A multi-layered conversation at Express Adda on Thursday evening brought up aspects of the fashion industry that are seldom debated openly. The discussion moved from what India has inherited from its fashion designers to the medias attitude towards fashion,why the government distances itself from fashion brands,and the dominance of Bollywood on the ramp at the cost of deflecting attention from the clothes.
Dissecting an informal report card of 25 years of the Indian fashion industry were pioneering designers Suneet Varma,Tarun Tahiliani,Madhu Jain,and Indias first supermodel Anna Bredemeyer.
They interacted with a highly enthusiastic,informed and discerning audience,with Shekhar Gupta,Editor-in-Chief of The Express Group,and Shefalee Vasudev,national features editor of The Indian Express,playing moderators.
Both the panel and several members of the audience that included prominent designers expressed concern over the perception of fashion as entertainment,rather than as a creative industry that provides employment,and which has been instrumental in turning India into a global retail market.
Politicians have taken us abroad as entourage but in India the government doesnt recognise us, Varma said.
Tahiliani defended fashions close association with filmstars. Nothing sells without Bollywood. The media doesnt pick up anything without filmstars. Even NRI clients are attracted to film celebrities, he said.
While Jain argued that modernity was encroaching on Indias textile tradition,other designers including younger members of the industry insisted they were using craft and Indian textiles,only in a new way.
Ritu Kumar,the matriarch of Indian fashion,said that multinationals had killed native fashion in many countries,and India has held out only because of the diversity of tradition.
Members of the audience like FDCI president Sunil Sethi,joint MD of Hero Motocorp Sunil Munjal,and RK Swamy group senior adviser Chintamani Rao,added multiple dimensions to the conversation.
Anna Bredemeyer said models in her day were allowed to display their individual personalities on the ramp,very different from what happens now.
But the comment of the evening came from French Ambassador Francois Richier. I am from a country where the first lady was a supermodel, he said,half in jest. Indian fashion need not be pessimistic,and it should not underestimate its influence on the West.