UNDERSTATEMENT: Too many designers, too little fashion


UNDERSTATEMENT: Too many designers, too little fashion

Albert Watson, the Scottish photographer, an institutional name in fashion, celebrity and art photography would present a fundamental question to his class, one that is remembered by one of his former apprentices. “Yes, it is a picture, but is it a photograph?”

A question derived from that thought: yes it is clothing but is it fashion? could be the one to ask as Indian fashion becomes a confusing blur trapped inside events, mostly called “fashion weeks”–from Delhi to Goa, Mumbai to Jaipur with hundreds of designers over cooking the broth. These may work as marketing events for sponsors who place their products on front row seats and get visibility through branding that’s becoming louder but pray, what about fashion?

Governed by concerns that seem a not-so-easy to decipher mix of commerce and creativity, fashion seems a terrible mix of some terrific work and many mediocre ideas, knock-offs and poorly finished stuff. The jamboree, the noise often eclipses good fashion.

Since the selection criteria to get a fashion week show or a stall is not totally clear except that shows are “subsidized” to open up opportunities for the younger designers, a lot of ‘commercial fashion’ hits the same platform as creative expression. For instance, Payal Pratap, who many may agree is one of the most consistently strong emerging designers, must show on the same stage as Raakesh Agarvwal who needs a far more studied strategy on his comeback trail with a lot of focus on the finishing of his garments and some serious rethinking of the word “glamour”.

There are many other jumbles. At WIFW, some designers showed clothes that were bridal more than pret (Anupamaa Dayal, Nikasha), others showed summery if pretty garments (Urvashi Kaur), then there were neither here nor there genres (Vineet Bahl) but a bunch remained true to the theme of Autumn/Winter—Aneeth Arora (snowflakes and layering) Abraham & Thakore (wild heavy silks like tussar, long trench coats), to name just two. This happens every time but no one seems interested in ironing it out. There is no integrated vision.

Let’s keep the merits of the collections aside for a moment but when some designers openly flout the season while others adhere to it, the lines start becoming indistinguishable for spectators. This “sab chalta hai” (everything goes) approach fetches from sections of the media a “kuch bhi likho” (write anything) response.

A similar lack of clarity prevailed at Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) too. One of the most talked-about collections was by Gaurav Gupta. Only it was an Autumn/Winter line in the summer-resort event. While Shantanu & Nikhil showed their same Trans-seasonal collection at LFW and WIFW. Obviously neither of the two bodies objected. Not long ago, LFW went hammer and tongs against the international norms of the fashion industry and established their seasons differently—show Summer/ Resort even if the rest of the world showed Autumn/Winter. Great. Now, please stick to it.

Do we the fashion journalists do justice to designers and fashion weeks through the manner of coverage? Everyone can take a guess. We contribute to botching up the clarity further, seek fast bytes, ignore bad shows by an unspoken ‘don’t like, don’t write policy’, paste celebrity photos regardless of which garment best represents a designer and dance joyously every time a star trips on the ramp. Some designers regularly send us stock answers cleverly including rehearsed marketing statements of their brand to respond to whichever question we may ask (damn the subject of our stories). They have learnt to respond in idiotic perfection to the “fashion media” which seems needed alright but is barely respected.

Is there a solution then? Or should we go with the flow and see what goes on? The latter seems to be the survival mode that most have externally adopted but the former has begun to create sore debates inside parts of the industry. While some senior designers have stopped showing, numerous middle order ones are frustrated and unsure. Even the audiences which once were once crazy about entry passes now have to be coaxed by designers to “show their support”.

So for a start: could fashion week bodies stick to their selection criteria, the seasons and the genre, make the shows slicker, well-edited and choose who must show and more importantly who must not? Ban who don’t comply. Why is it so difficult to choose those who make extraordinary fashion—because even buyers want to see an evolved industry—and segregate the rest to a specially marked presentations and exhibitions day where buyers, designers and the media meet and greet and life goes on?