You said yes. You mean no?


PROLOGUE: It was during early years of my university days that my father, who was a voracious reader, came home from work one evening and flipped a book towards me and said, “Read it. I have a feeling, it will take you very far!”

I looked at the book as it lay next to me. The cover read, Don’t Say Yes When You Want To Say No, written by Dr Herbert Fensterheim, a clinical professor in psychiatry at the Cornell University Medical College. I picked up the book and never put it down until I finished the last page.

This yes and no business is not cool whether it’s in one’s personal life or when it comes to one’s field of work… in fact, it’s not good at all when it comes to business field and the commitments one makes.

FLASHBACK: It was about five years ago I remember. I was still working with Hindustan Times, India’s second largest English broadsheet daily, as its Fashion Editor. One day, based on an article written by me on the importance of nurturing young fashion designers and the lack of interest in the field that time, a real estate man approached me and asked me to start an incubator with my expertise and told he was willing to fund it.

I thought it was brilliant thing to do. I jumped at the idea as it was the first time I was getting a chance to do something, other than merely writing, to do something for the bright young fashion designer graduates. Immediately I came up with a concept called Young Designers Forum, a kind of group for young designers which will further the interests of upcoming talents.

Part of my idea for this YDF was to create a mentor platform of some of the well-known, senior fashion designers of the country. These designers were to come and share their experiences and success stories with this group of young designers. So I dialled about 15 numbers… and all without exception said YES.

Then the business of fashion, which ideally should be the core factor of this industry moved aside and the politics of fashion took over when someone floated a rumour that YDF was a parallel body to the fashion industry being floated by me. I had the contract and MoU with me stating that it was not a parallel association and that this outfit was being initiated merely to help and nurture young fashion designers find stronger grounds to set their feet in. Nope, that was not convincing enough for most.

Barring four fashion designers, all the rest who said YES, the rest fled from the scene. I asked them on what ground are they saying NO when they said YES to it especially when it wasn’t a completion to any of the existing fashion setups. It was just an ambitious venture to support young fashion designers who desperately need the support!

For the next few days some, whom I interacted years after I entered into the fashion industry, tried to make me the bête noire of the fashion industry. I told them that the fashion industry is part of me and that I grew up with the industry. That Indian fashion industry and its members are my friends that I grew up with and I will not put up something that is directly in conflict with their interest.

Fashion industry in India is made of three category of people. 1. The ones who are bold and speak their mind out. 2. The ones who are not bold so they tag along with the man who shout the loudest and 3. The ones who are like the spectators at the Wimbledon – they keep looking left, then right and eventually will run after the ones who they think are victorious.

 Category 1 is always low on numbers. They are hard to find. But I am happy they are still part of the industry. And they still are my friends. They speak their minds out. There’s never a Yes from them when they want to say No.

Category 2 is the ones what you may want to call as those with no backbones. If I shout loud they listen to me. You shout they listen to you. And remember, you hear a Yes from them, always take it as a No.

Category 3 is the tennis spectators. They don’t really matter. If I win, they are on my side. If they win, they are with them.

In my professional area, I have never said Yes to anyone and then went back and said No to something that I was asked to do. I don’t know whether it was the book I read or was it just me, I have always believed that a man should me known for his word. You commit something, come hell or high water, you bloody well do it. Or say No… isn’t that simple.

PRESENT: Why I mentioned the book and the bitter experience I had before? Well, for the last four months I have been in touch with some of our fashion designers for a retail venture that my firm VNA is curating in Singapore. I must say here that a famous fashion designer was frank enough to tell me, “I worked my ass out for years and earned my name. If your proposal matches with my expectations I am in, else nope!” Perfect. I like to deal with such personalities. He didn’t mince any words. And he never kept me hanging in the air either.

Then couple of younger designers was forthright with their business policies. Frank and straight forward. Yes, that works too!

But what surprised me was when a very accomplished lady designer, who I immensely admire, called me when I sent her a text message siting the Singapore proposal. She was one of the first designers I approached. She called me the moment she read my message. She told me it’s a fantastic opportunity and she’s in. That she was travelling somewhere and the moment she is back in her city, we can proceed. Splendid. The words were so positive that I had no reason to doubt her.

