Can Fashion Save The Planet?

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Published: Elle India, April 2018
(Additional images and videos added to this post.)

Designers the world over are making a slow but steady shift towards sustainable fashion, but does the average consumer know what eco-friendly fashion really is? 

 

The sobering 2017 documentary RiverBlue follows international river conservationist Mark Angelo as he brings into focus how some of the world’s key rivers are being destroyed by the mass manufacturing of clothing. Angelo asserts that any major global fashion brand uses approximately 28 trillion gallons of fresh water every year. And that hazardous chemicals like mercury, cadmium and lead from the fabric are polluting rivers that supply drinking water dyes that filter into them. These chemicals do not break down and travel around the world destroying aquatic life and causing damage to humans in the form of cancer and sensory loss.

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As consumers, we tend to chase beauty over benefits: if it looks good, it couldn’t have harmed anything on its way. There are no aubergine-hued pollutants in the rivers, no underage children making those sensational ruffles, and no worker was paid inadequately to sew those pastel sequins on. Are we wrong, ignorant or simply apathetic? Perhaps all of the above. The True Cost, a film on the fashion industry, brings to the forefront the materialism that drives the economy of fashion, and the heavy price that is paid for cost-effective fast fashion. Parallelly, brands are voraciously driving new trends, while discounting the previous season’s styles. How many pairs of jeans is enough, when baggy or cropped is in one month, and skinny or bootleg fit next month’s #goals? “The consumer didn’t wake up one morning, saying, ‘I want to buy five pairs of jeans.’ We were literally introduced to this concept by the fashion industry,” a commentator in RiverBlue says.

It is clear then, that of the many things it is — expressive, cathartic, good for the economy, and great for Instagram — fashion is also dangerous to the planet. Thankfully, and finally, the industry is now paying heed to its potential legacy of environmental destruction. At Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort (LFW S/R) 2018, Rajesh Pratap Singh used Tencel, a soft fabric made by Austrian textile group Lenzing. It is made from the plant cellulose of sustainably harvested trees in a ‘closed-loop’ production sequence that recycles almost 100 per cent of the solvent. Mumbai-based designer Anavila Misra (of Anavila) has made linen, created from fibres of the flax plant, shine in her subtle-hued saris. Guwahati’s Nandini Baruva (of Kirameki) uses sustainable fabric, made from banana and pineapple (pina fabric), and Eri silk (also known as Ahimsa silk) in her designs that are laced with an ethnic touch. Globally, eco-warrior designer Stella McCartney’s Falabella Go backpack, going strong since 2017, is created using recycled polyester fabric made from ocean plastic. VivoBarefoot’s shoes are made using algae biomass — each pair helps recirculate 57 gallons of filtered water back into natural habitats.

(L) Anavila linen saris; (R) Maku natural indigo and white handwoven jamdani scarf. 

While high-street giants like H&M are exhorting you to ‘Rewear, Reuse, Recycle’, Kriti Tula, founder of upcycling relaxed fashion label Doodlage, is keen on waste-management: “Upcycling is the ethos of our brand. Each garment is created using industrial scrap, defective and end-of-the-line fabrics, which are all part of pre-consumer waste, and often end up in a landfill.”

Seven years ago, LFW began a dialogue on sustainable fashion and now dedicates a day to it each season, which focuses on grass-roots-level artisans and craftsmen, with enthusiastic participation from the country’s established and upcoming designers alike. Last season’s #RestartFashion show saw post-consumer waste-fabric makers team up with brands like Chola and Doodlage, while Craftmark by the All India Artisans And Craftworkers Welfare Association collaborated with designers like Anshu Arora, Hetal Shrivastav and Sonal Chitranshi, to showcase ethical garments that were handwoven without generating any waste.

Yvon Chouinard, founder of the outdoor gear label Patagonia, reminds his customers in The Usual, a New York-based publication with a focus on culture and the outdoors: “Think twice before you buy a product from us. Do you really need it or are you just bored, and want to buy something?” This echoes designer Santanu Das’s philosophy for his sustainable Kolkata-based brand, Maku. “Fashion is an industry, it responds to consumption patterns. You don’t need to go on a buying spree — even if the product is sustainable or organic.” Maku’s calls to action are the organic indigo dye and natural fabrics (that are essential to the brand) — its LFW S/R 2018 collection, In Transit, glorified indigo on khadi — and to limit the products on offer.

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 10.22.39 PMImage from Doodlage’s Instagram. Photo by: Tanvi Julka.

While fashion players are galvanising into action, consumers can and should do their part too. Gautam Vazirani, fashion curator, IMG Reliance, stresses on individual responsibility. “We are constantly trying to find the next cheapest sale, and we are not conscious about how much we really need,” he says. “In India, we are blessed with easily accessible sustainable fashion. For instance, a consumer can buy a sari made by a craftsman like Chaman Premji from Bhujodi village in Kutch that is handwoven with organic cotton and naturally dyed. Such fashion keeps the environment safe, and empowers the smallest producers in rural areas.” Today, with the rise of seasonless runways and unisex products and attire, we can make a difference by focusing on learning more about and investing in eco-friendly products and fabrics, and buying fewer but value-driven classics that will endure through time and trends.

Perhaps we should shop for a greener wardrobe because really, it is about making sustainable fashion fashionable. And that begins at home so that our heirlooms aren’t merely Chanel and Dior, but a habitable existence on earth. As Das points out, “Fashion cannot save the planet, you can.”

Say It With A Tee: The Enduring Appeal Of The Slogan Tee

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Published: Mint Lounge, March 31, 2018 edition.
Additional images added to this post.

