The stilettoes totter
to the registration counter at Pragati Maidan. There’s already a bevy of people
pushing to the front. A black backpack is fighting for space with a yellow
canvas tote in front of the desk, and last season’s leggings and this season’s
jeggings shove each other to get ahead.
“Shruti,” says the towering white stiletto.
“Not on the list, sorry,” says a harassed Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) staffer, cursorily looking at her papers as people walk past with giant suitcases and clothing rails.
One of the other stilettos, in a Nineties Seattle grunge shirt, turns to Shruti, cocks her head sideways, and drags her away from the chaos for a semi-private yet audible conversation.
“How do we get in?” asks Seattle grunge. Shruti lifts her shoulders and shrugs. By now, the FDCI staffer has moved on to rejecting others, mainly students from NIFT and Pearl Academy of Fashion. Tall, leggy models with bare midriffs cut across the ground; they don’t need their names on a list, no one stops them.
The stilettos look dejected as they walk to the chaatwala on the street. Somewhere past the metal detector, past the frisky hands of security and the metallic-white art pieces, is a world they have only imagined: a world of fashion they long to see.
“Can you get us a pass?” they ask me. I tell them I can’t.
“Can you get this note to Simrin? Her mobile is switched off,” Seattle grunge pleads. Simrin is their classmate from Pearl Academy who is working as an intern at Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week.
The note reads: “We’re OUTSIDE!!! Sneak us in. Shruti.”
FREE LABOUR IN A Rs. 720 CRORE INDUSTRY
Simrin is sitting in
the second row in a little black dress that blends in with the black velvet
upholstery and black curtains, her eyes fixed on the ramp. She’s meant to be
sorting out place cards—sticking them to the seats that will soon cushion the
derrieres of VIPs, buyers and editors—but she can’t focus. Above her, a
carpenter is hoisting an “Emergency Exit” sign and all around her, the lights
are flickering and the music is skipping. It’s stuck on Sean Kingston crooning:
You’re way too beautiful girl / That’s why it’ll never work / You’ll have me suicidal, suicidal. Suicidal. Suicidal. Suicidal. Off.
Yet the models keep striding on the ramp before her, unfazed by the fault. Anu Ahuja, one-time model turned show choreographer, spews directions into a microphone.
It’s a mood, it’s relaxed. You’re Bohemian. But, you, you’re just running through.
“Girls,” she yells like a school teacher. “It’s a mood, it’s relaxed. You’re Bohemian. But, you, you’re just running through.” Despite the directive, the model in question keeps her fast pace, oblivious to the pleas. She’s not even looking up from her iPhone. “Big gaps,” implores Anu, cajoling the models, “I need bigger gaps between the models. Oh gosh! That’s a huge gap.”
When Simrin first arrived here, five days ago, Main Stage Area 1 wasn’t Main Stage Area 1, the room she’s in wasn’t a room, and the week wasn’t the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week Spring Summer 2014. Two hours before the opening ceremony, the transformation is still a work in progress. At the far end of the ramp, carpenters are hammering in the last of the nails, painters are applying black paint to the legs of the seats, and three people are sticking up the names of the sponsors: Nano, Twinings, Elle, Zoom, ITC, and more.
I pass on the note but Simrin can’t help. She doesn’t have any say here; she’s just free labour in the Rs. 720 crore fashion industry. “Let them wait,” she says, continuing to stick place cards. “This is where the fashion editor of Vogue will sit. Should I put them next to her?”
CRACKS IN PORCELAIN
If this were Vogue,
it would read: “Backstage in hair and makeup, exquisite models sported never
out-of-season red lips, and up-dos accentuated their flawless bone structure”.