Yet another stalwart said yes. Sent me the lookbooks. And then said No. Funny? Lol… it is indeed!

Four months down, I still haven’t heard from her. Three mails and several messages later, I decided to take her off the list of prospects. I remember my friend and the founder of New York Fashion Week Fern Mallis telling me while we sat down to watch a designer show at Lakme Fashion Week years ago how some of the leading names in Indian fashion fix up meetings and how they simply don’t show up. I didn’t quite realize what that meant or how they could do it. I do now.

You dial their number they don’t answer. You sent a message they don’t respond. You shoot an email, you will never hear from them. Trust me, it’s not for a favour. It is for a business opportunity where they can further their interest in a city which has potential and is good for their business. Out of perhaps the thousands of designers that I know and interact with, I needed just 12 names! It’s not difficult at all…

I am not here to spoon feed. They should know how to do their business and I am sure they all are happy with what they’ve got. Now I have the 12 names that I needed… those who said yes and stuck to their words. So I am happy.

EPILOGUE: I’ve dealt with the western fashion industry for many years. You sent a mail, you’re sure to get a response within the next few hours. And they are the ones who deal with hundreds of mails and phone calls from around the world on a daily basis. Still you get a response stating either a yes or a no.

The fact is that only about 20 percent of the members in India say the word and stick to it. When they said YES it means yes. And it’s always a NO when they want to say no. I admire the designer who told me frankly that he worked hard and now he wanted to cash in on his name. I admire the ones who respond to mails and phone calls and stick to their words and commitments. I think they are the ones who will take this industry forward.

They may be rare. They may be few in number. But I am glad they exist.

And I am glad they are a part of India’s fashion industry and they are the reason why I am saying YES we still have scope for growth even when I frankly feel like saying NO!









Another fashion week? Shoot me!



A woke up with a start… it was the announcement of another fashion week. As I sat in my bed thinking whether to put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger or have a bowl full of Phenobarbitone instead of cinnamon rings for breakfast, came another announcement… “India’s most… whatever”.

Phenobarbitone first and then pull the trigger. I decided.

What’s happening? Fashion awards often see the most unfashionable turning up to take the awards. Barring a couple of established ones, fashion weeks seem to have become an epidemic. Yet they are mushrooming and guess what, for each one of them there are enough takers.

Think you can escape it? Nope.

Check your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter… no chance. You see video clips and photos of runways that you’d want to run away from… awards that you’d want to bang your head with.

Open your morning paper. Front page will have faces that you’d seen a million times before in the same paper. Inside, award reports. Runway pics. What a sham!

I think desperation to do some thing glamour from the organisers side and desperation to be part of such events from the participants have degenerated the fashion and lifestyle events so much that no one has the patience to go through it any more. Fashion weeks have become a joke… what’s a fashion week without business? Yet when a new one is announced, a bunch of fashion designers gather around to be part of it. When an award event is done, another bunch scurry down to be on the Red Carpet.

All these are fine if the purpose behind is genuine. The multiple fashion weeks are fine as long as the organisers bring in business to it. Award gala is perfect if the award is given to the real stylish or talented. I remember once a pot bellied, badly attired cop was given a style award (perhaps for that element of style that I failed to see) and many such people get awards and we stand on the side gaping and wondering.

Barring the ones organized by the FDCI in Delhi and IMG-Reliance in Mumbai, I am not sure how much the rest bring in to the participating fashion designers. I thought the ‘business of fashion’, meaning business for fashion designers, is the underlying theme behind fashion week and not exactly business for the host hotels or organisers.

So, lakhs of rupees spent every time, with not a single rupee coming in return, many fashion designers still run after these events without hesitation. I know some bridal weeks that started with such fanfare are now on a ‘divorce’ mode. Many fashion weeks started before have had untimely demises as well. Designers who ran after those events are now running after the others mushroom around. Reminds me of passengers running after a bus and when they miss the bus, they turn back and run toward the next one!

