Stepping out of Anamika Khanna’s fashion show last week at New Delhi’s Taj Palace Hotel was a bit of a crash course in a new fashion show etiquette. The Kolkata-based couturier was commissioned by Bvlgari jewels of Italy to present a fashion show to launch their big, bold and colourful baubles. It could be said Ms Khanna was an apt choice, she is known for her elaborately embellished clothes that play with fabric shapes. Or she could be a complete mistake, she is a famous recluse and so not a fan of the big, bold or colourful.
The reactions to the show were diametrically opposite. “I’ve picked two outfits I’m going to wear to my wedding,” chirped a giddy-headed stylist, 40, and at a not-even-dating-yet stage of her apparent nuptials. “It was so underwhelming,” echoed two other fashion designers present at the show.
It is a rare designer and even a rarer fashion show that evokes a uniform reaction from its audience. So Khanna must breathe easy here. But the episode does throw light on the various tools we use to judge a fashion show today. It also highlights the idea of ‘normcore’, a word now found in the Oxford Dictionary, that means dress as if you are just one of 7 billion.
My response to anyone asking me if runway clothes were ‘wearable’ was dismissive. Look for art, I averred. And wit. And opinion. And novelty. Along came Instagram and changed the game of fashion and retail. Clothes — high fashion garments, mind you — had to be ‘wearable’. Or boot and scoot please. Even the big daddies of couture began to present collections that were as quotidian as a morning cuppa.
Normcore demands you embrace sameness as a new way of being cool. If fashion was once a method of expressing your personality, it now means a uniform civil code of blandness.
This reminds me of Wendell Rodricks’ last fashion show, “Yoga Calm”, that he presented at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week a few weeks ago. It was an all-white homage to what he does best: baring the cloth of all embellishment down to its purest form. It is just the fabric and its cut that he reinvents in geometrical ways. The handkerchief silhouette, the terrifying and terrific bias cut, a crease-filled linen threaded together with synthetic lycra. These are techniques only a master tailor can pull off. But Rodricks’ audience mostly chanted: “Same thing”.
Where does a designer express his signature in this new zeitgeist?
Phoebe Philo is the queen of the minimalist. Donna Karan will have strong and empowering silhouettes for the modern urbanista. Tarun Tahiliani will present different methods of draping teamed with his trademark jackets. Chanel will never give up its tweeds and Versace its printed silks. They own their looks and have built an empire on their signatures. Without a recognisable look, one is just a clothes-maker, not an inventor or a creator.
Fashion must change to keep you interested. Nostalgia is a bane. We often end up in an inescapable cycle of watered-down derivatives of what was once original. We give up the one crucial point of originality— the idea.
The challenge for designers in today’s severely consumerist market is far greater than it has ever been. There are no seasons, ‘fast’ fashion is the new black, retail is insatiable and commercial scores over creative. The only trend du jour is ‘normcore’, dress as indistinguishably as possible.
In this hyper reality, it is easier to photocopy than to reinvent.