The Bright Side of Sunny

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Published: The Voice of Fashion, July 31, 2018 as “Sunny Leone’s Business Calendar

Sunny Leone, Canadian-born Indian-American actress, model, entrepreneur and former porn star represents the intriguing sexual freedom that Indians lack. Today, 37-year-old Leone—who gave up her adult film career in 2013, a year after her Bollywood debut with Pooja Bhatt’s erotic thriller Jism 2—has a string of brand endorsements, splashed across buses, billboards, dailies, television channels and going viral on the Internet. She is the star of her autobiographical web series, Karenjit Kaur – The Untold Story of Sunny Leone which released last month on Zee5. Overt sexuality has always had a tenuous relationship with Indian society. In a country where sex is considered entertainment—albeit behind closed doors, or bawdy and obscene when explored in public—there is a vicarious pleasure in watching, being associated with and fantasising about someone who is willing to bare it all. But is that all there is?

The face of causes
The anti-smoking ad film, 11 Minutes (2016) captures Leone’s appeal in India through the last wish of a man (theatre actor Deepak Dobriyal) dying of the consequences of cigarette smoking. He wants to be with a woman: Leone arrives like an oft-rendered caricature of a coy village bride. The public-service campaign—which uses stereotypes to engage, and set the stage for the anti-climax—crossed one million views on YouTube in 48 hours, reaching two million views in three days, as reported on media and advertising news site, Afaqs!. And that is not surprising, given that Leone—who incidentally doesn’t smoke—has been, on more than one occasion, the most Google-searched person in India.

The female bosom forms the story behind Leone’s public service campaign #DetectToDefeat (2016) by digital media channel Aur Dikhao, to promote breast cancer awareness. The ad captures the deeply uncomfortable male gaze in India, ending with a, presumably, topless Leone looking into the mirror, saying: “If we women paid as much attention to our breasts as men do, breast cancer cases would reduce to half.”

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Leone has been associated for almost six years with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India. Her 2017 campaign has her, with musician-husband Daniel Weber, in what has been described on the PETA site as “wearing little more than high heels and tattoos between them,” advocating “Ink Not Mink.” On the effectiveness of Leone as an endorser, Sachin Bangera, associate director of celebrity and public relations, PETA India, says: “Calls and emails started pouring in after (Sunny) Leone’s campaign on the adoption of homeless dogs and cats, asking us about the procedure to do so. Close to 15,000 people joined the online campaign to help ailing elephant Gajraj after Leone shared his condition on social media. Gajraj has since been rescued.”

The power of titillation
While Leone’s persona drives the public service campaigns, it is the interest and controversies sparked over her Manforce condom ads playing on objectification of the female body, which fuel her power as a headline-grabber. On the Manforce condoms’ official YouTube channel, Leone’s popularity is on the rise: their 2014 dotted condoms ad with Leone shows over 3.1 million views in four years, while their flavoured condoms ad, Man Kyun Behka, from last year clocked over 2.2 million views in one year alone.

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Besides being an entrepreneur and the face for her own line of clothes, perfume (Lust) and makeup (Star Struck launched March 2018 and is PETA-certified), Leone has endorsed a wide range of products that include Chase mobile phones, Iarra sunglasses, Dholpur Fresh desi ghee, energy drinks like Gold Fogg by R Z International and XXX by Viiking Ventures, online jewellery portal Jewelsouk.com, Big Boy Toyz pre-owned sports and luxury cars, and Mehak Kesar Shilajit pan masala. The “A” grade luxury brands may not touch her with a pole but new FMCG brands evidently find her attractive.

Veteran celebrity photographer, Dabboo Ratnani, who has worked with Sunny Leone, regularly gets requests from people asking for an introduction to her. “Leone’s endorsement creates a strong image change for the brand—she effectively challenges the status quo, immediately creating a buzz,” says Ratnani. Speaking about the Gold Fogg energy drink campaign, Rahul Vinakiya, managing director, R Z International, has said on Afaqs!, “We opted for (Sunny) Leone as our brand ambassador as she perfectly suits our brand tagline ‘Live Your Way’. She completely believes in living life on her terms.” Says Leone in an article in the Indian Express this year, “I don’t think I have ever done my work worrying about people judging me.”