But since it isn’t, we’ll say: backstage, the models are sedate. The only hubbub is the shrill banter between Yatan Ahluwalia, the head stylist and his team. The tattooed men with dryers in L’oreal waistcoats have occupied the area under three giant silver ducts that haven’t been concealed. The ducts give the venue an industrial feel, reminiscent of 1970s New York when lofts were the rage. A skinny model in leather jeggings and a faded Union Jack vintage T-shirt momentarily transports you to Andy Warhol’s Factory where magnificent creatures float about.
“Nuisance. Watch out for the bird poop,” says Yatan.
Alas, this is just Delhi and the creatures to watch are the pigeons that have snuck in from the ducts.
This is what it sounds like when doves cry, booms out of Lekha Raman’s white speakers. It’s her boyfriend DJ Rami Harami’s mix. Sitting still as a statue, she’s balancing the speakers on legs that are thinner than M.A.C. blusher brushes, as the makeup artist paints her eyelid creases a shade of taupe for Masaba’s show.
Communication has shrunk to single-word commands.
“Close,” says Ashima. Lekha obeys.
“Curl.” Lekha leans forward and closes her big tired eyes as Ashima curls her eyelashes with ease.
Six lightbulbs leave no space for error. Foundation that has been applied in the morning won’t be wiped off; instead, layers and layers will be piled further. Her foundation, flawless and translucent in the morning, will become caked and crusty by the end of the day, revealing cracks in the porcelain-perfect skin.
A model peeps in through the black curtains. “Tamara!” Lekha jumps to her feet, like a peacock just off-balance, and flits around the makeup room. But it’s not Tamara Moss, one of India’s most sought-after faces. Lekha sinks back into her chair as though that momentary outburst didn’t happen at all.
“Is she still popular?” I ask after Tamara Moss.
“Of course. She’ll never go out of fashion,” says Lekha.
WHEN IN DOUBT, CALL
Beyoncé’s tribute to
female empowerment is blasting from the speakers. Who run the world? Girls (girls)
/ Who run this mother? Girls.
The bass vibrates in the bones.
Designer Masaba is monitoring her rehearsal amid excited whispers that the Opening Ceremony will have the star quotient it apparently desperately needs.
“Bet you it’s someone from Bollywood,” says a model, rolling her eyes. “Why not someone from the sporting world?” asks a model coordinator, unimpressed by the fuss.
“So many of these Bollywood types don’t even know how to walk,” says a choreographer.
Out walks Alia Bhatt from the VIP Celeb Room, with glossy hot pink lips and matching chunky platforms. She’s wearing a Masaba creation: a Chandragupta print flounce dress with ikat embroidered sleeves. Her hair is up in a sleek pony.
So many of these Bollywood types don’t even know how to walk.
Minutes later, she walks the ramp, stands in front of the press pit, pouts, and blows air kisses at the camera as a chorus of applause breaks out backstage. Someone high-fives Masaba.
Upon Alia’s return, the photographer from Grazia, funky hair-pomaded Yashasvi Sharma, has her under his spell.
Alia Bhatt poses for him: she beams and tilts her head sideways to reveal deep dimples. Masaba watches from the corner, and Yashasvi has clocked her. He calls her in for a close-up of the designer and the fledgling starlet. They stand coldly side-by-side, until he interjects.
“Can I get a bit of interaction?”
Masaba and Alia Bhatt now hug as if they are friends who’ve been hugging each other since they were little girls, their faces still pointed towards the camera.
“Brilliant.” Click. “Fabulous.” Click.
“More action,” he demands.
Now Masaba and Alia are staring into each other’s eyes, laughing, moving together, making love to the camera.
“Great.” Click. “Hold it.” Click.
He’s a two-minute man and so it’s over fast. Designer and starlet break out of the embrace, and coldly walk to the next photographer.
Queen of the catwalk Carol Gracias has a ringside view to the Alia circus but looks unimpressed. Meanwhile, Lekha looks from behind the Green Room curtain, like a back-up dancer at a star. Slowly, the models diminish in front of the Bollywood ingénue.
The Twitter sphere has already gone wild with images of Alia Bhatt. The morning after, the Student of the Year star will be plastered all over the day’s newspapers.
