Curtain Stalled

Curtain Stalled

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The beginning of a fashion week is almost always the same. Magazines celebrate it and newspaper writers,like me,rant about what’s wrong with it. Both sides are (almost) accurate; there’s always something to look forward to in fashion and there’s never a governing body that escapes media scrutiny. Press rhetoric,wonderfully,is just rhetoric after all.

Today is the first day of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in New Delhi. It is the fourth or fifth fashion week in India in 10 months. But for the first time,its show list is as skinny as any of its rivals. The fashion shows start as late as 3.30 pm instead of the usual 11am,and not one senior designer is presenting a fashion show. Tarun Tahiliani,Sabyasachi Mukherjee,Rohit Bal,Manish Arora,Rajesh Pratap Singh,Abraham & Thakore,JJ Valaya and Ritu Kumar are all missing from the line-up. Is this then the beginning of the end for Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI)?

The FDCI or the Fashion Design Council of India,is unarguably the only official and recognised body of fashion designers in this country. It was set up in 1998 by a group of designers and a couple of fashion entrepreneurs with the following agenda: To host seasonal fashion weeks; to bring about an integration of designers and give them an industry status; to promote their businesses collectively and individually,in India and abroad; and finally,to provide a corporate structure to the “fashion industry”,aping the European storied fashion houses and American departmental stores.

The biggest bugbear is a gentleman called Vijay Singh,who has lured away celebrity fashion designers with his India Bridal week,held in Delhi two months ago,and to be held in Mumbai next month. Singh’s entrepreneurial skills,come from bringing big money into bridal fashion (and overcrowded and disorganised market at best) and hosting designers and their shows in a megawatt style. If showmanship is brand-building,all is then well.


But big-ticket designers are spoilt and refuse to participate unless for free. And the FDCI is left feeding off bones. Designers such as Namrata Joshipura,Sanchita,Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna are strong prêt makers and will be the stars of the season.

“I do regret not taking part because I have a very strong collection,” says Tahiliani,who had to opt out due to his father’s illness. “I have rented six stalls at the fashion week,the most ever. But yes,as a branding exercise,it’s wrong to miss a fashion week and I won’t be doing it again.”

The genial Sunil Sethi,president of the FDCI,politely says it’s fine with him. “We can’t hold designers morally responsible for not participating. On the flipside,young names such as Rahul Mishra and Aneeth Arora have prime slots.”

The biggest failure of the FDCI is being unable to manage designers. Since it is run by designers themselves,natural competitors and rivals,it’s hard to placate everyone at once. Obviously no one can agree on anything. At a board meeting last year,one designer refused to increase her participation fee by Rs 50,000 saying she couldn’t afford it. Another designer asked her to sell her Bottega Veneta handbag and participate.

Sethi,for his part,ropes in exciting sponsors and buyers: Besides,Fiama and Audi as regulars,there’s Twinings Tea,Tata Nano that will present a car designed by Masaba Gupta,and Adidas which will show Jeremy Scott shoes. He says he also has the support of the Ministries of Commerce and Textiles in bringing on liaisons and support. The head buyer from Anthropologie and Harvey Nichols,Riyadh,are expected,as are journalists from UK’s The Telegraph and Vogue Italia.

The FDCI today,13 years later,does little more than organise fashion weeks,decide front-row seats and prime slots. It bears little weight that Gucci shows at Milan Fashion Week are sometimes at 10am and Dior’s at Paris are often in the afternoon. Sethi says since the FDCI isn’t a private limited company,it can’t have a non-compete clause in the contracts of participating designers. But surely a code of conduct can be brought in where member designers are banned for two years if they take part in any rival week.

New York Fashion Week was a messed up affair with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein on its board. It is only if the FDCI is corporatised instead of being run by a rotating batch of designers,can we have some momentum. Only then can the show really begin.