Giving voice to historic movements over the years, the slogan T-shirt has been a powerful canvas for activism

Ashish Gupta’s Autumn/Winter 2018 show at the London Fashion Week.

Last month, at the London Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2018, Delhi-born, London-based designer Ashish Gupta’s rainbow-hued sequinned slogan shirts took clever digs at excessive consumerism, with credit card brand names and logos rejigged into: “American Excess”, “Masturbate” and “Viva(L’Amore)”. An ongoing exhibit at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, T-Shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion (till 6 May), charts the T-shirt’s ability to bring about social change, via 200 iconic archival pieces.

While actor Marlon Brando may have popularized the classic tee on screen with A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), it was American Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey who used the first-ever slogan T-shirt in 1948 for his “Dew it with Dewey” presidential campaign—albeit with not much political success. Over the years, the slogan tee grew in popularity with the setting up of Disneyland and sale of their graphic tees in the 1950s, iconic pop artist Andy Warhol’s silk-screen printing technology of the 1960s, and the rise of pop music fandom (think The Rolling Stones) and anti-war protests, specifically the Vietnam War, during the 1960s.

The 1970s and 1980s were seminal for the tee out to challenge the establishment. English designer Katharine Hamnett launched politics on cotton—she met the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 sporting a T-shirt with an anti-nuclear message. Hamnett was quoted in The Guardian (2009): “Slogans work on so many different levels; they’re almost subliminal. They’re also a way of people aligning themselves to a cause. They’re tribal. Wearing one is like branding yourself.” British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood pushed forth her punk movement with slogan tees, while also reflecting political causes like nuclear disarmament and climate change, the latter as recent as 2013.

Designer Vivienne Westwood’s call for a climate revolution.

Inevitably, the feminist ball started rolling as part of the sartorial activism. Formed in New York in 1985, Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of feminist activist artists fighting sexism and racism within the art world, took their poster, Advantages Of Being A Woman Artist, on to a T-shirt, among other things. The Fawcett Society, a UK-based charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, teamed up with Elle UK and the high-street chain Whistles for the This is what a feminist looks like campaign in 2014—which, incidentally, faced a pushback with questions about the ethical production of the tees by the organization.

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Dior’s ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ campaign.

Maria Grazia Chiuri opted for “We should all be feminists” for her very first collection for the French fashion house, Dior, in October 2016, restarting the politics of feminism on a T-shirt; at the recently concluded Dior Autumn/Winter 2018-19 show, the statement sweater worn by model Ruth Bell, “C’est Non, Non, Non et Non!”, was a throwback to the defiant Youthquake spirit of Paris in the 1960s, and the nascent feminist movement gathering momentum at the time. You could’ve been living under a rock and still not have missed the slogan T-shirts on the runways at the New York Fashion Week 2017, with Nepalese-American, New York-based designer Prabal Gurung’s “The future is female”, and New York-based fashion and lifestyle brand Creatures of Comfort stating, “We are all human beings.” While questions may be raised about the imperfections of the fashion industry, such as the ethical and eco-friendly production of these tees, the power of a slogan T-shirt to keep the spotlight on topics like misogyny has remained strong.

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When statements are rife, so are controversies. Just a couple of months ago, Swedish high-street label H&M created a furore with an ad featuring an African-American child donning a hooded green sweatshirt with the words, “Coolest monkey in the jungle”, while online retail firm Amazon recalled children’s clothes bearing the slogan, “Slavery gets sh-t done.”

American high-street brands are uncomfortably familiar with T-shirt controversies. Running the gamut of sensitive topics are Abercrombie & Fitch’s Asian stereotype-propagator, “Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs will make it white” (2002), Urban Outfitters’ anorexia-promoting “Eat less” (2010), American Apparel’s borderline-paedophiliac “Teenagers do it better” (2011), and JCPenney’s anti-feminist “I’m too pretty to do homework…so my brother has to do it for me” (2011) T-shirts. Not to forget popular sportswear brand Nike running with “Gold Digging” (2012) and pro-drug terminology like “Get High” and “Dope” (2011), with their affirmative tick mark logo featured below. Conde Nast Traveller’s October-November 2016 Indian edition cover with Priyanka Chopra wearing a custom tee upset some with words like “Refugee” and “Immigrant”, forcing the actor to issue a public apology.

Katy PerryKaty Perry in a ‘Nasty Woman’ T-shirt.

The democratic garment is no stranger to political controversies either. When Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during the final presidential debate in 2016, Amanda Brinkman, founder of ethical, women-driven lifestyle products site Shrill Society (earlier known as Google Ghost), created a satirical “Nasty Woman” T-shirt while the debate was live. Her creation went viral, selling nearly 10,000 pieces overnight. It became a symbol of anti-Trump resistance, with Hillary Clinton tweeting a video of actor Will Ferrell wearing the shirt. Says Brinkman, “Being able to identify with others through visual clothing choices is a powerful way to seek out and find like-minded individuals. When Trump called Clinton a ‘nasty woman’, it resonated with women everywhere who get talked down to despite (or perhaps, because of) their intelligence, ambitions, and desires.”

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Delhi-based ethical young brand Doodlage uses slogans as a part of its fashion vocabulary. Says founder Kriti Tula, “Clothing is a means of self-expression and slogans allow you to be more vocal and expressive, and make a statement.” Besides self-expression, perhaps, the T-shirt is really a neutral canvas on which you can paint your thoughts. Unfortunately, many of the T-shirt conversation starters over the decades are still relevant today. Which makes one wonder if there is enough change happening in the world, one slogan tee at a time.