“A Bollywood beauty has already made Masaba’s show something to talk about. Who cares about the clothes,” says a model.
Who cares about the model?
SETHI AND THE CROWD
Sunil Sethi, President
of Fashion Design Council of India, does care.
Fashion Week without FDCI is like open-toe pumps in Alaska—unthinkable. The FDCI, an apex body for the fashion industry, organises the biannual event, and is tasked with taking Indian fashion to international markets and nurturing Indian designers and their businesses.
Sunil Sethi is FDCI’s puppeteer, always in command, raring to go like a child bouncing from one wall to the other, as revealed by his assistant. Now he’s walking with three models, him at the centre marching with his trademark hunch.
The models, all in stylish, studded sneaker wedges, speed-walk to stay apace.
Priyanka, a young intern with a camera, happens to be on the scene. She’s a student from Pearl Academy, Naraina, and her day’s task is to photograph “dazzling” people.
“Can I take a picture, sir?” she asks.
He stops, they pose, and then Sethi shepherds them to the Models Only toilet.
Priyanka has spent the morning ushering people too, into the Google+ photo booth. It’s a modern-day testament, the “I woz ere” that will be etched into Fashion Week’s digital memory bank.
Later in the day, I see her escorting Rabia, an Arab lady in town for Fashion Week. Rabia is garbed in waves of musky oud, the Arabic perfume, and is all chatter. “I love it here,” she gushes, revealing lipstick-stained teeth. FDCI had organised everything: the tickets, the five-night stay at the Lalit hotel, but not the hourly shuttle service. “What the hell, they’ve given me this little girl instead,” she says, nodding at Priyanka who manages an awkward smile.
“Will the show be good?” she asks Priyanka.
Priyanka doesn’t know.
“How long will it be on for?”
Priyanka can go find out.
“Go call Mr. Sethi,” she commands.
Priyanka can’t do that, even though Rabia insists they are friends.
Now Sethi is striding across the foyer of Main Stage Area (MSA) 2. He stops to shake hands with a man in a lime-green waistcoat and trouser ensemble, and then a lady in a little neon-blue dress and chunky purple heels. The announcer’s voice booms, “The show is about to start. Please make your way to MSA2.”
Groups have formed—editors in one corner with their minions, fashionistas with their Birkins and Chanels, aunties in their embroidered suits, and eccentrics in red plastic jackets—and the yak-yak cackling, the mwah-mwah air-kisses cuts through the air. Then there is the banter.
“Darling! I love your bag,” says a lady with highlighted hair.
“Look there, look at what she’s wearing!” says another with an old-school Versace clutch.
“I think that’s a fake,” a long, lacquered nail points at a potentially faux Birkin.
Now, all classes—from Zara to Chanel—of fashion have gathered in front of MSA2 and Grazia’s Yashasvi is here to capture it all.
“Great.” Click. “Lovely.” Click.
NOT TOO BIG FOR BUTTERFLIES
We speak the night
before his show. Designer Samant Chauhan is frantic: small pieces of embroidery
need to be tended to, final touches on brocade need to be checked here and
there. “After over 12 ramp shows, the nervous excitement is still very much
alive,” he says.
On the morning of his show, his team arrives with three large black suitcases. Assistants hang gown after gown of Bhagalpur silk on a silver rail. “I feel intensely tribal so the collection is a tribute to the Rajputana clan,” he says. Each garment is then passed to Udit, in charge of packing and moving, who lays it in front of Puran Singh, the ironing-man.
Suddenly, panic breaks
through. A piece is missing and it’s apocalyptic. Call the studio. No, give me
the phone. Hello? Hello? Yes the one with the feathers. Rush it over.
He’s pacing now.
The male models are watching Samant have a mild coronary, but they’re trying to maintain their cool. A new model gets his picture taken by another male model who colours his eyebrows. Now there are three huddled together: coloured eyebrows, waxed chest, and the newcomer who is still “looking for his signature thing”.
