Apocalypse Now: An analysis of the Indian fashion scene as we know it

I’m a little foggy about the details but I remember one of Delhi’s first exclusive fashion destinations was called ‘1 MG Road’. Within its hallowed confines, one could find all varieties of home-grown fashion talent with names that sounded like camp versions of law firms (like Gupta & Thakur spelled Goopta & Thakore). Some of the less genteel designers used the old hyphen, used more commonly by Hindi movie music directors of the Kalyanji-Anandji ilk.

Anyway, so there was this store. On display were the usual array of putrescence. Iridiscent sarees with gold shit that looked like old Victorian chairs vaguely reminiscent of tv serials like Mahabharat and Ramayan.  For the men, jootis that could make your head spin. If you don’t know what a jooti is, it’s one of those traditional Indian slip-on shoes with the curly bit in the end. Like those worn by this guy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s about as comfortable as a steel cactus but I suppose they couldn’t pair adidas kicks with ornate dhotis. The one time I went in there (I was invited to a store opening) it was completely deserted. Probably wasn’t wedding season yet so the market for frilly bandhgalas hadn’t really opened up. Not a soul. The whole place smelled of feet. And that was that.

A few months later, much to my delight, I heard that the MCD had the entire building razed to the ground because it was an illegal construction.

The fashion fraternity, thanks to its closeness with the media, was up in arms. It was hilarious. There was this one guy, some hermaphrodite looking designer with highlights in his hair who was so distraught that he was choked up for words. The presenter waited patiently as he said, “This… is…(sob) our (choke)… 9/11”. I’m not kidding you. He actually said that.

Ok I know this is going to stir a shitstorm of self-righteous rage calling us bigoted and whatnot. So, for the record, I would like to state that we are NOT homophobic. We make jokes about them, but who doesn’t? An entire community of men who spend a quarter of their salaries on hair products and you seriously expect people not to make fun of them? I have Queen and George Michael on my iPod. Heck I even have Prince. David Sedaris is my favourite living satire writer and he’s a flaming poof if there was one.

There are a lot of talented gays out there in the big, wide world. But the Indian gay community is another kettle of fish altogether. Can you name one talented gay Indian? Anybody? Somebody? Freddy Mercury doesn’t count. We don’t have a San Fran here. We just have some ugly trannies who speak in mock British accents. What a boring cliché.

The gay clique in Delhi and Bombay are said to have a chokehold on the fashion, styling industry. And look at what that has resulted in.

Today, the indigenous Indian fashion industry is in shambles. Not to be confused with the garment export business, which will do well so long as we can keep the sweatshops in Noida, Tirupur and Ludhiana running smoothly. In every country, the domestic fashion industry is supported by a strong domestic market. Italians buy Italian brands. French buy French brands.  What do the moneyed set in India buy? To find out, pay a visit to Emporio Mall, in Vasant Kunj which is Delhi’s equivalent of Rodeo Drive. They have two malls there. One for the plebs, with brands like Bennetton, Levi’s and Fab India. The other is its shinier, Dubai returned sister, with Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Armani, Ferragamo and Cartier on the ground level. On the second level are the stores which couldn’t afford the super exclusive high-footfall company downstairs. Boss, Marc Jacobs, Paul Smith and some others. As we go higher, we have a level that is almost exclusively for Indian designers. The Goopta & Thakore, Kalyanji-Anandji variety. It’s a re-creation of 1 MG Road, for the uninitiated. Their post 9/11 Freedom Tower. I haven’t bothered taking the escalator up there and I’ll bet I’m not alone. In fact, they’ve switched off the escalator to save electricity consumed by the escalator carrying nothing but air up into the third level from dawn to dusk.

I’m not under any delusions here. I realize I’m not the most fashionable person in the world. But I do know people who can tell their Martin Margielas from their Rick Owens and I asked 9 of these people one question. Would you ever buy an Indian design label? All of them, said ‘No’, disgusted at the very thought. One of them had a few kind words to say about Manish Arora, saying he was the only one worthy of any mention. But that was it.

What keeps this ragtag bunch of bum bandits afloat? They’re not even vaguely interesting and they don’t make any money. This year their only source of income, the export orders (a lot of Gujju aunties with more money than sense in the UK and Canada) have all but dried up.

But the real death blow will be dealt in a few months time. When Zara and Topshop enter the domestic market. If they get their pricing strategy right, their cheap chic model which democratized fashion in Europe and America will be the nuclear bomb that sends the local Kalyanji-Anandjis to kingdom come.

First published in KIRIK 02 March 2010

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