Dark Side Of The Moon

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Published: Mint Lounge, February 24, 2018 Edition
Additional images added to this post.

As ‘yami kawaii’, a Japanese fashion trend highlights mental illness, Lounge looks at the social taboos that fashion in India has addressed, however fleetingly

‘Yami kawaii’ on social media.

Japan, in its inimitable way, has a relatively new subculture called “sick cute”, or yami kawaii. Taking off from the traditional kawaii culture that celebrates pastel-pink cuteness and pristine beauty, yami kawaii has Harajuku locals sporting medical-themed accessories like bandages, syringes, pills and fake blood, or anti-social words like “I kill you”, demonstrating the dark side of life on the same cutesy backgrounds. Suggesting that the wearer is fragile, ill or emotionally wounded, this is an attempt to start a conversation about depression and mental health, taboo in a country that has extraordinarily high rates of suicide.

Over the decades, globally, fashion has focused on issues that were relevant at the time: be it Jean Paul Gaultier’s skirts for men in 1984, Vivienne Westwood’s climate revolution call to action in 2013, or Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo’s acceptance of the imperfections of the human form. Feminism and gender equality have been consistently on the fashion radar, particularly with the rise of androgynous fashion. Many such socio-political movements may not have seen the kind of momentum they did without the support of pop culture.

House of Riot Tee
House of Riot

“Through our clothing, we express our economic status, our social alliance…. For fashion to effect change, it must speak up,” says Australian model-activist Ollie Henderson in a TEDx Sydney talk in 2015. Henderson, who found her voice through slogan T-shirts at the Australian Fashion Week, 2014, founded a Sydney-based fashion label and youth movement, House of Riot, that is described on their website as “an extended art project fuelled by political frustration”.

In India, perhaps an early example of fashion as a means of social change was Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement, which popularized, among other things, the use of local handwoven Khadi cloth. It not only had a political impact on the country’s freedom struggle but also paid dues to the grassroots-level artisans, with a positive socio-economic effect. There have been voices since, from Rohit Bal’s 2003 showing of men on the runway wearing sindoor as a gender-neutral statement to Lakmé Fashion Week’s (LFW’s) Sustainable Fashion Day (now in its seventh year), where artisans regularly take centre stage, walking the ramp with the designers.

“Globally, fashion weeks and organizations are embracing culture-led conversations; whether it is plus-sized model Ashley Graham becoming a rage on the international runways or the feminist movement started by Prabal Gurung in his show at New York Fashion Week last season,” says Jaspreet Chandok, vice-president and head of fashion, IMG Reliance, which co-organizes the LFW. “The first step is acceptance, which we (locally, with the LFW) have been able to achieve; once we move fashion from exclusive to inclusive, it will tip over into a larger conversation which can actually lead to change,” he adds.

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 10.31.26 PMA still from ‘The Marriage of Shayla Patel’.

Last autumn at the LFW, Narendra Kumar Ahmed unveiled a short film, The Marriage Of Shayla Patel, with his bridal-wear show of the same name. In it, an elite urban bride-to-be who is in love with a woman is caught in a dilemma: choosing love over what is expected of her. It attempts to strip India’s strongest societal edifice—marriage, and, therefore, weddings: People get lost in the glamour, diamonds and designer clothes as they conform to society’s version of normal. Anjali Lama (born Nabin Waiba) became the first transgender woman to model at LFW Summer/Resort 2017 during their #TagFree show, which also included gender-neutral model Petr Nitka. The show strove to break stereotypes of size, shape, age and sex. The LFW Winter/Festive 2017 turned up the volume on sustainability and the footprint of fashion with the #RestartFashion initiative and Huemn Project’s Reflection. The designers for Huemn, Pranav Misra and Shyma Shetty, created an installation, a landfill of human bodies wrapped in clothing scraps and plastic bags. Misra believes: “Fashion’s primary role is to inspire and bring about change. Clothing is a by-product of the industry.”

Bobo Calcutta’s collection symbolizes the liberation of love and sexuality.

Godrej India Culture Lab’s (GICL’s) initiatives open the discussion on taboo topics—for instance, the Queer Aesthetics Now! installations at the recently concluded LFW Summer/Resort 2018 brought to the fore queer awareness and rights with a showcase by designers like Sumiran Kabir Sharma and Ayushman Mitra, among others. Kolkata-based Mitra’s collection (under the label Bobo Calcutta) symbolizes the liberation of love and sexuality, such as a sexless cotton jumpsuit that depicts gender-neutral faces in liplock, while the hand embroidery is done by craftsmen from West Bengal picking hues from the gay pride flag.

Fashion has managed to highlight issues like sexuality and sustainability, but will it shake up Indian society? While Misra appreciates the positive dialogue that began with their installation, he cannot judge its on-ground impact in a mere six months. Efforts at the institutional and individual levels are rife, but yet to become a movement like yami kawaii, stepping off the catwalk and on to the streets. “Fashion does talk about issues in India, but not in an articulate way. The mainstream voices are so focused on the two Bs—Bollywood and bridal—that these conversations remain on the margins. And at the end of the day, these dialogues should stem from designers that celebrate career-long values rather than ephemeral marketing,” says Parmesh Shahani, head of the GICL. For fashion can be a game changer, a way for people to connect to socio-political movements and express their support—being the change by wearing the change.