Samant calls out, “Dresses are transparent; keep an extra skirt in case the model is uncomfortable with see-through.” Praveen Kumar, a graduate from NIFT assisting Samant, is on the floor, cutting chiffon gowns that are apparently too long.
Kritika, a model, walks over apologetically. “My dress, it won’t go down,” she says.
Wide-eyed, aghast, hand on chest, Samant mutters, “Why, how, now?”
The model, waif-thin, who had worked out at the gym from noon to 1 p.m. that very day, hasn’t suddenly piled on the kilos. The dress was a last-minute addition to the collection.
“No way will it go down?” he asks.
She shakes her head; there’s no hope.
From the VIP Celeb Room, Pallavi Sharda, the Australian-born actress starring opposite Ranbir Kapoor in Besharam, glides out. A makeup artist walks behind her with a lipstick brush. Pallavi pouts. She will be opening Samant Chauhan’s show.
The male models watch her breezy entrance; one of them enquires after the parvenu. Who is she? She doesn’t even know how to wear the outfit. Isn’t she a bit fat? The banter goes on until the electronic beats of Nicolas Jaar signal the start of the show.
It’s Pallavi’s cue to enter and she walks the ramp, or “waddles along the ramp,” as a choreographer puts it. Still, there is applause for the Bollywood newbie. The next day, The Indian Express will run a story headlined, “Pallavi Sharda turns muse for Samant Chauhan’s new line”, but Samant and Pallavi barely know each other. The actress didn’t inspire the designer or his collection at all. This is no Edie Sedgwick and Warhol alliance, but a cold understanding between designer and actress that together, they are powerful.
The reporter from Zoom asks: “Is Pallavi the ideal Samant woman?”
“She’s strong and I respect strong women,” says the designer. Other channels throng towards the Bollywood star, and the designer and—in the backdrop—two female models and one male model are waiting as per Samant’s instructions for a photoshoot.
Five minutes pass. The models watch the media circus.
Ten minutes later, the two female models storm off to the Green Room. Jyotpriya, one of the models, is furiously undressing. “The value of models isn’t that much,” she says. In a moment of weakness and emotion, she lashes out: This isn’t about fashion, this is about reaching the masses and through Bollywood, they can get more eyeballs. “It’s all for publicity,” she says. It’s also just for money.
Outside MSA1, there are rumours of big Bollywood names supporting Samant. A crowd has assembled before his show and it suddenly disperses as Sunil Sethi ushers in Gulshan Grover. A photographer yells to another, “Shot le le (Take the shot),” and the cameras flock towards the giant FDCI poster where the two pose. Gulshan Grover and Sethi are now shaking hands for the camera; more photographers hound them. NDTV Good Times runs after Gulshan Grover but he’s slipped inside.
The flashing lights miss Arshia Ahuja, a model in tiny booty shorts with teary eyes.
PULLING, POKING AND PROBING
Arshia is backstage,
her head slightly bowed. She has sneaked into the Green Room and is examining
her body, her profile. She’s in a teeny tiny Pia Pauro cut-out swimsuit that
makes the imagination redundant; what you see is what you get.
“Your legs look chunkier,” a leggy Russian model remarks in that Mean Girls PE locker-room tone.
“Do they look fat?” asks Arshia, sucking her tummy in.
“They were slimmer before,” remarks another before leaving Arshia alone in front of the mirror, staring at her reflection.
Being size zero isn’t easy. A reporter from the press pit scrutinises a model in a bikini walking down the ramp.
“Arre, haddi aa rahi hai,” he says. Bones is coming.
A reporter with The Hindu asks a stylist with Elle if models have always been so minuscule.
Backstage, a lanky, waifish, boyish frame gets the most compliments. A body like Natasha Ramachandran’s—devoid of curves, ironing board flat, like a young pre-pubescent boy’s—is celebrated as androgynous, as oh-so-Vogue.