Leone who has grown up playing street hockey with the boys and is, as of last year, the co-owner and brand ambassador of Premier Futsal franchise Kerala Cobras, puts her game face on for Torque Pharmaceuticals’ JAL mineral water. In the ad film, a clean-faced, pony-tailed Leone is described by a male voice-over as, “a diva, a fighter, on the top of her game.” The video ends with a camera focusing on ever-so-bouncy breasts in the background and the bottle in the foreground with Leone saying: “Kyunki, jal hi jeevan hai” (Because water is life).

Veteran image guru, Dilip Cherian, finds that Leone checks all the three boxes to be a successful brand endorser: ‘Risqué’ value, resonance and reach. “Leone is someone who has confronted the reality of who she is. Her risqué factor is 9.8—there is nothing further to be revealed, and therefore the downside is zero. Her name has resonance and her reach is global and immense.” But above all, in an era where the smartphone has brought porn into every home, Leone represents the new reality of openness in Indian society. He says, “She is a woman to boldly go where no man has gone.” As Leone notes, in her web series, in response to the question about how some Indians can’t differentiate between a prostitute and a porn star, “There is one similarity…guts.”

The girl next door
Leone—who is admittedly bisexual—is a girl you can take home to your mother. Shocking as that may sound, keeping her fair, chiselled face and the in-your-face augmented breasts aside, probably a part of her appeal, locally, lies in her easy “next-doorness”. Her web series suggests that she is just another girl, ridiculed in school, who made a tough—and unorthodox—choice. With 13.9 million followers on her Instagram, what you gauge from Leone’s posts is a girl who separates her work life from her personal life. There are stuffed toys, pink roses for Valentine’s Day, goofy moments, and gym snapshots. She demystifies her work life, by capturing the steamy visuals with little jokes: a behind-the-scenes picture of her in a bathtub from the shoot of the reality survival show Man vs Wild, has the tongue-in-cheek caption: “Just lying around at work”. Her styling has mass appeal, she is not a star with sharp dance moves or serious acting chops, but her aura—a “good” girl who knows when and how to be “bad”—circumvents it all, and allows her to reign in the over-a-crore-price-tag endorsement category.

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Leone, born Karenjit Kaur Vohra, married Weber in 2011. She posts photos of them as a regular couple, often remarking on how “handsome” he is, or how he is the “sweetest man” she knows. In March 2018, she posted a photo of them in blue jeans and a white tee—a classic all-American family—with their three children, including the newly-born-via-surrogacy twins. At the time of this story, Leone is unable to respond because, as informed by her agent, she has “taken some time off from everything” to be with the children.

We tend to gravitate towards authenticity and Leone’s life, even while rife with Hindu immorality, is real, exciting and aspirational. Not because everyone wants to be a porn star, rather, because she is, like Vinakiya said, living life on her own terms. In a society that imposes restrictions on everything from food to marriage, Leone represents that elusive freedom, all the while being the girl a man would perhaps aspire to have…next door.

The Natural Shade Card of Indian Fashion

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Published: The Voice of Fashion, July 23, 2018

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“If you travel where most of the world manufactures denim, you end up with having rivers that are turning blue,” says the founder of the premium Canadian brand Dutil Denim, Erik Dickstein, in the environmental documentary RiverBlue (2016). This is not the natural blue of beautiful Instagram travel photos but rather the harsh ‘filter’ of insoluble Azo dyes and hazardous chemicals like mercury, cadmium and lead from the fabric dyes used in the fashion industry. These chemicals are killing marine life and creating chronic illnesses like cancer and sensory loss in people.

While today most of the mass-manufactured clothes are made with toxic chemical dyes, until the late 19th century all dyes were made naturally through plants, insects or shellfish—the art of natural dyeing thrived in the Indian subcontinent.

Indigo, sourced from the indigofera flowering plant, creates blues and greens and is considered ‘magical’ because it lends itself to a range of hues and all kinds of fibres. Santanu Das, for Kolkata-based sustainable label Maku, uses only natural indigo: “It is a difficult colour to work with, but it is also neutral and liked by all. It cannot be controlled—it is impossible to get an identical shade. That by itself is human and philosophical. It forces you to understand the limitations of a medium and craft and to take a step forward.”

While India has perfected colours like red and black—made from madder root and iron filings respectively—and in combination with other substances created hundreds of natural tints, Das believes that the natural shade card of India comprises “the seven different colours of white”. He adds, “We have a huge culture of wearing undyed things: dye is a luxury, as is pattern and printing.”