A Truly Green Wardrobe

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Published: Mint Lounge, February 10, 2018 Edition

Seaweed dresses, pineapple handbags and pantyhose made of recycled plastic—a lexicon of innovative eco-friendly fabrics

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From reclaimed fishing nets to algae biomass, and fungi fabric to banana fibre cloth, fashion has a new yarn to spin, and it’s singing a biodegradable tune. Eco-friendly fabrics are not only good for the environment, they also feel great because they are natural, non-toxic and breathable. Eco-fashion stems from sustainable sources, it includes fibres that do not require the use of pesticides or chemicals to grow, as well as biodegradable or fabric spin-offs from the non-biodegradable waste that is choking our planet. Lounge lists 13 fabrics that make the cut.

Bamboo Fabric

Bamboo fabric has come a long way from corset bones of the past. The fabric is durable, drapes well and absorbs moisture, while harvesting of bamboos is sustainable for the planet. London-based Thought and Asquith, Australian brand Shift to Nature and Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica use bamboo fabric; locally, it is used in Naushad Ali’s designs. A variant called Bamboo Charcoal is created by processing the charcoal from heated bamboo and mixing it with fabrics using nanotechnology.

Bionic Yarn

It is recycled polyester made from recovered waste, particularly from the oceans. Plastic bottles from trash are collected, broken down, shredded into fibres and spun into core yarn; then, this is woven into an eco-friendly fabric. Musician Pharrell Williams joined forces with the team behind Bionic Yarn and it led to initiatives like “Raw For The Oceans” with G-Star Raw denims.

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Ultra Bloom shoes.

Bloom Foam

Algae in your shoes? No fear, Bloom has the world’s first plant-based, performance-driven foam formulated with algae biomass, using renewable feedstock. Noticed in a capsule collection of shoes by London-based Vivobarefoot, which states on its blog that each pair of these Ultra Bloom shoes will also help recirculate 57 gallons of filtered water back into natural habitats.

‘Cork Skin’

It is extracted from the cork oak tree, what Portuguese brand Pelcor calls “cork skin”, a natural, biodegradable and recyclable resource. The company offers accessories like bags, hats and shoes made out of cork.

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A Falabella Go backpack by Stella McCartney.

Econyl® Yarn

An innovative regenerated fibre, “Nylon 6” is made from 100% regenerated waste material, including reclaimed fishing nets. From Swedish Stockings’ pantyhose to luxury brand Stella McCartney’s Falabella Go Backpacks, a number of brands use this yarn in items like swimwear, sportswear and hosiery. Bloni showcased a line of Spring/Summer wear glorifying Econyl® at the recently concluded Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) in Mumbai.

Hemp

It’s an ancient fibre dating back to 8,000 BC, but it has remained on the fringe. A decade ago, Donatella Versace used a hemp-silk fabric for a gown, while Calvin Klein created a hemp-based pantsuit for the FutureFashion show at the New York Fashion Week. The durable and strong fabric comes from the fibres of the herbaceous plant of the species, Cannabis sativa, a high-yield crop. A hemp blend would look like linen, softening over time. Currently seen in American apparel brands like Bad Decision Adventure Club and Patagonia.

Linen

One of the earliest fibres known to man, the Europeans’ favourite textile was at one point used as a form of currency. Made from the fibres of the flax plant, it has been favoured for bedsheets and tablecloths. There is a value attached to vintage linen as it softens over time—it is stronger than cotton and can last for decades. Anavila Misra has made linen a hero with her handwoven saris, and Padmaja Krishnan uses linen in her handwoven fabrics.

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Products using Pinatex.

Piña Fabric

Made from the discarded leaves of the pineapple plant, it is malleable, and can be combined with silk or polyester to create a textile fabric. A cheaper alternative to leather, it can morph into anything from crocodile skin to glittering gold. UK-based Carmen Hijosa’s textile line Ananas Anam has made “Piñatex” chic; the ivory, glossy fabric is also used by Filipino brides for wedding dresses.

R | Elan™

Showcased in designer Anita Dongre’s Songs Of Summer collection at the LFW, R | Elan™ GreenGold is a fabric innovation from Reliance Industries that uses specially engineered fibres. GreenGold is made from 100% used plastic bottles and has a low carbon footprint.

Recca®

Made from pre- and post-consumer waste, it stands for recycled cotton and is manufactured by the Tamil Nadu-based Anandi Enterprises. Sohaya Misra’s label Chola showcased Recca® for the LFW Winter/Festive 2017 initiative “Restart Fashion”, with a monochrome palette and soft, layered silhouettes.

SeaCell®

It’s a fibre made from a mix of ground natural seaweed and wood cellulose, which locks the nutritious properties of seaweed into a wearable fabric. While manufacturers claim that the skin can absorb these nutrients, it depends on the quantity of seaweed in the mix. Made by German company Smartfiber AG, it can be seen in Lululemon Athletica’s VitaSea line of sportswear.

SoyBean Fabric

Also known as “vegetable cashmere”, it is made from fibres that are spun from the waste of the soy food industry, like the hulls of soybean. American designer Linda Loudermilk, considered a pioneer of eco-luxury, used this biodegradable fabric in her brand Luxury Eco years before it became cool to do so.

Tencel®

Last week, the LFW had a gently floating Tencel® chandelier installation in the heart of JioGarden in Mumbai that will be recycled. Produced by Austrian textile group Lenzing, the fabric is commonly known as lyocell. While viscose, rayon, modal and lyocell are all made from plant cellulose, the same fabrics produced by Lenzing are made from sustainably-harvested trees in a “closed-loop” production cycle that recycles almost 100% of solvent. It has a soft, smooth finish, drapes well and absorbs moisture. Skinny denims by Los Angeles-based DSTLD, mini-dresses by American slow-fashion brand Reformation and Rajesh Pratap Singh’s androgynous garments flaunt Tencel®.