Being beautiful isn’t easy. Along with body dismorphia and the excessive working out, is the fussy grooming. A model walks in with spots on her skin. Despite chiselled features and perfect doe eyes, the makeup artist pokes and probes.
“Don’t you cleanse? What’s your moisturising routine? Do you eat oily food? Then it must be the spice,” she concludes.
The young model sheepishly admits that it’s that time of the month; she’s always been prone to break-outs then.
The makeup artist snorts and applies layer after layer of concealer, painstakingly covering each blemish, like a surgeon with a scalpel, erasing all the flaws. Bags under eyes are covered, primer makes the skin glow, and if it stings the model’s eyes, the makeup artist doesn’t want to know.
Daman, the model coordinator, sashays in on a round. Moments earlier, the model was having her hair straightened and now it’s being curled with tongs. Angry Birds zip across her iPad screen but the model hasn’t bothered to look.
“Let’s hurry up with this child, she’s falling asleep,” Daman prattles. In the far corner of the room, hair stylists gather around a model. She’s protesting and without warning, jumps off her chair and races out. “She’s pulling my hair; she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Her hands are shaking,” says the model.
The concerned hairdresser walks out minutes later, with watery bloodshot eyes.
After hair and makeup is the Green Room. “Quick, quick, quick,” directs the model and the command has Laxmi jittery; the helper never wants to perturb the model. Laxmi, a fashion student at the International Polytechnic for Women, is a helper in the Green Room, and will dress the model, like a terrified mother does a wailing child.
Laxmi lunges across the room, carrying gowns that are longer than she is, while the model studies her reflection in the mirror. Bangles that Laxmi had organised, earrings that she’d kept in place, have been knocked over as models enter the room in a maddening rush.
Between shows, the room is like a gym locker room, dotted with naked bodies. Sometimes when the models are in a hurry, they knock things over. Very often they dart out before they’ve been fully dressed, closing their zips seconds before they appear on the ramp. “I don’t blame them. Shows get very hectic,” Laxmi says.
Anyway, Laxmi likes to dress the models and she speaks of them as though they are a revered species. “So perfect, so effortless! Models by birth are born beautiful,” she says, staring at a model called Bhumika.
The designers and their assistants are equally demanding. They storm in with rails of clothes. “Helpers, please pay attention, know your dresses.” Laxmi studies designer Dev R Nil’s creations; this is the closest she will ever get to such an expensive label, she says. “I have to find satisfaction from dressing the models—for now,” she says.
The final minutes before the walk on the ramp, the last second before the cameras go into a frenzy, before the ultimate step that separates the stage and the backstage, a theatre of war plays out. It’s grit that makes modelling glamorous.
An army of hairdressers toting curling tongs, dryers, combs and bottles of Ellenette hairspray follow the models. It’s moments before the am:pm show—the designer label of Ankur and Priyanka Modi—and the curls that had taken hours to create are being teased open.
“Ouch,” cries a model. “Warn me before!”
Psssst. “You already sprayed me!”
A hair stylist is standing on top of a chair; he’s teasing a model’s hair, raising her quiff. A makeup artist armed with bronzer is painting a model’s torso. Another is chucking generous dollops of foundation to a model’s back, erasing blemishes like a soldier cleaning the barrel of his gun.
BLOGGER VS EDITOR
It’s an unwritten rule
that when one approaches the Vogue fashion editor, one must be
aware of the pristine company they are soon to be graced with. The silver Tod’s
pumps on the editor’s feet, the designer cut-offs, even the pomade in her hair
is not for mere mortals. So special is Vogue that in a room of
computers in the press room, one computer will be shiniest of them all—the
MacBook—and on that will be a brief but courteous note to ward off imposters:
“For Vogue Only”.