A number of Indian designers today have embraced kora (undyed) fabric and natural dyes as a part of their sustainable fashion initiatives as a manifesto, like Goa-based OmArts; as a part of capsule collections like Ahmedabad-based Tilla; or comprising a large portion of the collections, like Mumbai-based Anavila Misra’s linens (for label Anavila) which showcase undyed fabric or natural indigo, while other pieces use Azo-free chemical dyes.

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Today, in India, centres and artisans in Kutch, Bengal, Goa, Pondicherry and Hyderabad among others are working with natural dyes. In the sustainable fashion collections showcased at Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort ’18 under the Usha Silai label, Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav teamed up with women who are known for their work in natural dyes from a region near Jaipur.

Rekha Bhati and Nikki Kali of Kishmish, who work with the NGO Kala Swaraj, believe, “Everything has energy. If the process of making a garment is thoughtful, with kindness to the planet, you can feel it when you wear it.” Besides being good for the environment, naturally-dyed fabrics are a healthier option. Kolkata-based designer Divya Sheth points out, “Dyes penetrate our bodies; natural dyes like those made from turmeric and madder are not only therapeutic but also nourish and replenish the skin.”

But a naturally-dyed garment is not without challenges. Das, who dyes yarn in his workshop before sending it out for weaving, says, “There are no shortcuts for natural dyes—people don’t like to use them because it is a nightmare to work with them. The colour bleeds and fades. They cannot retain the colour ever after.” Sheth, who uses natural dyeing for 85 percent of her textiles, agrees that the process is tricky. “There’s a scarcity of artists, it is a tedious and laborious (manual) process. The colours change batch wise — the inconsistency means that no two garments would ever be the same. As much as we love this, some unaware clients take this as a defect.”

Soham Dave for his eponymous Ahmedabad-based sustainable label that works with Kutch-based artisans for dyeing avoids chemical dyes as much as possible. He stresses upon thinking about the entire process of production over dyes in isolation. He admits that the natural dyeing process is more expensive, as it involves a lot of rejection and handling, with dependency on the unpredictability of nature—wind or pollutants in water may impact the production. He says, “I have not come across many successful ways to mass produce it.”

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Scale perhaps is the biggest consideration of naturally-dyed garments, along with the considerable need for freshwater. Ruby Ghuznavi, activist and advocate for craft and natural dyes in Bangladesh, points out in a conversation with colour specialist Fiona Coleman in an interview on The Kindcraft, an independent online magazine, “There is a limit to the capacity you can produce. If you increase the capacity, there’s a danger you’ll lose the quality. And because we’re starting to make our colour solution from scratch every morning, there are a lot of points at which the process can go wrong. The minute you start making 1,000 pieces instead of 100, maybe one or two will not be colourfast.”

Designers like Aratrik Dev Varman of Tilla grapple with how a naturally-dyed garment is perceived in the market. Says Dev Varman, “You have to tell people to expect natural blemishes and fading of colours. It would be misleading to compare it to something that is chemically dyed in a factory. The challenge is educating and convincing people that despite all this, it is still a better product.” A consumer who has been conditioned to appreciate industrial homogenised products and accept it as the benchmark of perfection and quality is unlikely to embrace the uniqueness of a handmade, naturally-dyed garment which will age gracefully.

And yet, Coleman on The Kindcraft, perhaps referring to a more evolved British consumer with regard to sustainability, believes that education has changed customers and, if it is marketed as a natural product or a natural dye, the consumer would be happy to have that inconsistency. That may be a sign of things to come in India. In the standardised Pantone world of today, the variations that are seen in a naturally-dyed fabric are a call to celebrate the beauty of imperfections, just as nature would have it.

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Brief Timeline Of Natural Dyes In The Indian Subcontinent

2600 BCE Natural dyeing techniques developed during the Indus Valley civilisation and spread worldwide through trade routes.

1498
 Vasco da Gama discovered the maritime route to India. Indigo was the first valuable ‘spice’ to be exported by Portuguese traders.

Mughal Era (16th-18th centuries)
 Natural dyeing techniques developed finesse under the patronage of the Mughal emperors, who particularly loved indigo which gave the popular blues and greens.

The 19th century Bengal became the world’s main source of indigo.

1856
 The discovery of aniline dyes by British scientist William Henry Perkin, and their spread to colonial countries. It led to post-independence India no longer retaining its tradition of natural dyes except in a few rural communities.

