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!

Of male models and airport meetings

A couple of days ago at the Mumbai airport lounge I bumped into actress Deepika Padukone. I had met her during her modelling days but since the time she started off as a successful actress, I never really had a chance to meet her or talk to her again.
For me, Deepika is the best in terms of her personal style, and of course her on screen appearance as an actor. She has a perfect body, a beautiful face and even from her very first film, she proved that she could act. When my fashion designer friend Neeta Lulla introduced me to her again at the lounge, I found that she looked just the same, and was as warm as well.
After Neeta and Deepika left the lounge to board their plane to Goa, I sat once again and looked around. I saw Milind Soman busy talking to someone on the phone. I walked up to his side and we started chatting.
I have known Milind now for about 15 years… since his modeling days. He stopped modeling when he right at the top of his career to pursue his interest in films. No doubt, all the fashion lovers were damn disappointed.
I remember the days he used to do runway modeling. He was perfect from every angle. He always walked with confidence, wading through shrills and hoots that used come from pretty girls in the audience with an expressionless face. He never really cared of all the adulations. He did what he did best… modeling and never did hang around or been seen all the trivial things that we get to see models doing these days at night clubs or at parties.
That was what I liked about him. He seemed like a man of principles. For me, Milind Soman by far is the best model India has ever produced. He probably is the only male super model as far as I am concerned. There was no one like him before and I really haven’t seen any guy like him after he opted out of active modeling.
I wish male models of today were like Milind. Often we hear that male models are no comparison when it comes to their looks or intellect. It is true to a large extent. Barring a few, there hardly are any good male models in the fashion industry today. There are those who enter the industry purely because they do ‘favours’ to gay fashion designers. And they stick out like sore thumbs on the fashion runway. Sheer crap.
But the days when Milind (and, to a certain extent Arjun Rampal) used to model, things were different. Even today, when he is not into active modeling, he still looked very fit, very smart and of course, very handsome. And people still recognize him for what he did many years ago.
I saw a Kingfisher airlines girl approaching him and asking him whether he will pose for a photo with her. He said okay, got up, got his photo clicked and came back to the couch where he was sitting before.
Milind Soman is a man who is still missed on the fashion runway. I am sure he will be welcomed with open arms should he decide to come back!

Window display – a visiting card for the store

Just the other day I was doing my recce of some of the designer stores that I do on a routine basis. I do this not just to see how the stores are doing but to know how designer merchandise are displayed and managed at these stores.
Looking at the stores I realized that our fashion designers give least importance to their window displays (or VM, the visual merchandising part).In most stores, windows are shabbily or done in the most unattractive manner. Once inside, the same was seen on the shelves and racks. I also saw a mannequin that seemed to struggle out of an ill-fitting outfit.
Some of these stores that are situated in a mall where some of the leading names in the world of luxury are also situated look completely out of place. I know for a fact that each of these luxury brands takes a lot of effort in doing their windows and VM part so as to get the attention of prospective clients. They have specialized staff handling these parts and the end result is always an attractively displayed product shelf coupled with an equally pleasing window that prompts the customer to walk in to have a look at products. Once inside, trained staff (atleast in most cases) will assist them with product details and purchases.
Walking into an Indian designer store is like walking into a police station with a blood-stained knife in hand. The staff looks at you with suspicion plastered all over your body. As you walk from rack to rack, you can feel their stares smothering your back side, you could almost feel the heat of their breath on your back. They will atleast ask you twice whether you are looking at anything particular, and even if you say no, they still follow you through out. They are suspicious that you are there to copy their designs. I know this for a fact. And each time I walked in to a store, I always felt the same attitude from the sales staff, much to my amusement I might add.
Amusement I said because I find it damn funny that these guys are told to guard the store as if it’s Fort Knox. We must realize that our designers and their designs are far from being copied by competitors. And those who are desperate enough to copy them, they are doing it blatantly any way in places like Chandni Chowk, etc and our guys are not doing much to stop them from doing that either. Then why this drama of showing hostility when we walk into their stores? Or is it that one has to make oneself visible stepping out of a BMW to prove that one is worthy of walking in to these stores? I remember my good friend Mohan Murjani once telling me that often the best sales come from a person who walked in torn jeans. Clearly, the way these guys follow you through breathing down your neck and showering you with stares, I doubt how much sale are they generating.
Our designers should also work on their price tags – atleast when it comes to their western clothing – as most of them often find neck to neck with that of their counterparts from the west. If one of our best designers gives the pricing similar to that of a second line of a world-class luxury label, and if the product is similar, I am willing to place a bet that the customer will go for the second option. This can happen because the second option has a better brand appeal and recognition.
I feel the store acts of Indian designers should be looked into and reworked. A friendly demeanour by sales staff coupled with pleasant, uncluttered shelves and racks and a powerful window will do much better in terms of attracting customers than the present setup. This will sure make the prospective clients happy once they are inside, conversion of that feeling into a sale, well, that depends entirely on what the designer has to offer… and at what price.

Fashion Weaks?

