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As You Sew, So Shall You Rip...
Text by Sohiny Das
Published: Volume 16, Issue 9, September, 2008
Will the Indian Fashion Weeks become an ego-circus of swinging camps, wonders Sohiny Das

Nuclear fission seems to be the recurring trend in the Indian fashion parivar. The traumatised child being raised in this problem family is the event called Fashion Week. After a blissful, united infancy began the drama, with rifts and splits due to reasons much publicised and little understood.

But this is not an investigative probe. Fast forward to 2008. Within less than a decade, the disintegrated fraternity has raised three highly competitive step-siblings called Wills India Fashion Week (FDCI), Lakmé Fashion Week (IMG) and Emporio Fashion Week (Prodigy), with close cousin India Couture Week also emerging in the picture. Camps, time-clashes, lawsuits, audits, sponsor swaps and withdrawals, bureaucracy, inter and intra city separations — just a synopsis of what has unfurled. ‘Divide and rule’ returns, only this time we are doing a fine job ourselves without any external assistance.
What do multiple fashion weeks signify in our country? To understand, analyse and predict the stakes, we need to study the industry facts and views from the perspectives of optimism and scepticism.

Keyword: ‘International’
According to Sumeet Nair (at a press conference earlier this year), consultant to Emporio Fashion Week, the trend is “in sync with international practices where there are several simultaneous events during a week”. New York, Milan, Paris and London — all have subchapters and parallel shows. Designer Gaurav Gupta agrees. “This makes the whole activity much more streamlined, and the events will be tighter,” he says. Designer Vineet Bahl observes it as “a reflection of our expanding economy and growing international interest in India”.

The list of foreign buyers has been steadily expanding; with newer names entering the picture. Eminent international journalists have also guaranteed coverage beyond national boundaries, presenting the overall picture to a global audience.

This brings concerns about the portrayal of the disharmony. “It shows no unity amongst our fraternity,” designer Pria Kataria Puri says, “The larger picture of creating a united Indian fashion industry is lost.” Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, in an earlier interview with T2 (The Telegraph, Kolkata) had pointed out that India’s “professionalism is already viewed as dubious. This mess will tarnish the image further. Brand India needs to go ahead with integrity and consistency, not like this”.

Keyword: ‘Options’
Multiple fashion weeks signify the presence of a larger number of participants, and therefore, more variety for buyers to choose from. Sumeet Nair foresees “cross-pollination” between all the events.

Anil Chopra, Vice Chairman of Lakmé, states that the co-existence of three fashion weeks is possible, “provided they are well-run and are hosted by well-reputed organisations, not individuals”, as events of this magnitude need proper marketing, infrastructure and funding.

Designer Anuj Sharma feels that “it is alright to have two or three fashion weeks in a big country like India”, as it provides more options geographically too. Designers and buyers can now opt for the most accessible. But Dev r Nil seem sceptical, and “wonder how many buyers have the energy and interest to spend so many days… through three fashion weeks at one go.”

Keyword: ‘Platform’
There would now be more platforms, “giving younger designers a chance to showcase their dreams and encouraging more talent in choreography as well as modelling”, says designer Anju Modi. “More people get opportunity.”

Gaurav Gupta says, “More categories give more designers with different sensibilities (the chance) to exhibit.” Agrees Vineet Bahl, “I see the third fashion week as one?more option to a designer in terms of platform, exposure and markets, not to forget an extra opportunity to experiment too.”

Anuj Sharma observes, “One show would have not created enough platforms for newcomers or even for the established designers.” He, however, realises that “the (multiple) shows have come into existence because of disputes and not because there was need for more opportunities.”

Dev r Nil reflect both sides, “On one hand there are young, talented designers who are getting the scope to showcase and keep senior designers on their toes. But the flipside is that a lot of undeserving candidates fill the booths…more through money and celebrity contacts, than real talent.”

Keyword: ‘Competition’
With more names vying for the limelight, there is pressure to innovate, raise quality standards and also create competitive price points. The industry is at its razor-sharp, cut-throat zenith, with someone always looming— to replace a weak candidate.

‘Healthy competition’ is not only between contemporaries, or similar genres, but it extends beyond hierarchies. The newer set competes with each other to establish a foothold and carve a niche. Their noted peers are also constantly driven to raising the bar, as fresh entrants are increasingly sharp, media savvy and extremely tuned in to the market.

The challenge is to consistently maintain a cutting-edge outlook, and deliver on time, every time. The process ensures a no-slack overall attitude, because nobody can afford to be lazy. “It’s about the survival of the fittest,” sums up Vineet Bahl matter-of-factly. “The rest will fall into place anyway.”

But where does all this lead?
Before we generously spray ‘international’ everywhere, we need a reality check. London, New York, Paris and Milan are much, much older, better established and organised. We are yet to complete a decade — already fragmented — and still spouting big talk. ‘New York, Milan, et al’ have participants from many countries, thereby justifying multiple events due to larger numbers. Does India have that many quality creators, or buyers?

Barring a handful, most of our designers offer the same zardozi, shapes, pleated textures, colours and even fabrics. Ethno-diffusion-prêt in brocade, georgette and chiffon for eternity — is that variety? Each fashion week offers similar merchandise, and brings many common buyers — not really serving the purpose. We still cannot decide whether to primarily cater to foreign buyers, or to the domestic ones. From the long lists of international buyers, how many purchase consistently? Some might regard the trip as one long five-star spa holiday — every season.

The events are no more aspirational, as the entry process has been made easier to fill the slots. ‘Come one, come all’ — a torrent of names receives a few minutes of fame, and subsequently (and swiftly) fades into oblivion. Despite the overall improvement in aesthetics and finish, and a recent noticeable affinity to experimentation, individuality is still predominantly lacking.

Some do not even regard fashion weeks as business anymore; it is only seasonal publicity. Some of our biggest names participate only once a year, or once in three seasons. (imagine this happening in Paris — Karl Lagerfeld would shudder) ‘Indo-western/prêt-diffusion’ are recycled year after year. And our couture is the same as our trousseau; therefore, couture week is actually trousseau week! (What happens to Bridal Asia then?) Confusion has been the only consistent trend for many seasons now.

The media attention has diverted from fashion, as celebrities and ‘malfunction’ scandals take the forefront, and entertainment replaces intellect. With the scattering of schedules, even the ‘publicity’ will be divided. A noticeable dilution in the quality of our fashion models due to the increase in the number of shows, has led to the top models being interspersed with sub-standard novices, who lack the required physique or carriage. We have had to resort to importing models — mostly from Eastern Europe and Brazil — though Lakmé feels that these models allow international buyers to have a better idea of which styles would suit the customers in their countries.

The present pats and plastic confidence actually rest on shaky foundations of apprehension and disorganisation. As more foreign luxury brands enter the Indian market, the scenario becomes increasingly complex. Whether for reasons pertaining to mauled egos, bureaucracy, ideological clashes or financial fall-outs — repeated fragmentation is ultimately collective corrosion. It makes sense to have a Couture Week, a Fashion Week, and an Alternative Fashion Week (for the avant-garde artsy lot), but the present only offer a choice between a Café Coffee Day and a Barista.

Designers are divided in their support for the multiple-event phenomenon. Most are wary, but some seem to take everything in their stride and move on. Unfortunately, there seems to be no immediate solution to the present chaos, given our collaboration skills. A serious and objective review is required, followed by thorough re-structuring, for a strong and sound industry base — but that would require some compromises (as if!). We shall certainly wait and watch — see who survive and who do not. Hopefully, in the ‘international’ haze, organised Indian fashion will not take the fast track to becoming a circus, and then maybe – a joke!

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