“What happens when society fails to evolve? When, what you wear gives the right to disrespect or even an invitation to assault.” Seeking answers to such questions is the New Delhi Fashion, Spring Summer Fall Winter, a photography project by Hemant J Khendilwal and Kamal Bhatnagar. “Fashion at its core has always been about identity, but throughout its history, it has also proved to be a creative outlet in times of social unrest. Fashion is a form of art that takes cues from the fabric of society. It changes, adapts and evolves along with the times,” reads the project’s concept note.
The project comprises eight strong images that show women dressed in bubble-wrap and cardboard outfits in public spaces like the bus-stop, marketplace, college canteen, cafe, gym, auto-rickshaw, at a factory, and even a library. The title, as they point out, highlights the fact that “women are insecure in our city throughout the year”.
Talking about the conceptualisation of the project, which was displayed at the Lotus India Fashion Week in Delhi last month, the duo says: “We believe art has the power to inspire social action and create institutional change. We are all aware of the sad state of law and order in our country, especially for a woman’s safety, and we realised how what she wears on the street is totally different from what she wears on the ramp. We decided to use the fashion week to draw attention to the daily difficulties faced by women. It’s all about demand and supply, and if things don’t change for women safety, fashion would have to accommodate and change to accept a violent society.”
The main aim, says the duo, is to “inspire change”. “We want people to look at women differently, we want to invite fashion designers to donate such clothes to make a statement. We don’t want fashion to change to adapt to the violence against women, we want society to stop being violent,” Khendilwal tells indianexpress.com, adding they used packaging material to dress up the models as “these are intended to keep things safe”. He adds they would also favour armour, plastic, metal drums, etc, to “make a stronger statement”.
Elaborating further, he remarks that fashion has always taken cues from society. “Levi’s jeans were created for the gold diggers because they needed something rough and tough, sunglasses solve a basic problem to be out in the sun. Skirts, belts, handcuffs, hats are all fashion solutions to lifestyle problems. Fashion designers are creative engineers.”
Talking about the experience, Bhatnagar, who is the project’s creative director, says: “There is always a first time, and the way FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India) approved the concept and gave us prime position at the Fashion Week is commendable. Sunil Sethi has been highly supportive, we even had bigger plans to have a runway walk with these clothes but due to paucity of time we could not do it…probably next time.”
Talking about their future plans, the duo says that “perhaps with the support of media we can invite fashion designers to collaborate and make this movement even bigger.” “We will be doing more images on this concept. It is going to be a on going project. We may do fashion show on the garments made from packaging material. Also talks are on for the display of this exhibition at other galleries/venues,” shares Khendilwal.