It opened with three little girls in Miss India-esque gowns who were made to sit like props till the end of the show. Then came the clothes; with ruffles and sequins and zardozi and tulle and brocade,sometimes all in one dress. One particular black-and-white sequined Valentino-inspired gown had a very visible pin holding its front slit together,reminding me of fashion shows in colleges that dont teach fashion. And then came the designer with her showstopper. Ritu Beri wore what may or may not have been an S&M-style black number while writer Shobhaa De (a sometime-designer herself) came on brandishing her latest book a promotion to end all promotions.
This was right in the middle of what was dubbed the perfect fashion week by its regulars. No jarring showstopper celebrities,no look-at-me Delhi socialites (Ameeta Seth ensured they were all at her Jaipur wedding),fewer sensationalist crowd-pulling designers. Just pure fashion,a meeting point for evolved concepts,people who understood them and those who were willing to sell them.
I asked Sunil Sethi,president of the FDCI,at the end of this show why he would allow this. Thats why I offered Ritu a sponsored show (Aircel),this was outside the realm of regular shows at the fashion week, he offered before he went on to tell me how much more was initially asked for.
Ritu Beri has just been made Chevalier des Ordre des Arts et des Lettresthe highest civilian honour by the French government. Who they give this honour to is up to the French. But this is an useful context to note that Manish Arora is the real Indian import to France. Hes a regular at the Paris Fashion Week and one can always find his clothes at the top boutiques of the tres chic Rue du Faubourg-St Honore. Or take Rajesh Pratap Singh,for instance,who may have presented in Paris fewer times but always leaves the French fashion press breathless. Indo-French fashion connections are probably stronger too via people like Wendell Rodricks,the revered eco-mad and revivalist designer,who speaks perfect French and has a French partner. Or even Aishwarya Rai the absolute Indo-French ambassador being the face of Longines and LOreal,shes easily recognised on the streets of France.
Beri doesnt own a store of her own,nor sells out of one,unlike any major designer. Her clothes,only seen at fashion shows,leave much to be desired in style and technique. Can a designer be judged at all if he or she isnt regularly tested in the marketplace? Thats the ultimate test. Can being famous substitute for being in the business? Especially when designers are judged by fashion history?
Interestingly,Beri credits herself with being the pioneer of fashion publicity in India. Today,the most important hire for a designer after a business head is the publicity agent,but back then the industry reacted with hostility. I became the outsider, she told a magazine this month. Fashion PR is very important,and it has come a long way. But its the clothes that do the talking,especially these days. A good publicist knows what to highlight and what to hide. But the as long as they spell your name right mantra is professional hara-kiri.
As I was writing this,my phone rang. A PR agent told me his client,an up-and coming designer,was upset because Rohit Bal yelled at him. I told the agent,Ignore it,and do your client a favour.
Let the clothes speak for the designer,let the market judge the clothes.