We are watching out for the next-gen Refibra™ fibres that will go a step further in recycling cotton scraps left over from the lyocell production process, in a bid to eliminate all waste.

Manifesto: Sustainability & Fashion

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Submitted to ‘Fashion and Sustainability’, London College of Fashion (FutureLearn Course)

This is a work-in-progress manifesto.

I love fashion, and it turns out, fashion is the biggest pollutant of our planet, after oil. How heavy is the cost of wearing beautiful clothes, and how long can we remain ignorant or act like it doesn’t matter to us?

If one values life—I care about the people around me, I care about animals (and hence am a vegetarian and wear vegan)—then one must understand, acknowledge, and attempt to change what is wrong with the fashion industry. As Barack Obama said: “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.”

Our era is defined as the Anthropocene and, according to Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, we have only 50 years to make the changes needed to ensure our wellbeing on earth for the next 10,000 years. While we collect material goods as markers of progress and as a legacy, if we don’t make a change in our consumption patterns starting now, there won’t be a planet to leave to our kids.

While creating a sustainable planet has many angles and agendas, one of the concerns is consumption and waste. We are living in the economy of excess and if we learn frugality, perhaps we stand a chance of saving the planet.

A writer may dip into any of the agendas; my aim is to bring about change through magazine and news articles, to inform and educate and to draw people into the conversation of change.

I also want to be the change, so I am aiming for a more sustainable lifestyle and wardrobe and would like to engage those in my circle of influence in this lifestyle shift.

Gloves For Your Feet

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Published: Mint Lounge, December 23 Edition
Additional images added to this post.

Post the sneaker craze, the trending ‘sock boot’ takes athleisure a step higher

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Exactly when you start debating how Sarah Jessica Parker struts around town in knee-high hot pink socks tucked inside sky-high stilettos (and wonder if she buys the shoes a size bigger to make room for the socks), the world hands you the sock boot. Punk heel aside, the sock boot has a retro swing, reminiscent of the 1980s.

So it’s not a sock for your boot (which is technically termed a “boot sock”). It’s a boot, generally ankle or calf length, which merges the sock element in the design and is likely to have a pointy toe and a kitten or block heel. With colours ranging from neutral to pop, they are stretch-jersey booties, occasionally with added textures like velvet and embroidery. Sock line or potential scrunchy gathers aside, this hybrid acknowledges that athleisure is not a passing trend.

Pink Balenciaga Kinfe Booties

The sock boot is a natural progression from the thigh-high satin boots popularized by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel in 1990, when the boots became an alternative to leggings. Kylie Jenner made waves in purple Balenciaga Spandex boots, which, offered in a range of colours, are an obvious replacement for leggings. In 2014, Nike and Adidas introduced the all-in-one knitted football sock shoes. More recently, Vetements and Balenciaga designer Demna Gvasalia redefined the boot with the second-skin Balenciaga “knife bootie” in black knitted sock or pop-coloured crepe, which, in turn, is an elevated take on the Vetements lighter-heel knitted sock boots. And Valentino’s and Prada’s sock-stilettos may not be boots, but they do bear a strong resemblance, naturally creating a sock-stiletto-boot hybrid.

Valentino With Outfit

Sock boots hug the ankles and create a slimming effect, which is a big hit on the street. And it’s a trend that suggests longevity, simply because of its ease of use. They feel lighter than the original kind and are easier to carry around when you are hopping between kickers and heels. They also turn up the volume on the preferred silhouettes of the moment, anti-fit above and body-con below. High-fashion sportswear has become a wardrobe staple, and it is but natural that boots should follow suit.

These boots make perfect accompaniments to mid-calf or knee-length flirty skirts, floral dresses and minis. They also provide opportunities for layering: Beyoncé paired her Vetements mid-calf bootie of sparkly green athletic socks and a unicorn-printed column heel with cut-off shorts and a camouflage jacket.

Our favourite among what’s out there? It’s got to be Fendi’s toast-to-vintage and ready-to-rock sock boots that give the sportiness a feminine kiss with pearls and lace.

Where to find it:

Balenciaga, Fendi, Vetements, Valentino, Malone Souliers, Uterque, Giuseppe Zanotti, Zara, Mango, Forever 21, TopShop.

Priya Jhaveri: A Sense of Self Over A Sense of Style

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Published in Mint Lounge, October 28 Edition
Photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar

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The passion for art began at home. Gallerist Priya Jhaveri’s parents were “obsessive collectors” of beautiful things, including modern art and antiquities, textiles, jewellery and ornaments. “They travelled widely, always including us in their visits to artist studios and galleries, and encouraged a study of the humanities,” says Jhaveri.

Since 2010, an apartment on Walkeshwar Road in South Mumbai, designed by Bijoy Jain, has been converted into Jhaveri Contemporary, a gallery showing artists across generations. Priya’s older sister, the London-based Amrita Jhaveri, manages the relationships with the estates they represent as a gallery. In Mumbai, Priya works closely with the gallery’s international artists, producing, promoting, managing exhibitions and negotiating sales, while overseeing daily operations.

The 41-year-old modern history and Spanish major from Oberlin College, US, has worked with an environmental law firm in San Francisco, collaborated with writer and filmmaker Bishakha Datta’s non-profit organization Point of View (POV) in India, co-authored a book,Unzipped: Women And Men In Prostitution Speak Out and worked as editor and project manager on books on Indian art and architecture at India Book House, before joining the art consultancy set up by her sister that evolved into the gallery.

The gallery showcases a wide range of artists, both veteran and avant-garde—currently on show is experimental film-maker Shambhavi Kaul’s work—and it forms a reference for Jhaveri’s individualistic sensibility and aesthetic values.