But the difference here is, unlike these dubious fashion weeks, the next bus will take you to your destination. The way I see it? Well, it’s like allowing a pickpocket to slid his hand in your pocket and take your wallet. Didn’t get it? These fashion week organisers are here to make money for themselves by doing these new and ‘innovative’ events. Business of fashion? Yes, sure… business for them… not for you.

I know writing this is a waste of time. Soon there will be another fashion week and another bunch scurrying for it, or another award event…

All these are fine, if the purpose behind is genuine. And that’s what is missing now! So shoot me now..







LFW – A Week for many seasons…

And Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) finally breaks out of the four walls of concrete. For the first time since its inception, the event this season was held at the Gio Garden at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai, India. And the way it looked, I feel this may well be the beginning of a grand scale seasons coming in the future.

When one walks into LFW, nothing is stressful. Well, in fact, even before that actually. Event dates are announced well in advance so one is able to plan nicely, communications are done promptly, all laid out perfectly when one reaches the venue and the shows start like clockwork.

When LFW announced the change in venue from the comforts of a five-star, very used to kind of venue for many seasons now, frankly I expected the open venue, that too in a ‘ground’ in Mumbai, to be dry and dusty. As my car pulled up in front of the Gio Grounds, the first impression from outside itself was good. It did look pretty neat right in the middle of all tall, modern corporate structures.

Walking in, all I could see was green. The entire area was covered in synthetic grass, the walls and entrances of the show areas in green foliage… large show area that was titled the ‘Runway’, the second show area christened as ‘6 Degrees’, lounge serving Single Malts, Editor’s Lounge, multi-cuisine restaurant, an island bar, neatly laid out exhibition area with designer stalls dotting all across… introduction of transgender and gender neutral models, the fascinating Artisans of Kutch presentation, pretty neat.

The IMG-Reliance team, headed by its VP and Head of Fashion Jaspreet Chandok, is a delight to deal with. One doesn’t have to ask anything. Every thing is laid out perfectly, and they are eager to know what they can do to improve the event. Planned, structured and executed well… no doubt.

LFW for me is a haven to discover plenty of fabulous new talents. When it began a few years ago, many told me that there are no ‘big’ names there. For me, the ‘bigness’ came through the collections and not in the way names are projected. So, I continued to attend LFW, season after season discovering new talents taking their wings through their fashion runway. The small names with their bags full of ‘big’ talents started appearing one after the other and all the other established ‘big’ names started lending their support by taking part in the event.

Today, LFW can be proud of one thing; it continues to introduce some of the brightest young names through its platform and it has some of the best established names taking part on the runway shows.

A pleasant, perfect and well executed event that has become a wholesome affair today.

The Case of Show Stoppers



It’s strange. Some believe that films influence fashion. Yet what films do not want is most wanted in fashion.

Yesterday actor Shah Rukh Khan went to meet Raj Thakrey to request him not to stop his show of his film Raees. A couple of months ago Karan Johar did the same for his film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Both did not want ‘Show Stoppers.’

The analogy here may be misplaced. But I thought it would be interesting to play with the words ‘Show’ and ‘Stoppers’ to build a case in point that I staunchly believe in… that there should not be any showstoppers at fashion presentations, unless of course it’s a brand-sponsored showing where a designer is showing his/her collection and the brand ambassador makes an appearance. Here the fashion designer of course doesn’t have any say as the dough is put in by the brand concerned.

In normal cases I fail to understand why our fashion designers bring in actors – from A list to C list depending on their capacity to pay them – to their runways while making a collection presentations. I’ve always believed that if the intention is to show what they have made for the runway, and if they are confident that the collections are good enough, there is no need for them to drag these show stoppers to close their shows.

Yes I do understand the strategy. Newspapers today, for reasons I failed to fathom, gasp for movie actors for their pages. No offence to the movie stars here. I state this because every single day, columns after columns, these papers fill the space with the same actors who appear as show stoppers for some fashion designers. Then why such desperations to print the same actor again just because he or she appeared in a fashion designer’s show?