1859
 Unjust production methods led to the Blue Mutiny during the British Raj.

1897
 German company BASF launched the synthetic ‘Indigo Pure BASF’ in the market.

The 70s
 Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay initiated the movement for the revival and promotion of natural dyes in India (and Bangladesh).

1990 Activist and advocate for craft and natural dyes, Ruby Ghuznavi, started fair-trade organisation Aranya in Bangladesh, which has 3000 artisans.

2009 
Dr Himadri Debnath, deputy director of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) in Kolkata, found a unique 15-volume set (with 3500 samples) of Specimens of Fabrics Dyed with Indian Dyes compiled by British Victorian dyer Thomas Wardle, which was believed to have been lost.

2013
 Colours of Nature, Auroville—which began manufacturing natural blue jeans with organic indigo dye and local cotton yarn in 1993 collaborated with Levi’s to launch the first truly organic 511 jeans.

— Compiled from Marg’s Colours of Nature: Dyes From The Indian Subcontinent (December 2013)

Examples of Sources of Natural Dyes

Blue and Green: Indigofera plant, neel and woad leaves, girardinia fibre.

Red: Cochineal, lac insect, root and bark of mulberry, madder root, henna leaf, red beet, sappan, red sandalwood, walnut shell, bark and leaf, Indian almond tree bark.

Yellow: Himalayan rhubarb root, marigold flower, pomegranate peel, mango, lodh, saffron, turmeric, ivy bark, cotton flower, teak leaf.

Purple: Muricidae sea snails, logwood.

Brown: Octopus, cuttlefish, cutch tree, amla, ginger root.

Black: Iron and jaggery, sal bark, marking nut.

QUICK CARE TIP

A naturally-dyed garment needs personal care. Hand-wash with cold water using a mild detergent, or better yet, reetha (Soapnut).

 

Cruelty-Free Closet

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Published: The Voice of Fashion, July 23, 2018
(Additional media added to this post.)

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Is it surprising that a country with more vegetarians than the rest of the world put together isn’t a prime market for cruelty-free fashion? Perhaps not. In India, being vegetarian in diet and branded in lifestyle has equal social footing. Genuine leather and silk, and branded goods that use these products are de rigueur. After all, India is the largest consumer and the second largest producer of pure silk in the world.

Pure silk made by boiling silkworms to extract thread; genuine leather, suede and fur made from animal skin including those of endangered species; natural or cultured pearls extracted by prying open and inserting irritants into live oyster shells; pillows and jackets that use plucked bird feathers; products made with red dye that comes from crushing cochineal beetles; testing of beauty products on live animals are among the regular items that cause harm to living beings on their journey to us. While deep followers of religious texts like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism describe ahimsa, the concept of ‘non-violence against all life forms’, as open to interpretation and customarily linked to what is ingested rather than worn.

Western culture has opened up the dialogue on vegetarianism or veganism as secular-ethical choices that trickle to every aspect of one’s life. Musician and PETA supporter, Prince, famously said, “Compassion is an action word with no boundaries,” and refused a fan who tried to give him a leather coat during a concert, saying, “Please do not kill a cow so I can wear a coat!”

In India, the deeply entrenched class system has filtered into the post-liberalisation lifestyle as well. Gandhian beliefs are relics to an increasingly brand-conscious society that draws self-worth from icons of status. Hyderabad-based Kusuma Rajaiah, who holds a patent for eco-friendly mulberry ahimsa silk—silk made without harming pupae—states that while his business has grown from 2 lacs per annum to 1 crore per annum in less than two decades, nearly all of his ahimsa silk fabric is produced for export. It may not be within the local psychology to accept the shift, after all, pure silk, due to its natural sheen and texture, has always been considered to be a symbol of royalty, and, historically, was used primarily by the upper classes. So what chance do ‘cheap’ artificial materials have? Faux fur, made from cellulose or synthetic fibers; pleather (polyurethane); ultrasuede, made from vegan microfiber; or vegan silk, made from synthetic, bamboo or man-made yarn, may not always match up to the ‘real’ thing.

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Pervasively, Indian shopping choices are linked to value. Indians would not be willing to pay top rupee for something not ‘genuine’ and to get high-quality artificial goods and designs can become pricey. Says Sugandh Agrawal of New York-based vegan brand, Gunas, who has spent eight years researching the sweet spot between a viable price point and enduring fabric, “No one wants to pay good money for durable leather alternatives, and the cheaper alternatives peel off. Besides, it is not a priority to invest in a vegan bag.” The starting price for a Gunas shoulder bag is $100 and can go up to $250. Stella McCartney, the world’s first ‘vegetarian’ luxury brand (2001) has nailed style as well as gone deep with the materials. For example, their Falabella Go backpack is created using recycled polyester fabric made from ocean plastic and costs $935.

