Inescapably,most of the chatter at the two just concluded fashion weeks in Delhi was more about money and less about clothes. The Lakme Fashion Week which commences in Mumbai today,at the flashy Grand Hyatt hotel,promises to propagate the business of fashion like no other. But the worldwide cash crush has seen several businesses in this industry tear themselves apart retailers are begging for sales,magazines are shutting down by the week and merchandisers are too few and far between.
But dont tell the designers that just yet. Despite a severe drop in sales (a 25-30 per cent on an average) in the last season alone (six months),the garments that were on the runways at Delhi were not as sober as the international mood. Its almost as if,as a fashion writer puts it,when the ship is sinking,to rev up the band and dance till the very end.
One look at any of the 70 outfits sent out by Tarun Tahiliani,at the Delhi Fashion Week at the Capitals European label-filled Emporio mall,made you believe that couture was alive and smoking. Each ensemble was the apogee of luxurious,baroque-style dressing,with royal velvets,layers of tulle and bijoux splattered in the style of Mughal princes. Fashion should present ideas for people to live a better life, his note reads. My clothes are actually better suited to the recession, he later reasons. They are great value for money. Yes,a great lot of money too.
In Mumbai this week,the inveterate Bombay Boy and designer Narendra Kumar is presenting three fashion shows,two of which he has doled out about Rs 3 lakh from his personal kitty,while the third is sponsored by retail chain Westside. And even though he insists the market isnt in a recession but a re-treading,he justifies his expenses. This (a fashion week) is the only time we are showing our clothes and its really important that we do it, he convinces. In times like these,you need to be much more creative as the competition is still the same and you have to send out a far more creative and alluring product.
Kumars theory,like many in his fraternity,is that when people are buying less,they want to pick up the best product and hence you need to be better than before. In a recession,people want to see something that lifts their gloom.
A recession is actually a good thing creatively; it makes you push the boundaries of fashion even more, seconds industry maverick Manish Arora,who has been showing at Paris Fashion Week for the last two years. My clothes are inspired by nature and fauna and give out a positive energy, he adds of his last weeks presentation at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week,at Intercontinental Eros hotel. His zoo themed line was both outrageous in effort and outstanding in creativity; no holds barred as fantasy met Swarovski crystals and vivid colour,a complete suspension of faculties that even caused the hard-to-please fashion editor of the International Herald
Tribune,Suzy Menkes,to rush backstage to offer gobsmacked congratulations.
There are others who bring on the fantasy: Amber Feroz,at the Delhi Fashion Week,Emporio mall,celebrated Delhi Divas in a holiday-wear line that was languid and sensuous with never-ending fabric; Gaurav Gupta had wispy tulle and leg-o-mutton sleeves in shiny shapes; Savio Jon manipulated mens shirts to make romantic and folksy womens dresses (with safety pins and zipper doodads to hold ourselves together he says); and Atsu lived it up with clothing made in fine wool,elaborate brocade,large Oriental hand-embroidered roses and dresses made of so many sequins you couldnt see the cloth,making us believe the fiscal fright is just a fairy tale.
Designers have taken the recession and made it Indian; we may spending less but we refuse to dress down, says Sumeet Nair of the Fashion Foundation of India,organiser of the Delhi Fashion Week.
Namrata Joshipura who lives in New York City and sells in those big and intimidating creatures called departmental stores in the USA (Neiman Marcus,Henri Bendel and Bloomingdales),used the same leather from the supplier to Italian heavyweights Dolce & Gabbana. She also made remarkable use of Indian handwork,especially her multi-coloured jackets which were actually a patchwork of several colours and embroideries. Menkes later visited her in one of the rooms at the Intercontinental Eros,where Joshipura was showing,just to turn the pieces around and compliment the labour-intensive effort.
Most designers are still in denial and few are willing to admit the expectations of fashion are changing. A walk around the empty Emporio,that houses Gucci,Tods,Dior and their ilk,or hark-back to the winter sales that were at an embarrassing 80 per cent discount,shows the luxury industry is irrelevant.
There is the occasional dose of reality from Rajesh Pratap Singh,whose severe line,Lets Face It,was themed around recycling,with a set designed as a hardware factory. He didnt take part in Paris last season as he couldnt afford it; he almost didnt take part in Delhi either,until two weeks ago. I just did what I do, he says,in spite of sagging sales in the European and American market. But we deserve this,we were shamelessly excessive.
But the rest of his comrades sing along with Gaurav Guptas finale song as George Harrison croons,All you need is love,and continues with its daydream.
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