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A FASHION TALK

Sathya Saran  (click here to know more about this blogger)

Last week I addressed a clutch of women at one of those happy, interactive talks that happen regularly in Ladies' groups.  An ex-colleague had taken over the reins of the rather active Indus Club and roped me in knowing I would not turn her down. So there I was with the picture postcard sea 17 floors below, boats dotting its calm surface, facing women who had come with expectations of a fashion talk. 

I sifted through the questions I had asked them to pose to me and chose one that was amazingly relevant. 'Why do we dress the way we do, in India', they wanted to know? And 'why do so many women wear gowns which don't really flatter the Indian figure'? Hmm, good questions, with many answers! For one, because we are still evolving in our understanding of fashion. Secondly, we are still blinded by images of Hollywood and the red carpet walk-ons that we see in press and TV. And thirdly, because we are all in a scramble to show our neighbors just how much money we can afford to splurge on a dress. Besides this, we travel overseas frequently and shop for the stuff that we can’t yet get here: which includes clothes by designers. Or we run to buy the latest from the design names already in India before someone else grabs them. And last of all, because most women now are fit and slim, regardless of age, to fit into clothes created with a western body in mind.  Of course, some women look completely gorgeous in western couture and more important, carry it comfortably but you can actually count such women on the fingers of one hand. Most others seem to walk around with a 'look-at-me' label pasted on to their clothes. And you can sense the underlying regret over the fact that the designer has not signed the piece boldly for worldwide viewing!
 
At a recent launch of the Autumn Winter lines at the Burberry store, I drooled over their new line of handbags. But the staff told me I was in a minority. Most women wanted not the new solid color bags but those with checks that shouted that they were created by Burberry. Their spend had to be public info! Which is why we are moving towards relegating the hand-woven silk or cotton sari or the beautifully structured and embroidered kurta ensemble to special occasions and stocking our wardrobe with stretches and knits and faceless clothes from wherever they fly in. 
 
Sociologists moan the erasing of Mumbai’s wonderful personality as more and more old buildings crumble to give way to faceless glass fronted towering monstrosities. I weep over the emergence of a generation of assembly line wannabes and stress over the loss of the individuality and grace of the Indian woman. After all, is that not what she was renowned the world over for?
 
Teaching a bunch of eager-beaver students the basics of communicating on fashion, I was aghast to note one common thread that ran through the mixed group. Most of them hardly read anything beyond a magazine or newspaper. No novels... not even chick lit or detective thrillers! They probably thought knowing the warp and weft of fashion and the mechanics of styling was enough equipment to set out with into the world of fashion communication! It led me to a state close to despair. Earlier we had journalists writing on fashion with little knowledge of fashion. And now we will have fashion students, ill equipped with writing skills, who will go out to become fashion journos!  I cannot stop repeating to every young person who aspires to be a writer, the importance of reading. I tell them that just as we cannot sing unless we listen to music (formal training of course takes one to another level) or cook unless we know the basics of the craft and have an understanding of the ingredients... we cannot hope to write well unless we have sipped at all the founts that writers have placed before us. Reading... even the Reader’s Digest or authors known for their expressiveness provides a vocabulary, a palette of words to choose from. And a background of information to cull from. Spin this into a knowledge of fashion and the communication will come through clear and graphic... and the age of poor PR handouts that then get pasted on to print pages to reach out to an unsuspecting, uncomprehending public will come to a close!
 
When I joined Femina in 1979, Mita Parekh's work was my first brush with fashion. I remember ‘splurging’ on a pink-on-white printed kurta set which I adored for its light pastel mood and wore till it gave way. Mita sold her printed saris and pieces through Femina’s editorial pages and was quite successful in creating business both for the magazine and herself. She garnered a clientele that included Mrs. Gandhi senior and stars like Deepti Naval, Dimple and Juhi Chawla. Then times changed and her designs seemed old, boring and even hackneyed. India had a surfeit of paisleys and tendrils. After almost twenty-five years of oblivion, which she spent touring Indian villages and exhibiting overseas, Mita comes back to Mumbai with an all-Indie collection that hints at not just nostalgia for some but also freshness and gentle weaves, while showcasing the infinite variety of our textile-based crafts. Her exhibition at V B Gandhi Marg beyond Rhythm House starts on Sept 5.
 
Sathya Saran
 
01-SEPTEMBER-2012
 
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10 Comments
 
09-JANUARY-2013 Ruhee
I am a faculty at NIFT and I read a lot. I would say i have a mixed opinion on this. While i was recommending 'fountainhead' to my students - some whispered if i could tell them the crux of it. however, there were others who have not only read it, they have lend me books now and vice versa. So, I think there would always be Readers and non readers.
 
 
08-SEPTEMBER-2012 Mandira Bedi
You've hit the nail on the head!
 
 
08-SEPTEMBER-2012 viresh verma
Sathya, you know the pulse and that's the reason you always strike the right chords.... btw when is your next book coming up, you are a treasure of knowledge, bring out something for us...:)
 
 
03-SEPTEMBER-2012 Rita Mukherjee
Many moons ago Nina n Fredrick sang a song called 'Little Boxes'...the line that I quote...and we all get put in boxes 'n' we all look the same...today's fashion puts everyone through a assembly line look. Youth wears only Tshirt n Jeans n the rich ones sport designer clothes....wither goes the sari today in the midst of gowns galore?
 
 
02-SEPTEMBER-2012 shweta parande
Well said. Fashion journos don't know much about fashion and students hardly know how to write!!!! Books? Youngsters today don't even read newspapers. Just bits and pieces of news online! But yeah, if e-books are encouraged, it might draw people to read more.
 
 
01-SEPTEMBER-2012 Leena Mahatani
Lovely blog. Assembly Line Clones is exactly what the A-LIST set is and perhaps the aspiring set too. What happened to being creative?
 
 
01-SEPTEMBER-2012 Geeta Castelino
It is a sad reality. Like fast food, most kids want to become famous and rich fast, right after graduating from a fashion/ design institute. The libraries are rarely visited... and most want to take the easy way out. Sathya, you have definitely touched a chord but I do not just blame the generation... the whole education system in India needs a re-vamping. Parents need to inculcate the habit of reading in their children and not just get information from the internet by copy pasting... one needs to make the kids aware how their personalities could be enhanced by reading and gaining knowledge and appreciating. Many fashion students are not even aware of fashion vocabulory, and to expect them to read seems a big task!
 
 
01-SEPTEMBER-2012 Meher Castelino
It is fast food, fast fashion, fast writing and that SMS language in written English is crazy. Fashion means designing for Bollywood and item girls but the history of modern Indian fashion and how it reached this stage is totally ignored by fashion students who have not heard of genius designers like Shahab Durazi!!!!
 
 
01-SEPTEMBER-2012 Piyush Nagpal
The tech age has it's plus and minus points. Information on the fingertips is great but there is also loss of quality and depth that classics provide. Schools and Universities must specify a certain number and genre of books each term.
 
 
01-SEPTEMBER-2012 mahesh dattani
You have touched the pulse of today's generation: with iPads, laptops and a magazine in hand, they do not appreciate the value of reading books!!!!
 
 
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