A post-script to Li Edelkoort’s fashion lament
“This is the end of fashion as we know it,” said Lidewij Edelkoort at Design Indaba in Capetown. In a follow-up interview with Dezeen magazine on March 1, Edelkoort, one of the world’s most influential trend forecasters elaborated why she found the fashion industry a “ridiculous and pathetic parody of what it has been”. Forecasting the return of couture, she said her interest in fashion was being replaced by an interest in clothes as fashion was becoming too insular and placing itself out of society. Edelkoort raises a host of valid issues. From critiquing fashion education that emphasizes teaching students the emulation of famous names, to the failure to control sweatshop-like conditions in manufacturing units to the loss of competence in textile design and the cozy relationship between magazine houses, bloggers, and well known brands which can advertise, she lashes out at fashion bloggers or what she called the “like generation” explaining why intelligent critique (of fashion) had been replaced by shallow coverage.
It’s a pertinent interview for anyone interested in the larger footprints of fashion or their erasure. I found myself agreeing with all of Edelkoort’s arguments in the context of international fashion while thinking why they don’t apply to India. It is not time, yet, to write an elegy on Indian fashion. Our fashion is terribly repetitive in parts, no doubt. Two prominent fashion week bodies, the Lakme Fashion Week of Mumbai and the Amazon India Fashion Week (as Wills Lifestyle gets replaced by Amazon.in to sponsor the Fashion Design Council of India’s fashion week) are trying hard to ramp up interest in their upcoming events. One calls it 15 Years of Fashion Weeks and the other terms as 25 Seasons of Fashion. Some of us may even succeed in forking out some outstanding themes of the last fifteen years but most of us know that it is going to be hard to sustain interest in yet another season. Sitting in another part of the world, Edelkoort has her pulse on part of the problem when she says “12 minutes of a show, 45 minutes of driving, 25 minutes waiting”. In India it is worse. Driving is two hours for those driving in from Mumbai or Delhi’s suburbs to see some damp squibs which are as equally hyped as real fashion spectacles. Waiting time can be anything from 20 minutes to 50 minutes depending on, well…anything: is the textile minister coming? Is the set ready? Have the two designers agreed on hair and makeup? Anything, anything.
There is rampant plagiarism across our fashion market—from top to bottom. So Meena Bazaar wants to look like Sabyasachi and Chandni Chowk stores wants to sell Manish Malhotra while every second Chanderi sari merchant wants to ape Sanjay Garg’s Raw Mango bird motifs. The fatigue of the wedding couture industry is weighing down the creative quotient of most of our most talented designers. Still. It is not yet time to mourn the death of fashion in India. The above churn is our fashion system whether we like it or not. Divas may denounce the Anarkali as too democratic, too ethnic, too passé but across India from Varanasi to Surat, from Vizag to Raipur, the Anarkali sits atop posters of clothing houses. Who are we city snobs to define fashion? As one of the first journalists to point towards the cozy connects between powerful brands and fashion coverage in magazines, I now feel the way we digest and consume fashion in India itself has found a way of putting magazines in their place. Fashion magazines do sell, are aspiration provoking and influence a certain section of people but do they really determine core opinion? I doubt it. New brands may not get featured in magazines as they can’t advertise but think about the number of new and small brands we are now aware of compared to three years back despite the monopoly of big brands. From tiny merchandisers selling recyclable jewellery on the Internet to those making textile bags; manufacturing eco-friendly footwear or exploring new design ideas—there is a bombardment of the new in our “fashion system”. Our fashion bloggers? Barring one and half successful ones who could get a terrific website or two going, go on, try, name five who influence what we think about fashion, who are named as fashion poweratti, whose opinions matter, who make designers fret and fume with their critiques? Textile development and exploration? Indian fashion is thriving with textile innovation and is in the throes of a new, textile movement. Inside the industry itself, it is great to watch wedding couture battle it out with textile innovation. I am no Edelkoort at forecasting but I do think the latter will win. Couture? We are raised on bespoke garments from our fussing and fussy tailors, our mummies and designer friends; we celebrate handmade and especially made as a part of our daily lives. In fact, India may be tiring of couture. The new Indian bride is turning out to be a terrifically smart girl—she is rare at the moment but she exists, the girl who is cheesed off now with excess and does not want to change five costumes in three hours or have each of her lehnga seams laden with real rubies. In this slapping mix of plagiarism unmonitored by fashion bodies, in the absence of copyright laws and industry ethics, in the churn of fashion politics that defines merit and fetches sponsors, in the wait for incisive fashion coverage in our media, in finding a Sabyasachi copy in Mumbai’s Lokhandwala market, in our abiding love of fuschia and parrot green and silly little cholis, I repose great hope in Indian “fashion”. We don’t even know what fashion is, I think sometimes, especially when I travel to Indian villages and a weaver’s wife chastises me why peacock blue is no longer “in”. But we do know clothing. And we know change and bravado and textile and manufacturing challenges and innovation and crafts couture and a lot else. We may love our filmy celebrities and will readily copy their kameez and salwar, but there is something so incredibly non-branded about our style in the Indian way of things that it is, well, what else, but our fashion.