From a fashion designer’s or his/her PR agent’s point of view, it’s a well thought out strategy. They know some Editors are suckers for such pictures and the moment the designer brings in an actor, regardless of the status, the image will be printed. So, it works well for them. But are such tactics necessary?

It’s okay for an actor to be in the front row especially when he or she is a client or a friend of the fashion designer. This is what happens in such matured markets as New York, London, Milan and Paris. But here it’s just the opposite. Often, some fashion designers bring in a slew of actors and make them walk one after the other. Some bring in one and make her open the show. Most use them to ‘stop’ or ‘close’ shows (so, if the actor hasn’t been there the show would have continued endlessly like a runaway train, I wonder).

Some PR agents often send emails stating that certain actors will be the showstopper for their clients. Some even make it a point to call and tell me the same. And I tell them “So what?” I mean, how does it matter to me who the hell is the showstopper? I don’t even like the idea of a showstopper in the first place!

I feel, fashion designers should drop this idea. I don’t think good designers need showstoppers. I would like their collections tell the tale. Not the actor.

Imagine a day without these dramas on the runway; a day when you don’t see caravans parked outside the show venue; a day when shows starting on time as no-one is doing her last minute touch ups; a day when pure fashion fills the runway and the venue, and most importantly, a day when people come out of the show, they’re talking excitedly about the collection and not how nice the actor looked as he/she walked the runway…

That will be the day.


GQ’s fashionable nights


Hritik Roshan, arguably the most stylish from Bollywood, at the GQ Fashion Nights
Hritik Roshan, arguably the most stylish from Bollywood, at the GQ Fashion Nights


Che Kurrien, the Editor of GQ India, has a clear vision. When he launched the magazine, he made sure it looked and read nice and different. GQ Men of The Year Awards, where every Bolywood star worth his salt scurry to attend — award or no award, society ladies pose at the Red Carpet and men make sure they looked their nattiest best and post the same on Facebook and Instagram, not so much for how they looked, but to make sure the world knew they were at the GQ event. And GQ Fashion Nights, another success story that was launched last year just as hopes for having a well organized men’s fashion event was beginning to whither way. The curtains of its successful second edition were drawn on December 4, 2016.

Way back Lakme Fashion Week devoted a day for menswear shows right in the middle of the event. That I thought was a good thing as every one got to see what our fashion designers were capable of doing for men. A few seasons later they for some reason discontinued it. Then the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) made a successful attempt to launch a men’s fashion week. It ran well for three years but came to a screeching halt a few years ago. Not sure any one tried to jumpstart it, but it never moved forward since then.

Fact is, menswear market in India is fast growing and there are many talented fashion designers making menswear in this country. Agreed, it attracts much more capital investment as compared to womenswear, but takers for menswear – traditional or otherwise — are on the rise. After all, who wouldn’t want a well-tailored suit using best fabrics, a tunic or a bandhgala in their wardrobes? Price it well, and there will be enough customers making a beeline for the same in no time.

Look at it this way. As compared to the ladies here who have plenty of options – traditional, indo-western and western – to choose from for their daily wear, men have just one thing – shirts and trousers… or perhaps jeans and a tees. In India, men wear western to work. Women wear salwar-kameezes, saris and westerns to their offices. Those men who are into formals would always want suits. Those who can afford it go for their Brionis, Zegnas, Canalis and Armanis. Those who want tailor-made ones without having to wait for longer periods opt for Indian designer labels. And those who can’t afford both of these go in for regular off-the-rack brands. Men seldom wear traditional outfits to work.

That aside, pricing is an important thing to be kept in mind here. I have told some of my menswear designer colleagues that regardless of how nicely their creations are made, they ought to keep their prices considerably below that of their western counterparts. This is important as western labels have much more ‘flaunt’ability than that of the local ones. Most customers, even while they keep the quality and fit as the prime requirements while shopping, also keep the ‘label’ factor in their minds. Same the case when it comes to the place where it is manufactured. The ‘Made in Italy’ tag does matter for men’s suits. Keeping this in mind, I feel the pricing needs to be made carefully. If an Armani and a local label is priced the same way, I fear the hand of the customer may move towards the Armani and not the local designer even if both are made using the finest material.