Vanity and status may play a prominent role, but the most consequential factors in making this decision are simply awareness and deep conditioning, along with the non-existent need to question or defy tradition and rituals. Gurgaon-based professional, Zeal Sharma, who is a Certified Main Street Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, finds with people she coaches and speaks to, that people don’t realise how they may be a part of an industry that has commercialised the exploitation of animals. Many people believe that leather goods come from dead animals, and they don’t question bone china crockery or down feather duvets, despite the self-evident names. “Leather isn’t a by-product. It is the most important co-product of the meat industry. In India, where most of the world’s leather comes from, cows often march hundreds of miles in extreme dust and heat to slaughter, without a single drop of water or food. Workers break cows’ tails and rub chilli pepper into their eyes in order to force them to keep on walking after they have collapsed from exhaustion,” says Stella McCartney in a video for PETA.

“Lack of awareness coupled with hidden facts and our inherent naïveté that ‘good’ companies would do the ‘right’ thing have led to an increase of these products. Moreover, they are easily accessible and now we are habituated to them,” is Sharma’s experience. Eventually, it boils down to change and the will to do so. While PETA India’s website lists approved vegan fashion labels, and even talks about vegan weddings in India, evidently demand follows supply. As Gunas waits to find an Indian partner to launch in the founder’s home country, Agrawal notes that even her extended family hesitates to make the leap. Perhaps it will take a celebrity ‘Gandhian’ fashion icon to set the bag rolling on this concept.

A Thread In Time

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Published: Mint Lounge, June 23, 2018

Lounge revisits embroidery techniques integral to the Indian craft vocabulary that are also making a mark on the fashion runway

One of India’s most enduring artistic traditions is its myriad forms of embroidery. Every state and region boasts of its own style, but needlework is not merely a means of ornamentation. The fabrics are also threaded with stories of the community, with motifs emerging from its natural surroundings, economic state and sociopolitical milieu.

As handmade items are reclaimed as new embodiments of luxury, many of these old, and sometimes forgotten, embroidery styles are being revived and popularized. These techniques are popular not only among designers in India but also with international labels. Belgian designer Dries van Noten has worked with embroiderers in Kolkata for decades, and Mumbai is a trade hub for a number of luxury brands seeking Indian embroidery. Labels like Gucci, Valentino, Alberta Ferretti, Maison Margiela and Christian Dior work with the Mumbai-based embroidery firm Chanakya, while Roberto Cavalli, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace and Michael Kors have collaborated with another firm, Adity Designs, also in Mumbai.

In homage to the country’s diverse embroidery traditions, here are some of the techniques that have found new expression in the works of contemporary fashion designers.

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Gara
Integral to the wardrobes of Parsi women, gara embroidery is an amalgamation of influences from India, China, Persia and Europe. Parsi brides traditionally wear gara saris for their wedding, the intricate motifs on fabrics ranging from pagodas and dragons to roses, lotuses, roosters and peacocks.
Fashion take: Turn to designers Ashdeen Z. Lilaowala and Mumbai-based Zenobia S. Davar for a contemporary take on gara embroidery on jackets, kurtis and dupattas. In 2016, the Delhi-based Lilaowala collaborated with textile label Ekaya to create handwoven garaBanarasi silks.

Kashida
Kashida is a popular Kashmiri needlework technique, traditionally used on garments such as stoles, woollen pherans and rugs. Evocative motifs like birds, blossoms, fruits and trees—particularly the chinar—are created, usually in a single-stitch style. Another form of Kashmiri embroidery is aari, wherein floral-inspired motifs are embroidered in fine chain stitches using a hooked needle.
Fashion take: In 2014, Rohit Bal’s Gulbagh collection showcased kashida embroidery while Meera and Muzaffar Ali’s Summer/Resort 2017 collection for Kotwara incorporated aari. Manish Malhotra combined Kashmiri embroidery with Merino wool for his recentInaya collection.

