy and young, added influentially to the concept of sexy dressing, visualized through clingy chiffon saris for Hindi film heroines. Interestingly, for their Spring/Summer 2014 collection called The Grammar Of Ornament, designer duo Pankaj & Nidhi created bodycon dresses with pattern placement that accentuated the natural contours of the body.

The sari has not been spared either. Some textile designers work with weaving innovation to make the sari lighter, body-conscious and fluid in fall. In what would once have been considered a flaw, Kanjeevaram silks that weigh less than even 500g are now available.

“Fashion is simply a bystander as a society evolves to new social changes and habits,” says Rathore, adding that there is a more focused customer who is fuelled by his or her personality in the competitive society one lives in.

So Narendra Kumar is right on two counts. “Neoprene as the new black in women’s wear; it fits the body like a glove. Two, slim fit in menswear is seen as progressive,” he says.

Mahajan, though, is quick to point out that “this is a cyclical trend, like most trends. Slim fits will start moving towards looser fits again.”

From what we see around, there’s slim chance of that happening soon.