If you look at this from an industry point of view, this is good time even for the male models. All fashion weeks in India, whether it is Mumbai or Delhi or any of the non-descript ones that mushroomed around the country, they all concentrate on womenswear and male models more of less appear as ‘guests’ in some of those. Here, the runway belongs to them and they also have an opportunity to work and earn.

India has talent. And the market for menswear is growing. I am glad GQ has picked up the thread from where it was left and is moving ahead on course with their menswear event. I do hope this will continue for some time and pave the way for an organized designer menswear industry in the country.

Rupee in fashion



A few days ago, in fact the day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped the demonetisation bombshell, I made a round at the luxury mall DLF Emporio and some of the Indian fashion designer stores in New Delhi. Let me tell you, the idea wasn’t to see or investigate any thing. It so happened that a friend from Kerala was visiting and he wanted to see some of the fashion and luxury establishments in the city and I was merely taking him around.

What’s the famous saying? “As empty as a church on a Monday morning”?

Well, that was what was seen inside each and every store that we walked into. Not even a fly inside. The store guys were hanging around either talking to each other or texting someone on phone… or taking a long smoke/coffee break. Situation was pretty bad as the folks who came with wads of currency were missing in their stores. In fact, some of the store guys whom I spoke to told me there had been frenetic calls since morning requesting them to accept cash and give them goods which had to be politely declined by the staff.

Case in point? Scene is bad. Pretty bad.

Whether the customers brought in accounted or unaccounted money, their cash registers are no longer tinkling. I remember once I walked into the store of a well-known fashion designer and on their cash counter kept were stacks of cash bundles so high that I couldn’t see the man standing behind it. Outside his store were two armoured vans, which I am told, were kept ready to take the cash to the bank. Yes, this designer apparently insisted on PAN details before he sold even a thread to his customers. He turned skipped those who pleaded with him skip the PAN! Then I met him at a dinner later, after the PM’s announcement, and he was aghast with the bleak look of business in the coming days. “It was like switching off a light… one day the store was milling with clients and next day, it just stopped,” he told me. “I am not sure how this is going to end as far as business is concerned,” he told me.

And he was right. Most clients do most of the high-value transactions in cash terms and most fashion designers accepted that. This holds true for both PAN-quoted transactions and otherwise. Either way, now customers are no longer heading for their favourite designer stores and the designers’ business is badly hit, considering all our fashion designers without any exception make their dough during the wedding season when the Indian families splurge without any hesitation. And Mr Modi put his clamps on black money right when people were ordering their wedding attire from these fashion designers. There has been news of some weddings being called off due to the arrest of 500 and 1000 currencies. “When we take the order we take some money as advance payments and the rest on delivery. Now we are stuck with just the advance and the finished garments as clients are not coming back any more to pick up the merchandise and settle the account with the balance payments,” says the store manager of another well-known fashion designer. “Usually at this time of the year, there are at least 30 clients at any given time in our store… as you can see there is not even one now,” he says.

This being the situation at the retail outlets of most Indian fashion designers, foreign luxury brands are in no better place. As such most of these brands are struggling with high rentals and low foot falls coupled with heavy import tariffs. Add to that the current situation. Fancy cars are still pulling up in front of these luxury malls, but the people hang around in restaurants and coffee shops… not in the stores. Apparently, on the evening of the ‘heart-breaking’ announcement, people rushed to some of these luxury stores and spent lavishly buying both wanted and unwanted stuff. And then it stopped.

Those who did the right thing behind the cash counters are still smiling. And those who didn’t, crying. Whatever the case might be, fashion business seems to be badly hit. And it will take a long time for them to recover from this.

Will is missing

I was at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai last week and for each show I sat next to one of the leading fashion writers in the world Colin McDowell, who among many things also writes for the Sunday Times London.

As we sat and watched show after show, I realized that the interest of the West, especially in such stalwarts in fashion writing as Colin, lay in the portrayal of India in a format which is acceptable to the West.