Mirrorwork
Also known as shisha or abhala bharat kaam, this is the craft of encasing mirrors of varying shapes and sizes to create patterns on fabric. Women artisans from Gujarat’s Kutch region and parts of Rajasthan are renowned for their expert mirrorwork, on garments, homeware and accessories, which are also widely exported.
Fashion take: Designers Manish Arora, Malini Ramani, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla have employed mirrorwork in their designs. Jani-Khosla’s mirrorwork lehnga for Madhuri Dixit-Nene in Devdas (2002) was also displayed at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum for the Fabric Of India exhibition in 2016.

Phulkari
Phulkari, meaning flower work, was traditionally practised by the women of Punjab in their homes. The designs depict colourful motifs embroidered using a long-and-short darn stitch. A mandatory trousseau item for the community’s women, the craft even found mention in Waris Shah’s 18th century poem Heer Ranjha where phulkari was part of Heer’s trousseau.
Fashion take: Manish Malhotra’s Threads Of Emotion collection was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles Of Punjab exhibition in 2017. The embroidery is also used on accessories, like juttis by Fizzy Goblet, and stoles, bags and small items by the Chandigarh-based brand 1469.

Kantha
Originally practised by women in rural Bengal and Odisha, kantha was used to create blankets (in Bangla, the word is used interchangeably for the embroidery and the blankets). The patterns, crafted using a simple running stitch, are themed on daily life, floral and animal motifs, and geometric shapes.
Fashion take: Designer Sunita Shanker and label 11.11 by CellDSGN have used modern interpretations of the embroidery technique.

Zardozi
An artful technique of metallic embroidery, zardozi uses fine metal wire or thread in gold and silver (or copper wires and synthetic threads for cost-effective designs), to create patterns on fabrics like velvet, satin and heavy silk. Varying from 3D-like patterns to minimal designs, zardozi is commonly employed in bridalwear and couture.
Fashion take: Spot it in the collections of Ritu Kumar, Suneet Varma,Tarun Tahiliani, Shyamal & Bhumika, and Sabyasachi Mukherjee, among others.

Sujini
This embroidery technique practised by women in rural Bihar is akin to an art form. Outlined in chain stitch and filled with running stitches, sujini is also a means of storytelling. The designs often locate a woman’s place in a patriarchal society, with depiction of social evils like dowry or domestic violence, and also showcase their personal aspirations.
Fashion take: Emerging label Indigene designed a collection of sujini-embroidered garments in 2017, co-created with women artisans from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, while Delhi-based textile designer Swati Kalsi also collaborates with sujini craftspersons on new designs.

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Mukaish
Popularized in Lucknow, mukaish is created by twisting thin metal strips into fabric. Fardi ka kaam, dotted mukaish embroidery, is done by women, while kamdani, done by men, is used to create varying patterns. The labour- and time-intensive craft has gradually diminished and is today known by only a handful of karigars.
Fashion takeMukaish can be spotted on runways, courtesy designers like JJ Valaya and Payal Singhal, who incorporated the craft in her Summer/Resort 2018 collection.

Chikankari
Believed to have been introduced in the Mughal court by Noor Jahan, wife of emperor Jahangir, Chikankari is the practice of stitching white untwisted yarn on fine fabrics like muslin, cotton or voile. In recent years, the embroidery is also being done on brightly-hued fabrics or using coloured threads.
Fashion take: Sustain, the apparel line from Good Earth, employs Chikan for its Noor Naira collection on white cotton, Chanderi and Malkha, while Delhi-based designer Sanjay Garg’s collection Cloud People introduces new motifs, such as the figures of angels in the design.

Gota
Indigenous to Rajasthan, where the craft can be seen on lehngas and odhnis as well as turbans, gota refers to strips of gold and silver ribbons that are used to make appliqué patterns on fabrics or butis (small patterns) inspired by local flora, fauna and community life. Originally using precious metals, today’s designs are often made from cheaper copper-coated silver or polyester film known as “plastic gota”.
Fashion take: Anita Dongre, Ridhi Arora and Yogesh Chaudhary incorporate gota in their designs, while The Scarf Story, an accessories label by Joanna Kukreja, has reinterpreted it on cashmere.

 

The Eyes Have It

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Published: Mint Lounge, May 26, 2018 edition.
Additional images added to this post.

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 11.47.44 AMKorean brand Irresistor’s Parabola collection

With the summer nudging 40 degrees Celsius, it’s time to put your best shades forward. As luck would have it, there’s no going wrong with trends this season when it comes to eyewear. Whether you have a soft spot for ultra-light frames with prints and embellishments, rimless glasses in geometric shapes and funky colours, or razor-sharp reflectors, everything is in. Besides meek eyes, that is. Basically, go big, or stay home.