There was a time, not so long ago, there were only a handful of fashion designers in India. Those days, whoever were in the business did their job seriously.
Soon enough, many more got the whiff of glamour that comes free with fashion designing. And the profession called fashion designers started mutilating and before we knew what happened there were a battalion of designers in the industry vying for attention, mostly from the media.
This mostly consisted rich, bored housewives coming out through their kitchen doors with a copy of a fashion magazine and a masterji. They found it easier to copy from the magazine, put some embroidery on them and of course stitch their labels on them as well. Many of them, with their ability to throw cocktails and grab media attention because of their connections with prominent society faces, thus became fashion designers in the eyes of the ignorant (but yet powerful) media and thus in the eyes of the public as well.
And there were those guys who (again with their money) became fashion designers by throwing parties and introducing collections that they bought from other countries as their own. Again, just because of the media’s attention on them, they too have become fashion designers.
Some of these, I think finally got themselves genuinely interested in what they were doing and started doing fairly okay collections. I guess this happened mainly because of their constant interactions with their masterjees and eventually getting some brush-off effects from them pertaining to designing. And the rest continue to torture all of us alike with their creations with which I will not even dare to mop my floor!
There was a time when I used to think that our fashion industry has become stagnant with the stalwarts who did what they always did, mediocre ones who did what they did forcibly for mere survival and the totally talent-less ones for mere media attention.
But, the last five years or so have made me change my perception of the industry when I saw extremely bright and innovative young designers taking over the industry slowly, but steadily. I will always give the credit for this to Lakme Fashion Week that has given a platform for young talents to showcase what they were capable of through all seasons. Some of the best and brightest designers of today have come to the limelight through this platform.
What happened with fashion and fashion designers in the beginning seems to be happening with fashion weeks these days. When wannabes found fashion designing as a means to get into society columns of newspapers in those days, fashion weeks and its organizers are using them as a means to make their business more lucrative.
Now many have started fashion weeks all over India. Calcutta and Bangalore are already on. Chennai is happening soon. I hear that Hyderabad is also wriggling and writhing. But the biggest of all jolts came when someone from my home state Kerala called and told me that there’s going to be a Kerala Fashion Week soon!
It took me a couple of days first to digest the news. Now I am sitting here as if I just heard the announcement of a Hurricane Katrina hitting my house soon. Kerala Fashion Week! Looking at some of the Malayalam TV channels and their fashion programmes is good enough to know how well they can pull a fashion week off! No offense to my country cousins, but I am really sad to say that a fashion week simply cannot work there.
Moving away from there, I really don’t know how many of these fashion weeks are actually being formed to generate business for fashion designers. I get this feeling that it’s more or less of what wannabe fashion designers did in the initial stages “more for media attention” along with the fact that, along the way, they can also make some fast bucks. Fashion means glamour and brands will only be too happy to associate with glamour.
So brands get their visibility and organizers get their money. The real question, however, remains that how fashion designers will be benefited from this?
This is something we will have to wait and see in the coming seasons.

Lap of Luxury

A few months back, I had the opportunity to meet Francois Henri Pinault, chairman of PPR, the conglomerate that owns the Gucci Group.
As you may know, Gucci Group has several luxury labels under its umbrella such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Bedat & Co, Sergio Rossi, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, etc.In the course of our talks, he mentioned to me that he was impressed with The Emporio mall in Delhi that houses many luxury brands under one roof. Though, to me, it’s somewhat got a Arabian feel to it with its ornate interiors and palm trees, I thought what Francois said was right. After all he is the man who controls half of the world’s luxury brands, so he should know.
The other day I was at the mall and I did a recce once again on all its floors. It seemed that time all the brand boutiques were milling with customers. Plenty of purchases were being made and I could see stylish people with brands’ carry bags walking out of the mall in good numbers. I was told that a lady walked into one of the brand boutiques and bought a pair of heels worth Rs 1.3 lakh and walked out… all in five minutes!
While talking to a couple of store people I got to know that sales are picking up now with the weekends proving to me more lucrative for the brands. The brands had been a bit unhappy over the last few months as they looked at India with a lot of hope when the Europe and the US markets crashed due to recession. The developing markets were the hope for these brands to keep their cash registers ringing.
And a day later, I was invited to a private viewing of some of the most expensive wristwatches from Breguet. Watches the prices of which start at around Rs 16 lakhs and go up to Rs 1.3 crore. There was a particular model with a price tag of about Rs 77 lakh. The Breguet executives told me that around the world there are only a few who go for such expensive watches and they have already got bookings for four of those from India alone.
If, even without India going into a recession (there was only a slowing down of our economy), people applied brakes to their spending, well, they are now beginning to loosen their purse strings once again. We have several dollar millionaires here and luxury brands are eyeing them much more keenly than never before.
From the way brands are opening more stores also shows the fact that they sense the presence of large number of consumers here. Louis Vuitton is opening its second store in Mumbai at the Taj Landsend shortly. Gucci will open its second store in Delhi at The Emporio in December. Versace has opened its store in the same mall recently. More brands are hovering over the Indian retail market with avid interest. It’s only a matter of time before they also set their feet here.
With all the brands and their fancy clothes and accessories setting shops in India, the style conscious Indian elite never had it better when it comes to high-end shopping. And in the coming days it is only going to grow further.