Colin told me during one of the shows, as he watched a sari appear on the runway, that there’s nothing as elegant as a sari in any part of the world and I saw his interest as he watched contemporary silhouettes with elements of traditional Indian crafts such as embroidery appearing at some designer collections. Even if it is not all that western in nature, but some thing that is acceptable to the West (as the Japanese designers successfully did in the West) will do the trick for Indian designers to break into the market abroad successfully.
Now whichever designer is doing their creations for the foreign market (in a small way though) do the same mainly using Indian textiles (perhaps with a bit of embroidery as Indian stamp). But their silhouettes have always been western. No one has so far been able to market India in its original form successfully on foreign soil so far. It has always been either textiles or crafts.
This makes me wonder why our country has not been able to produce an Issey Miyake or Yohji Yamamoto yet in fashion. Yet another successful name from Japan is that of Rei Kawakubo better known for her super expensive label Commes des Garcons.
None of our designers have made a mark in the western world. If you look at it, Japan just had Kimono and its designers have created several adaptations of the same to suit the tastes of the western world. All of them without exception achieved stupendous success in doing the same earning money and fame, and more importantly putting their country’s name in the western fashion map.
Looking at India, we have so many options that can possibly be adapted to the western tastes and possibly marketed successfully there. Colin’s appreciation on sari is a reflection of how those who understand fashion appreciate the same when it comes to some of our traditional attires. A young designer Nida Mahmood made her models wear sari over a pair of denim and I thought that was just the beginning of how designers can/should innovate and move beyond what they attempt to do locally.
If one designer makes an attempt to do this intelligently I have a feeling that he/she will succeed. After all, the west comprises mainly of black and grays and over the last 100 odd years it survived just on pants suits and skirts. If one of our designers, as did a few of their counterparts from Japan, try and break into that mould with careful planning that could well be the beginning of India in the western world.
They how and when part we will leave it to our fashion designers. The question really is whether any of them have the will to do it. As they say, if there’s will, there’s way.

Runway Drama

There was a time when our fashion designers used to do theatrics on the fashion runway. You know, the kind of outlandish stuff that made people say that what designers show on the fashion runway is totally unwearable.
Talking about outlandish creations, western runways, especially Paris, are no strangers to such kind of creations that send shockwaves through the audience. How it works there is that designers shock the audience and the media and that way brand recall is created. What John Galliano shows at the Dior presentation is a classic example to this.
He makes such powerful statements through his theatrics on the runway and the same is percolated down to the memories of his clients. And at Dior boutiques, when one walks in, all one see is totally wearable, exquisite creations.
Martin Margiela once made his models step into a bowl of red paint wearing socks and then walk on stark white fabric covered fashion runway, leaving their bloody footprints all over it. Those who know Margiela would know that what he actually makes is nowhere close to his presentation style in comparison.
Back in India, I must say that designers who attempted theatrics on the runway have not been that innovative. Nor did they succeed in creating a brand recall that translated into business. The reason for this was that, when they attempted theatrics about 15 or 18 years ago, fashion was only developing in India.
People, even in such big cities as Delhi and Bombay, looked at designer fashion with skepticism as they thought what circus fashion designers did on the runway was actually designer fashion. It was only much later that designers stopped doing theatrics at fashion shows and started making clothes that are wearable and then showing the same at catwalks.
This happened mainly when fashion weeks started in India more than a decade ago. Solo shows where designers did drama came to a grinding halt as they realized that with much less cost they can get the same attention at fashion weeks. And fashion weeks being commercial platforms insisted that designers show commercially viable clothes on their runways.
That was the death of theatrics at fashion presentations. What was surprising was that with the beginning of Couture Week, where such theatrics are officially ‘allowed’, designers seem to be reluctant to go for it even as the industry opened up over the years. People are aware of fashion and elements of drama that come with it now. But still designers seem to be wary of something that may ‘scare’ people. Perhaps on platforms such as Couture Week, they should let their creativity flow free, only then it can become what it’s known well for… theatrics!