Priya gravitates towards understated elegance with a touch of quirk. She is dressed in Western attire for the most part. “I adore saris but I can’t tie my own sari!” she says. She has a practical approach to dressing: You are likely to find her in flats and sporting a white Swatch Skin watch. She avoids “high-maintenance clothes” for her work life, and opts for functional ready-to-wear for travel abroad, accounting for the local climate and long days at fairs. But there is always an accessory, like the chunky ivory wedding chudis she wears to add a touch of colour, or jewellery from sister Nandita Jhaveri’s eponymous line.

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 4.05.13 PMShoes by You Khanga. 

You might struggle to recognize the brands she wears, for she shops at local boutiques abroad for anything that catches her eye, like the You Khanga closed-toe flats (an Italian brand that works with African prints). A classic blue Acne Studios shirt is a staple and a Stella Jean dress a fun favourite, with basics from Uniqlo and Zara. In India, she tends to pick up items from Bodice, Amba, Vraj:bhoomi (for brogues) and close friend Maithili Ahluwalia’s Bungalow 8. It’s all so subtle, you wouldn’t even realize she is wearing a Chloé dress. You believe her when she quips about her personal style, “I’ve not given it much thought, so perhaps it’s effortless.”

Lounge caught up with her for an interview. Edited excerpts:

How would you describe your personal style?

I do know that style eclipses the best of wardrobes, presupposing a certain authenticity: Find comfort in your own skin, and the rest will follow. I tend to veer towards a more classic look. I’m not hugely adventurous and, depending on my mood, I can pick things that are elegant, androgynous, lazy even: I’d love to leave home in a pretty kaftan and chappals with a silver necklace thrown on.

Are you attracted to a specific palette or cuts?
I gravitate towards classic cuts set apart by irregular detailing. I enjoy striking colours—orange, turquoise, sky blue, emerald—and, on occasion, patterns and prints that are graphic, playful or more delicate. I appreciate clothing made using natural dyes and fabrics and the use of traditional weaves reinvented in contemporary design.

Do you believe that a sense of style is important?
Not as much as a sense of self. But if we’re thinking of style more broadly, in terms of attitude and comportment, then yes it is.

Is there any weight to the saying: style/dressing is an art form?
It can be, absolutely, just like the best of television can, or a piece of writing, music, architecture or dance.

Describe your preferred outfits for work, evening and a casual setting.
Lots of dresses with silver jewellery (also jewellery made with materials like coral, stone, glass) and sandals for work. If I’m working at an art fair, I add skirts and jumpsuits, with heels on the first three days and flat shoes on the last two when comfort trumps vanity. In a casual setting, I adore roomy trousers in Khadi by Runaway Bicycle.

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 4.07.30 PMVintage agate and diamond earrings designed by her father Dinesh Jhaveri in the 1970s.

Describe your three best style acquisitions.

A Patola sari for its flawless double-Ikat weave. Brilliantly handcrafted, it resembles a Nintendo game with its graphic pattern sporting animals and hybrid creatures. Earrings designed by my father, Dinesh Jhaveri, in the 1970s, for their inventive use of materials like wood and crystal alongside diamonds and gold. And a classic Boucheron watch with interchangeable leather straps in multiple colours for its timeless design.

When it comes to art and fashion, do you believe in acquiring timeless pieces or the flavour of the moment?
The challenge is knowing whether the “flavour of the moment” will be timeless or, equally, whether you need it to be timeless. In collecting art, my judgement sits somewhere between instinct and knowledge. It is important to make informed decisions. Supporting an artist can often be reward enough, as can an impulsive bout of retail therapy.

How important is sensibility and can you define it? Can it be acquired or is it inherent?
Sadly, I can’t define it. Its importance, however, is hard to over-exaggerate. Given that sensibility covers everything that not only makes sense but also makes beauty out of the daily rough and tumble of our lives. In a different mode: I don’t think sensibility is a value that is central to art or style anymore. Most artists today respond to literary or political values. Prelapsarian aesthetic pleasures have given way to more theoretical approaches.

When it comes to style, who or what inspires you?
Artist Amrita Sher-Gil, irreverence, The Sopranos, the novels of Philip Roth, the people I love and the laughter of old friends.

Fiction: Slow Romance of Snow and Ice

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Published: Verve Magazine, September 2017
Illustration by Tanuja Ramani

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There was a nip in the air. Some may call it a frozen point of time. We only felt a warm suffusing feeling surge through our bodies. Snow clung to our eyelashes, curling inwards to stay warm. Not for long of course, as it would melt and trickle down as tepid water. The streets were soulless, twisting and winding with buildings huddled together to stay snug. The pebble stones of Europe, forming delicious curves as lovers’ feet grind against them and with tourists’ enthusiastic tread, were not visible under the thick blanket of snow. Lush, deep and virginal, it looked from afar like a down feather comforter; you could tuck your toes in and wriggle under, dreaming of spring blossoms.

Perhaps it was a stretch to think we would fuel our love in the dead of winter. But marriages in Mumbai happen in balmy breezes and some may say the true test of romance is to kindle fires in the bitter cold. Discovering the dark history of the Continent under the beating sun of summer was for philistines. The ones with character and mettle surrounded themselves with the reflecting light of gas lamps that looked hazy in the crackling air. The pink blush that crept into our cheeks, the rosy-blue temper of our lips, and the slow embrace to beat the diving temperature battled desire and made way for an old-world romance.