The Vogue fashion editor walks in with an entourage. They huddle around her: she the queen bee, they the respectful minions. She smiles, they smile; she taps her feet in the front row to the music and they follow suit. She is the queen of the fashion press and so the small-time Zoom reporter watches in awe.
The Vogue fashion editor walks in with an entourage. They huddle around her: she the queen bee, they the respectful minions. She smiles, they smile; she taps her feet in the front row to the music and they follow suit. She is the queen of the fashion press and so the small-time Zoom reporter watches in awe. “She could be a model,” says the lowly reporter.
Someone else arrives. He’s wearing a loud printed shirt and fits the blogger profile: slightly fashion-forward with funky glasses and a manbag. It’s Shantanu from the DevilWore Blog: the self-acclaimed premier chronicler of street style in India. Even he’s got his grouse with the fashion industry. A few years ago, there was so much buzz around the event; now it’s dull, a dud. Nobody really bothers dressing up. There are too many imposters now anyway.
He points at two boys and a girl. “Bloggers, pfft,” he says. Everyone with a camera and a blog is a blogger these days; everyone who knows what a pair of pants and a shirt is becomes a fashion blogger. But he’s the real deal; real because Elle profiled him and placed him on their 2012 influential list. He’s seen the media circus around Bollywood and takes a stab at that too.
“All celebrities want to be super-models and our poor models are sadly not superstars,” he says.
But he sulks; he’s had to get a full time job. Style blogging doesn’t pay in India and nobody respects the blogger anymore. “People don’t understand they need a point of view. A blogger needs to have something to say,” he says.
For Shantanu, blogging would have done what journalism couldn’t do. Nobody really has the guts to say what they want to say; nobody really criticises the designers. “Which fashion editor wants to lose her designer freebies?” he asks.
You kiss ass and you get your cute shoes; you critique and you’re a has-been. He’s gotten into trouble before; he can’t keep his mouth shut, you see. He said a show was rubbish once and slated it. “I was almost blacklisted,” he gasps.
Now, the blogger has found his fraternity. Kiss, kiss. This is my new friend. Come here. Sit.
The blogging clique roll with an air of nonchalance and huddle together in conference, like old women at a kitty party. Naturally, they gossip.
Did you see what she wore? Did you see who she came with? Do you know she’s a cokehead? No one can even speak to her; she’s too cool, too icy. Always high on dope.
Even off the catwalk,
there’s something in her walk, like a taut string has been threaded from her
spine to the top of her head. Perhaps that’s why Femina called
Tamara Moss the “supermodel to watch.” She floats across the Main Stage Area,
and people turn to look. The bloggers watch her glide; “speak of the devil,”
There are many stories around Tamara Moss, the Dutch-Indian model who has fronted Kingfisher campaigns in barely-there bikinis, has been shot by ace fashion photographers Bharat Sikka and Prabuddha Dasgupta for magazines, many of which—like Femina and Grazia—she has covered. All this while, she voluntarily did not fight for her place in the international fashion circuit. By her own admission, it’s “just too competitive. I’m happy in India,” she says.
Despite the success, there are many rumours surrounding Tamara Moss. That she’s always late, that she seldom makes sense. There are those who have attempted to paint her with same brush used to tarnish supermodel Gia Carangi, the 1970s beauty who lost herself to the destructive world of drugs.
Tamara wants to talk, to clear a few things.
“They say you’re a cokehead,” I say.
She scrunches up her face, “I’ve tried it but I’m not into drugs,” she says.
We sit backstage of one of the Celeb Rooms: she on the makeup table, her long limbs in a meditative position. She checks inside her Bengali sweets box in which sleeps a little baby bat. The bat had been injured and she’d found him lying on his back, unable to move. She’s been feeding it for the past day, and says, “Once you feed a creature, you feel so much love.” Tomorrow, though, she will let him go.
She tells me about the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers (an international alliance of indigenous female elders) whose aim is to create harmony among Gaia, mother earth, for seven generations to come, and to enhance oneness between all women. She sighs. Women are so divided these days, only rape and fear brings us together.