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Trims on rims
Embellishments glimmer and dance off the edges in this season’s eyewear, be it pearls on Gucci designs, crystal accents on Miu Miu, and 3D forms, gemstones, or even raffia on Dolce & Gabbana frames. Over-the-top frames that dodge frills can be just as striking, as seen in Tory Burch’s densely patterned frames. Meanwhile, Versace went their signature wild way in Spring/Summer 2018 (SS18) with butterfly- and baroque-print sunglasses. Whoever said less is more?

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Spektre

Tints and reflectors
You can’t hide behind sheer tints that leave the eyes open to expression. Discover an entire spectrum of colours, from shades such as Fendi’s pale pink and Sonia Rykiel’s pastel blue to more striking hues like Spektre’s military green and Dior’s acid yellow. If you prefer opaque eyewear, try reflectors from labels like Paco Rabanne or Concept Korea.

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Feline fix
Glasses reminiscent of those worn by characters in the Matrix movies are big this season, especially cat-eye shapes with sharp upturned edges and smaller lenses, spotted in the SS18 collections of Prada and Céline. For a statement spin, opt for classic retro patterns or look for added details like the studded numbers from Moschino and Marc Jacobs, or Ferragamo’s colour-blocked frames.

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Geometry
Once you stop purring over cat eyes, turn to Stella McCartney’s oversized octagonal shades or Jimmy Choo’s round frames with embellished edges. Korean brand Irresistor, winner at the 10th International Design Awards in 2017 for its “Biker” style, adds a creative twist to geometric design, its latest collection being inspired by a parabola, while New York label Haze’s collaborative design with Baja East in a unique palm-leaf pattern is instantly beach-ready.

Big and sporty
Big statement sunglasses are having a moment, especially those with a sporty appeal. Case in point, ski aviators from Emilio Pucci, Prada’s conceptual aviators, Chanel’s “Butterfly Summer” lenses that flow over the bridge and Altuzarra’s large teardrop-shaped frames brimming with the classic aviator haute appeal.

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Oversized frames with avant-garde trimming are also part of emerging Indian eyewear label Indie Eye’s collections—their sunglasses, with curved aggressive bridges and thick frames, were spotted at Amazon India Fashion Week SS18 for designers Rajesh Pratap Singh and JJ Valaya, respectively.

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Wire frames
Ultra-light frames and rimless shades with edgy cutouts are the very opposite of big statement glasses in shape, but pack quite the punch. Trendsetting designer Victoria Beckham and Hong Kong-based Percy Lau put out edgy metal bridges for SS18. Emporio Armani went colourful and rimless while Prabal Gurung turned semi-rimless on its head, with frame-free bits showcased on top with bright tints. Asian brands are also acing the trend, like China-based Renoner and Jinnnn, and of-the-moment Korean label Fixxative, which mix sharp contemporary aesthetics with fuss-free urban sensibilities.

Why Are School Uniforms Still Gendered?

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Published on The Swaddle: May 14, 2018

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Recently, the Children’s Academy — which runs three private schools in Mumbai — determined through a student poll that its new uniforms will be gender neutral. While an overwhelming majority of students chose T-shirts, 58% of the 1100 girls who participated opted for trousers over skirts, citing comfort as a big factor. The new uniforms will be implemented at Children’s Academy schools in the upcoming academic year.

This decision towards gender neutrality comes as one of many, as schools across the globe adapt to increasingly inclusive attitudes. Last September, The Daily Mail reported that 150 schools in the UK would be introducing gender-neutral uniforms, where children of any gender were allowed to wear either a skirt or trousers. Last month, Fiordland College in Te Anau, New Zealand agreed to gender-neutral uniforms, where the girls will be allowed to wear pants and the boys will be allowed to wear dresses, as per their choice.

Such changes are the result of a growing resistance to gender stereotypes from both students and parents. At a basic level, schools are paying attention to the need to provide young children with the comfort of moving around safely, and without restriction. Although widespread gender neutral uniforms are a step in the right direction, ultimately, India needs to move towards the global trend of letting students choose whether they want to wear skirts, dresses, or trousers.

“As a girl in Indian society, I have grown up in an environment that has often restricted my clothing choices in terms of ‘what to wear’ or ‘when to wear,’” says 17-year-old Tamanna Sheth, who attends BD Somani International School (BDSIS). “I strongly believe in gender-neutral uniforms as I support the idea of comfort over appearance. Besides, they may also make one feel more confident.”