We began to imagine a life on the calmer side of Prague’s Malá Strana. On the Charles Bridge, 30 baroque statues towered broodingly, and the Gothic shadows fell long on those evocative 500 metres, telling tales of darker times. There had been blood on the walls, there had been lovers who held hands, until the bridge, which was meant to forge ties, separated them. It described a time of mystery and madness; moments of furore. The placid mise en scene belied this, but the mind knew better. The heart beat faster, keeping pace with the pounding feet as the lovers were chased by naysayers. The silence around was deafening. If only the waves of River Vltava would crash mercilessly to calm the heart. If the world made noise, the mind could be silent. Summer was a pretence. A pretence to understand the truth of a city. It was sunshine and flowers and happy, smiling people. They all returned to their broken lives. In the harshness of winter the gaps were visible, the thoughts flooded in, mending what could not be ignored. There was nothing to hide behind. You faced the music in silence.

It was not always silent in Prague. If the opera house sang a tune, then the fervent chatter at the Christmas markets spun yarns. Stories of people’s lives, of cheer, of celebrated moments over hot mulled wine floated through the-Romanesque-making-sweet-love-to-the-Gothic 10th-century Old Town square in metaphysical abandon. Turning the pages of time via Josefov (the Jewish quarter), the 14th-century Wenceslas Square or Church of Our Lady before Týn along the way. The Prague Castle, the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, Czechoslovakia and now the Czech Republic, where the Bohemian crown jewels reside, had etchings in stone that you could see with your mind’s eye; Saint Vitus Cathedral held silhouettes in its arms. Standing at the gates outside, taking in the spired city that had been enveloped in white to depict a false sense of innocence, you saw the grey in the hidden courtyards of the cobbled alleys.

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Our fingers curled together, knitting patterns on the rough wooden table. Our breaths came out in steamy bursts, condensation clung to our lips. We were lovers from the turn of the 20th century, escaping reality for a few moments into the golden age of beautiful Budapest through its coffee houses like the Művész that we wandered into. Or the overt passion of a kert, an open-air ‘ruin pub’ that demands that you huddle together. Close enough that your mind stopped thinking. Enough to lead you to one of Budapest’s ‘secret’ thermal baths fed by natural springs to help you cool off, topped off with Gellért’s thermal spa to rejuvenate and prepare for another day. Perhaps a day that could be lived in contemporary times, where Nobu would play truant with Buddha-Bar, where we drank ourselves into deep inebriation and whispered the night away.

The Danube severed the large city, but it seemed whole. Like the marriage of two individuals with very distinct personalities. The castle district on one side of the Danube had many stories to speak of, but we could only see the chapters through the monuments, or while making our way, hand-in-hand, through the 2,200 metres of the Szemlõhegyi caves riddled with mineral precipitations. You couldn’t miss the bullet holes and shrapnel etched on buildings, or the sharpness of the Hungarian art on display at the National Gallery in Buda Castle (accessed by a funicular ride), even as the castle gates’ menacing black figures in wrought iron gazed watchfully as you dared to enter. And yet, the city had mellowed. It glowed with a quiet dignity, as you stood on one of its eight bridges, staring into the deceptive darkness with lights liberally splattered like war paint, glittering like a bejewelled bride, ready to come into her own.

She held me close. We swirled in silence. Her head only reached my chin, but we fit. I imagined the ballerinas pirouetting gracefully last night. In the peak of winter, the opera houses opened up in all their grandeur. The best artistes swung into action, the lights shone bright, the opulence of the performing chambers was larger than life. This was not the touristy show of the summer, this was art. At the Hungarian State Opera House a story that told the tale of a better time unfolded. Or worse, depending on how you looked at it. And then, we were on the city ice rink. Even as the beautiful castle tried desperately to throw a reflection on the brittle surface riddled by skating figures, I knew the city couldn’t hold a candle to my love at first site: Prague. As Franz Kafka imagined it, perhaps while sitting in Cafe Milena, ‘Prague never lets you go. This dear little mother has sharp claws.’

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We walked the 1,940 metres of Dubrovnik’s walls, the first of which were built in the 9th century. It usually takes about two hours, it took us six. Not because we fought against the throngs of the summer tourists; rather, the car-free streets were achingly bare as the locals had long left the historical old town for the modern suburbs. It made room for moments of passion that snuck into fortified medieval corners, cold baroque buildings, against darkened glass storefronts that were shrouded with our steamy breath, under spindly naked branches that shivered with passion and showered a cascade of white dust on us. Melting fast on your face as you held her close. As you parted and found your jacket soaked. We were drawn into the Dubrovnik Winter festival, filled with the pulsating beats that mirrored our pulses, food that satiated the senses but never the gnawing hunger inside, and a continuation of the mulled wine journey that flowed like blood in our veins. Or the rich sounds from the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra, for culture had nothing to do with beaches and sun tans, and bonds are forged over the soaring notes of classical harmony. Perhaps there were those who were looking for King’s Landing, but there was another song of ice and fire that we experienced, and it had nothing to do with games or thrones.

Set inside a Napoleonic fort near the city’s cable-car station, a permanent exhibition in the war museum is dedicated to the siege of Dubrovnik during the Homeland War of the 1990s, where the local defenders stationed inside the fort ensured the city wasn’t captured. The walls of Dubrovnik may be strong and thick, but the turrets and towers also had aching stories to tell, as long as you stood and listened. Moments of war and peace, moments of passion that died, and lives lived to the fullest.

High above the city in the cable car, we took in the twinkling lights in silence. No jostling crowds, just us. Lonely in our togetherness. Through this mystical honeymoon, we spoke, and we remained quiet. We found a comfort in knowing that we don’t know. We accepted reality, we knew we would go back to find ourselves, fill in the gaps. After all, we were women of the world.