“Indian cities have failed,” she says. The protection of indigenous ways of life is a pipe dream. So Tamara runs away from the cities and escapes to the mountains and hides in comfort zones around Dharamshala where she occupies herself with music and meditation.
There are those who have said Tamara fell short of realising her true potential: that her curious blend of East and West would have catapulted her to international fame. But Tamara recalls her year abroad with Assamese model Moni Kangana Dutta, when they trawled the streets of New York, Paris and Milan, rushing from one go-see to another. But the international modelling circuit was hell-bent on casting and selling stereotypes. “They want heavily ethnic girls. Laxmi Menon looks classically Indian, Gisele Bündchen is the Brazilian bombshell, Kate Moss is an English rose.” Tamara who is of Dutch and Indian origin doesn’t fit the mould.
So instead she spouts the teachings of Dalai Lama and Jimi Hendrix, and has recently come out of a 10-day vipassana meditation course and wants to share what she’s learnt. But these days, nobody interviews us models, she says. They send a photographer to take pictures of a few pretty girls.
Others who know her in the industry, like Daman and Anu, find gossip around the models “revolting.” Anu calls her a “space cadet,” lost in her own world. Daman goes even further. “The new girls, they’re too well-behaved they say.
Nobody shows up late anymore, nobody gets drunk. We never shout at models anymore. There is no more tamasha sadly,” he says.
BACK IN THE DAY
Salloli! Salloni!” the
photojournalists break into a chorus, fashion editors in tow. “Take her
picture,” whispers an editor into a photographer’s ear. A shooting frenzy
“Salloli, not Salloni,” she repeats again and again, in between posing in an unforgiving purple lycra cut-out top that reveals a little bit of flab on an almost contoured body. “You’d think that after all these years they’d get the spelling right,” she says with a wave of her hand and a roll of her heavily made-up kohl-rimmed eyes.
Delhi socialite Salloli Kumar works the waiting area: breasts raised, butt out, a kiss here and a wave there. She bumps into a friend and squeals like a hyena on a high, and everyone turns to watch. All the excitement has her hair wild and rebellious; she spends much of the show sitting in the front row and tucking it behind her ears. As she exits the darkness of MSA 1, she rummages through her envelope clutch and fishes out her M.A.C lipstick. She reapplies, though there’s no need, and her lipline continues to expand as colour spreads to her upper lip.
“Very few people here,” she remarks and takes a detour down memory lane. What great fun Fashion Week was a decade ago, when it was hosted in the Taj Palace Hotel! It was “so glittery, the in-thing,” she recalls, an event where it was crucial to be seen. But now PR representatives call relentlessly, one tired call after another. As always, she makes an obligatory appearance.
“Do you always sit in the front row?”
“Always or I won’t go,” she says.
“Why? Do you need glasses?” I ask.
“No, my eyes are perfectly fine,” she says.
The buzz around the event died somewhere along the way. The parties became a tad boring. In 2004, industrialist Gautam Singhania hosted a party after Fashion Week and ended up becoming the DJ for the night. People were out on the street; they were all about town. “People have simply grown up,” she says, and there is no one to take the party vibe forward.
“We have no Paris Hiltons, we have no Alexa Chungs, and this is a problem of upbringing. Too many mothers don’t know how to train and groom their daughters,” Salloli says, keeping an eye on her seven-year-old daughter who has come to Fashion Week for the first time, with sunglasses and a Versace bag.
She leans in close. “Now I’m going to talk as a globetrotter,” she says. “In India, fashion has become all about money. Fashion has just become business, no longer fun.”
You could hear them a
mile away: the loud throaty Arabic accents declaiming “aah shoo helua (ah,
how beautiful)!” and designers lavishing them with attention.
Rahul Singh has spent much of the morning of the fourth day and the penultimate day catering to Kuwaiti buyers. They wanted coffee, tea, water, juice and even cookies, and, of course, he obliged.
