THE OLYMPIAN QUESTION

Does it really matter what team India wears to the opening ceremony?

Written by Shefalee Vasudev | New Delhi | Published: July 13, 2012 3:51 am

Does it really matter what team India wears to the opening ceremony?

Later this month,at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in London,Italians will be in stylish outfits designed by Giorgio Armani,Brits will wear Stella McCartney,and those from the US will sport Ralph Lauren. “Fashion represents a great Italian flag for the whole world and it is a beautiful idea to combine it with sports,” Armani had said when he announced his 50-piece Olympic collection. McCartney, being host-country designer has also created an Olympic Villagewear collection,intended not only for British athletes to wear off the field but is also on retail for Olympic fans.

For the Indian contingent,tradition,not fashion,will be the language of expression. Female players will be in saris,presumably with poorly-tailored jackets worn over them and men will wear formal trousers,blazers and safas or perhaps bandhgalas with trousers and safas. A certain amalgamation of drapes,bright colours and traditional symbols will come together to underline the Indian identity.

I am relying on a clump of presumptions because there is no official word (as this issue goes to press) from the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) on which designer/draper has been commissioned to dress the team for the opening parade. Raghavendra Rathore who had in the past dressed the Indian contingent for an Olympics opening ceremony reiterated he is not on board this time. Nor are designer duo Ashima-Leena who made costumes for players at The Commonwealth Games in 2010 or Shantanu and Nikhil who have associated with Adidas for a designer sports collection. Sunil Sethi,the president of the Fashion Design Council of India said there were some talks with the IOA but nothing materialised. A few players I called,too,pleaded ignorance. “We will wear whatever the IOA gives us,” they said.

So what’s the big deal,you could say. Clothes for the opening ceremony are hardly a priority in a global competition where the difference between the good and the great is just a few seconds. Does it really matter that no well-known Indian designer has been roped in to dress our players?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. In a country where opportunities and facilities for sport itself remain clouded by various concerns,lampooning the ill-fitting jackets of sportspersons is not good practice. Yet even if the fashion label doesn’t matter,what does stick out repeatedly is that our designers and the government of India (whichever the sporting event may be) somehow don’t manage to sustain any partnership beyond one event.

India is,in fact,a bit behind the race ever since fashion got fit and fabulous in the last century. Sportswear has changed the way people dress,giving casual wear a definitive look and making “sporty fashion” trendy. This trend of modern sportswear first began in the United States so it could compete with couture from Paris. “Youth culture” all over the world further pushed sporting lines in mass brands everywhere. Fashion and sportswear became irreversibly intertwined,designers and sports brands began to borrow ideas from each other. From the 1970s,sportswear firmly established itself inside fashionable territory. Spandex leotards for aerobics,disco-style leggings,cotton fleece tops,track suits,jogging and cycling shorts,leg and arm warmers,headbands and stunning models of sports shoes gave the world a new fare. Sports stars became brand ambassadors for brands — Michael Jordan for Nike and David Beckham for Adidas being some of the top names. Now,sportswear is acceptable daywear while sportswear itself worn on the field is stylish as well as functional.

But India is barely catching up. Yes,Manish Arora’s Fish Fry shoes for Reebok,Shantanu-Nikhil’s sporty line for Adidas or Aki Narula for Puma have put out some collections but these have evoked little international recall. Surprisingly,big fashion players in India,even those who create casual wear chic for the youth,haven’t branched out into their own sportswear labels. The Indian A-list couturiers refrain from joining hands with sports companies unlike Alexander McQueen with Puma or Yohji Yamamoto with Adidas. Something doesn’t quite add up. Could it be that Indian-made sportswear has no standing in the retail market? Or that working on events that have some association with the government of India leaves designers cold?

Traditional saris may be a good and sustainable option but with designer intervention,they could better represent who we are as Indians today: multicultural yet particular. “I am very patriotic,” said Armani. “And what is more patriotic than the Olympics?”

Is India listening?

shefalee.vasudev@expressindia.com

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