Rajesh Pratap Singh: ‘Brocade Hoods and Pin-tucked Tuxedos’

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Published in Verve Magazine, September 2017 (Bridal Issue)
Photographs by Rishabh Malik

Designer, Rajesh Pratap Singh, on undertaking ‘super couture projects’ for unconventional brides. 

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He won’t design a wedding outfit. But, if you are lucky, he will create something, as a ‘super couture project’, for you, if approached with the right sensibility. All he asks is that you be: “intelligent, experimental, unconventional, and not bound by tradition”.

Seminal androgynous fashion has come out of Rajesh Pratap Singh’s atelier. Based in New Delhi, he hails from Rajasthan, and considers the poshakh the perfect bridal garment. Post NIFT Delhi, he worked in fashion in India and Italy before introducing his own line of men’s and women’s clothing in 1997. Pratap Singh, who has showcased his collections at Paris Fashion Week, draws from his roots to craft artisanal garments that stand out for their impeccably clean lines, careful detailing and subtle international silhouettes.

Pratap Singh, who is Woolmark’s first wool ambassador of India (2013), has his creations (made with Bhutanese fabrics) permanently housed in Bhutan’s Royal Textile Museum, while his ajrak prints on linen as well as handloom weaves in ikat are housed in the permanent textile and apparel archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. However, his textile repertoire extends beyond experimenting with ikat weaves, handloom indigos, Chanderis and Benarasi weaves. His fondness for the sari, which he describes as “a directory of Indian textiles”, is evident by the animation in his voice and generosity of adjectives used while on the topic. “It is the purest and most perfect Indian garment: versatile, beautiful and sexy.” He has developed a range of saris; his looms, whenever free, go into creative production to make these.

His voice is crisp, but his demeanour is non-confrontational. He doesn’t want to disrupt, he just wants to be true to his point of view. Perhaps that is what is missing from the Indian bridal milieu — sophisticated, cultivated points of view that offer a bouquet of options to the bride-to-be. Not one that remains limited to what Pratap Singh, at the risk of being politically incorrect, suggests is “a crazy obsession with an idea of ‘Indian royalty’ which manifests itself in a whole different avatar when it comes to wedding attire”.

The designer, who — literally, as we speak — is setting up one of his looms to weave a garment for a close friend’s daughter, has, in the past, designed a classic Benarasi lehnga woven with engineered motifs for his colleague Devika Multani and created a veiled brocade jacket with dhoti pants for Border and Fall’s Malika Verma Kashyap, for their wedding days. Pratap Singh holds strong to the fact that “people should be able to wear whatever they want to, on supposedly one of the most important days in their life. It should be an extension of their personality and whatever they are comfortable with. There must be no expectations, nor should their wardrobe selection be dictated by norms”. Verma Kashyap speaks about her choice of designer for her wedding outfit: “Reaching out to Rajesh was a simple decision, as was the process of creating it with him. I’ve always loved his clothing and the spirit in which he approaches design: it’s thoughtful and cuts through the noise.”

In essence, it boils down to sensibility. And realising that if you like his work, he’ll work with you to create something exclusive. A garment that would be simply the combination of his technique and your personality. Both irrefutably unique.

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Excerpts from a conversation with the designer….

Tell us about your problem with Indian women dressed like ‘royalty’ on their wedding day.
There is a confused ‘royal hangover’. What a lot of designers think royalty ought to be, or ‘nouveau royalty’. We already have a traditional wedding outfit (typical to different parts of the country). I believe you shouldn’t touch a garment that is perfect, unless you have something serious to say. I see bad reproductions of some things that existed or that which are thought to have existed: such as a cancan-gown-inspired lehnga. It is neither here nor there.

Do you believe you could create a relevant voice in nontraditional bridal wear?
The categories we work with, so far, have not included bridal wear. Jackets were what we started off with and that is where we progressed. Our job is to solve problems, and we didn’t look at the bridal market as having a problem. There are enough people in this sphere, with some doing a really decent job of it.

What does style mean?
Style is distinctive, definitive and comes from being within your comfort zone, in an effortlessly natural and honest way.

Do you believe that bridal wear, by nature, allows women to be comfortable?
Each to her own. While I don’t want to judge, I can’t understand women wearing something so heavy, where the internal construction has suspenders to carry the weight of the embroidery on the lehnga. I would not make something like that! Weddings in India are a long affair, so wear what you feel comfortable in. If you want to make a statement, make sure it’s one you believe in — the designer is the last person who should be the decision maker.

Today in India, can there be an androgynous bride….or an androgynous groom?
Today in India, you should be whoever you want to be and wear whatever you want to wear. That is the true essence and spirit of freedom. If a girl wants to wear a tuxedo for her wedding, go ahead. I’ll make it for you!

How would you design a lehnga?
With engineered motifs, and definitely woven. I can’t say that the alternative is a pin-tuck lehnga, which people ask for. The geometry of the pin-tuck lehnga won’t give the right finish to the garment; it’s not meant for that.

Basically, it is the personality of the individual that pushes a garment, rather than me trying to say, ‘I’ve made a lehnga, I’ve put 10,000 crystals on it, it costs you a bomb and you have to wear it.’ It may be great for business, but I am not in that business.

What would it take for a bride to convince you to make an outfit for her?
She just needs to ask. And if she’s interesting and intelligent, why not? If I know the person, I would do it out of love. If a random person throws money at me, I won’t do it.

There has to be a certain vibe and understanding. It’s difficult for me to do a faceless, nameless design of this nature. For that, I have tons of friends doing wonderful work and I’m happy to direct you there!