Rahul is a NIFT graduate and is fashion-mad; you can see it in the way he dresses. Turqouise pants and a gold-piped blazer complete him but he has found Fashion Week a bit lacklustre. This season has been awfully quiet, he says.
Perhaps it’s because the big names—Tarun Tahliani, Rohit Bal, Sabyasachi—that bring the people to the event have opted out. “Too many Weeks,” he says. “Couture, bridal. Nobody big wants to come here anymore.”
Anyway, fashion itself has become a bit boring; the buyers from the Middle East never order challenging silhouettes. It’s one kaftan after another, and India panders to their needs. The Western cuts are too revealing and the designers too headstrong to redesign with Arab sensitivities in mind.
“Unless the FDCI gets buyers from Europe or America, Indian fashion won’t grow, nor will it develop to advanced silhouettes,” Rahul says. Europeans, he alleges, will advance creativity and uplift Indian fashion. “If the Europeans came here, Manish Arora wouldn’t need to go to Paris. He’d show here, in India, boosting Indian fashion and awareness.”
Designer Ritu Pande has resorted to eating to stay awake, and is biting down on a burger as we speak. Fashion Week seemed somewhat like a chore, devoid of excitement, but for the lazy, she rationalises, it was good. With the absence of big names, the smaller names didn’t have much competition. In many ways, she is happier with this arrangement. As a smaller designer, she had to put in less legwork.
Aditya Duggar knew this season wasn’t going to be spectacular but he still forked out Rs.1.75 lakh for his stall. He’d sent an application to the FDCI and a jury had taken a vote on whether his stuff was good enough to be at Fashion Week. He was happy with this arrangement; at least it meant that only the best were showing.
This was his sixth season here and even he’d noticed the decrease in footfalls. Just being around fashion gave him a buzz and as a designer who has been never shown on the ramp, he was trying to pick up bits and pieces from other designers.
Anirudh Birla is the business development head of am:pm and has ideas on how to jazz up the event. “We’ve nailed the trade show part; now we need some more energy,” he says. Birla would like to see the event transition and become “more fashion”. According to him, the next step would be to host most exciting events around the venue and to open the doors to more types of people. “The event is a bit too exclusive; there’s a lot of hassle to get invites and no layman would ever get a chance to watch.”
Anirudh can understand why Fashion Week is called elitist but that image has to change. “Students from North Campus would inject it with energy,” he said. The younger labels, like his, will need to be more enthusiastic about the event and new younger designers would have to be taken in to inject more energy.
Pankaj and Nidhi had a “rocking” time this Fashion Week, despite minor issues with infrastructure. One of their primary buyers from Saudi Arabia had grumbled about the smelly bathroom after downing a bit too much coffee. As for the bias towards the Middle East, Pankaj reasoned that buyers from the US and Europe had exhausted their budget and since India fell after Paris, New York, London and Milan, the buyers were out of money.
NO ART HERE
One week of fashion
has drained her but she can see the end. Priyanka has been running around, as
have other interns, for days and has barely got any sleep. Sadly, she’s hardly
seen any shows. She’s taking a five-minute breather on one of the wicker chairs
when she spots Rahul Mishra. He’s one of her favorite designers and she rushes
over, requesting a ticket.
Sorry, no luck today, he says, but he stands and chats with a group of interns, quizzing them on their fashion awareness.
“Who’s your favourite designer?” he asks.
Someone responds with “Sabyasachi” and he laughs. He wants the interns to think about cuts and silhouettes.
“What is functional? Do you even know Alexander Wang?” he asks.
“This is art, it need not be functional,” says Priyanka.
He snorts. “This is not Paris, London, New York, or Milan. In India, fashion is a lifestyle. I have tailors, assistants, a team. I need to pay them. This is a business. Fashion is not art.”
Priyanka walks off, vowing never to do another Week again.