While urban Indian parents may be less resistant to change these days, radically different points of view exist among them. For many parents, gender-neutral uniforms are not on their radar. If they are, they may weigh in but not be a deal breaker when parents are picking a school.

Esha Pandya Choksi, mother of a two-year-old girl, strongly believes that differentiating between clothing from an early age adds to the pool of social factors that foster gender inequality. “At an age when children form ideas, clothing sets the stage about what girls and boys can or cannot do,” she says. “While clothing is not a direct counter to society’s stereotypes, it is a small step towards making a statement.”

Akanksha Shah, mother of two girls, aged seven and four, the older of whom attends Mumbai’s Cathedral and John Connon School, prefers dress to be an obvious differentiator. “They (skirts) are feminine and graceful; they complement the body structure of girls better,” she says.

Mumbai-based fashion designer and mother of a girl and a boy aged five and seven respectively, Anjali Patel-Mehta, is strongly in favour of gender-neutral uniforms. She suggests that a traditional Indian form of dress may actually make for a progressive uniform. “The kurta is universal, entirely gender neutral and authentic to India, while tunic and pants still lean towards a gender,” she says. However, she’s cautious of the implementation challenges — for example, resistance from the girls themselves, like those who struggle with body issues. She believes letting kids choose what to wear for themselves might be the best solution. “Going androgynous or unisex isn’t ideal: eventually, it should be a social choice, rather than attempting to force fit someone into a gender-neutral role,” says Patel-Mehta.

While giving children a choice in what to wear might have its own challenges — a child making a non-traditional choice may face peer pressure and ridicule — it will create a foundation for long-term societal acceptance.

The Mumbai-based Waldorf schools like Tridha, Inodai and The Golden Spiral, with the Rudolf Steiner education system, offer simple colourful cotton kurta tops paired with bottoms of their choice. “Our uniforms are practical and frugal — designed more to be comfortable in our climatic conditions and allowing freedom of movement during play,” says Tasneem Quettawala, co-founder and pre-primary coordinator of The Golden Spiral School.

South Mumbai-based IB schools like Bombay International School (BIS) and BDSIS have gender-neutral uniforms, save for their formal uniforms — worn once a week at BIS and worn optionally at BDSIS. These are in the form of a “skort” for girls, which is a pair of shorts with a front flap, giving the impression of a skirt. Anjali Karpe, deputy head of BIS, says the gender-neutral sports (PE) uniform, which comprises shorts and a tee for all children, is worn on most days and has been around for 25 years, even when it wasn’t the norm for all schools. “It is high time we went for gender-neutral uniforms — there is a distinct change in the perception of what is considered ‘feminine,’” Karpe says. “It is an archaic notion of dressing girls in skirts.”

And yet, while BIS derives comfort from the neutrality of their most commonly worn PE uniforms, Karpe reflects on the challenges of making a school-wide change, as the uniform is an important part of a school’s branding. “It needs to be an informed choice at a student-body level,” says Karpe. “Personal opinion cannot drive school leadership, and it would involve multiple stakeholders.”

The Children’s Academy method of polling its students is a good example of how to drive such change in a fair and egalitarian manner. Their schools will make the new uniforms optional within the first year of the change, taking into consideration parents who have already invested in the old uniforms; the new uniforms will become mandatory from the subsequent academic year.

At schools with less progressive ethoses, the student body may not lean towards gender-neutral uniforms with the same kind of majority. Government schools in India, however, have shown that they’re not resistant to change if it benefits their students. Last year, the Uttar Pradesh government announced that it would be changing the color of its public school uniforms from khaki to bright red and brown, in an effort to ensure that students wouldn’t feel like they were in any way inferior to their counterparts in private institutions. It’s not inconceivable that, down the line, they, too, will feel the need to adopt gender-neutral uniforms, if more private schools begin to do so, and seeing that the gender-neutral kurta already exists as a part of the social fabric.

Schools have been clinging to their uniforms for decades at a stretch, in the name of tradition and school identity. Uniforms have often been designed before the current management can recall, and have not come under review or updated since. They’re unlikely to be high on the list of priorities for most schools. But some schools have begun to lay the groundwork by listening closely to their students. It will be a slow process — stumbling blocks include tradition, deep conditioning, and stigma — but as institutions begin to pay more attention to what is best for their students, positive change will follow.

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.