Published: Vogue India, Jan 2018
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
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.
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.
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.
Published in Verve Magazine, September 2017 (Bridal Issue)
Photographs by Rishabh Malik
Designer, Rajesh Pratap Singh, on undertaking ‘super couture projects’ for unconventional brides.
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.
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!
Published: Mint Lounge, September 23 edition
Additional images and content (end box) used in this post.
Swedish philosopher and feminist Ellen Key described in her essay, Beauty For All (1899), a life that consisted of fewer but finer things—those that are functional and beautiful all at once. By the 1950s, Scandinavia (colloquially including the five countries of Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark) witnessed a design movement characterized by simplicity, minimalism and functionality. It’s a design sensibility influenced in part by the stark beauty of the Nordic landscape, the harsh northern climate and a lifestyle that is driven less by excess and more by fulfilment. The long winters and reduced sunlight, for instance, have designers creating bright, light and practical interiors. It is visible in art as well: late-19th century Swedish artist Carl Larsson was known for his brightly coloured paintings, while innovative, futuristic shapes dominated the works of the late Verner Panton, one of Denmark’s most influential 20th century furniture-and-interior designers. Contemporary interior brands like HAY and Ikea are Swedish exports to the world.
Lifestyle scape by Hay.
With fashion, the focus is on functional—and often multifunctional wear—rather than occasional glamour. Importance is given to longevity, and there is a drive towards go-to staples that you can experiment with, add your own personality to and build your look around. Over the decades, from the bold prints of the 1960s and 1970s to the boho chic of the 1990s, the fashion sensibility of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and their neighbours has emerged as a distinctive “Scandi style”.
Today, you can’t make a trip to any of the European fashion capital cities without walking into a boutique devoted solely to Scandinavian fashion brands, not to mention its deep impact on wardrobes via high-street or upmarket streetwear, like H&M. It’s what the chic Parisians and Londoners are buying, and what global celebrities are headlining.
We bring you a lexicon of the fashion brigade from Scandinavia.
Ambition to Create Novel Expressions (ACNE) is a 21-year-old brand that has bridged the gap between high fashion, ready-to-wear and streetwear, with its headquarters in Stockholm and outlets in major fashion capitals of the world.
Backpacks as utilitarian cool
Chasing functionality entwined with a “cool geek” sensibility are brands like Fjällräven and Sandqvist. Fjällräven uses G-1000, its own hardwearing and versatile fabric born from founder Åke Nordin’s experiments with building mountaineering jackets out of tent fabric, while Sandqvist is inspired by the untrammelled rawness of the Nordic landscape.
Danish brand Ganni is an Instagram fashion wonder. In 2015, Danish model and photographer Helena Christensen took a selfie with her friend, actor Kate Bosworth, for Instagram (both wearing Ganni) and captioned it “#GanniGirls”. It went viral, via digital influencers like Danish models who post images of the latest styles while on their summer break. What began as a niche cashmere line has taken the quintessential “Copenhagen girl” global, with celebrities like Jessica Alba and Kendall Jenner buying into the brand and concept.
Family-owned, heritage knitwear companies like the Swedish House of Dagmar (named after the founders’ late grandmother, a tailor) and Danish brand SNS Herning (specializing in knitwear geared for Nordic fishermen) focus on the basics. Dagmar has defined the term “expressive knitwear”, where inspiration is taken from architecture, contemporary art and culture, focusing on textures and cuts.
The major street in the city centre of Copenhagen, Denmark, offers a wide range of shops and smaller boutiques.
Nordic children’s brands emphasize on comfort, colour and print: from Swedish brand Mini Rodini started by an illustrator, Indikidual’s unisex pieces and Danish brand Bangbang Copenhagen’s circus play to Gardner and the Gang’s cartoon-embellished organic cotton and Soft Gallery’s poetic prints and embroidery.
More than H&M
In 2014, the Swedish multinational H&M Group was valued at €13 billion (around Rs99,300 crore), the highest-valued fashion brand in Europe. H&M also owns Cheap Monday (known for their hip skinny black jeans in the 1990s), the trendy & Other Stories, the younger-apparel brand Monki, and COS (Collection of Style), the unobtrusive brand which takes high-street wear into a chic new realm.
New Nordic Movement
The award-winning, Copenhagen-based Henrik Vibskov is known for his avant-garde and forward-thinking designs in clothing (particularly men’s fashion), furniture, art and music. He is often associated with the “New Nordic Movement”, especially due to his serious runway fashion credentials.
Swedish brand Tretorn has expanded from weather-ready rubber boots to casual and performance footwear, with canvas shoes like Nylite and Racket. The brand that was born in 1891 holds a warrant of appointment to the Swedish royal family, making it an exclusive supplier to the court.
Sweden’s famous “toffel” clog has found its way into contemporary times with a modern look and vintage twist. Available in 22 countries, Swedish Hasbeens toffels (expanded from platform sandals to loafers, heels and clumpy boots), bags and belts are based on the original 1970s models, and are handmade with ecologically prepared natural grain leather. Meanwhile, award-winning footwear designer Camilla Skovgaard’s edgy spike heels and moulded platforms, which count patrons in actors Halle Berry and Kristen Stewart, and singer Rihanna, are available in 33 countries.
Denmark’s wet climate has led to a surge in brands that factor in the weather. RAINS works contemporary cuts with weather-ready textiles, including classic rain anoraks and other waterproof apparel and accessories. Elka has rubbery, heavy gear, while Stutterheim applies the rubber fabric to handmade raincoats and SWIMS has a wide range of accessories made from 100% waterproof material.
OTHER KEY SCANDI BRANDS
By Malene Birger is worn by the Crown Princess of Denmark as well as the Duchess of Cambridge.
Bruuns Bazaar is the first Danish company to show in Paris in 1999.
FILLIPA K is a Swedish men’s and womenswear retailer believing in minimalist, pure, clean lines with high-quality fabrics and flattering cuts.
Wood Wood is a smart Danish athleisure brand with an attitude; with over 50 collaborations with brands from Nike to Disney and Fred Perry.
Gestuz Has a pared-down sophisticated sensibility for whom they describe to be a “Gestuz Girl”.
Astrid Andersen counts fans in Rihanna and Drake, and has taken forward the sport-luxe genre by adding materials like lace and fur to classic tracksuits.
Cecile Copenhagen Took two printed scarves and turned them into a shirt and a pair of shorts, which now count as signature pieces.
Norse Projects Copenhagen brand that blends streetwear and workwear towards a higher aesthetic.
Très-Bien The Swedish menswear store has an in-house label that speaks of minimalism and timeless silhouettes.
Sophie Bille Brahe Delicate and contemporary jewellery, counting Madonna as a fan.
Georg Jensen Classic Scandi jewellery that also collaborates with upcoming designers.
Published in Mint Lounge
As the Lakme Fashion Week takes off in Mumbai today, here are five designers to look out for and the causes they express through their collections
Eco warrior: Chola by Sohaya Mishra
Mumbai-based Mishra has worked with a monochrome palette, which she feels “leaves space for thoughtful interpretation and encourages conversations on the beauty of contrast”. “Black and white, two opposing forces yet complementary, work together to bring balance, inherent to the concept of sustainability,” she says in an email interview. This dualism is woven into her dialogue on sustainability. For the collection, Mishra is working with Recca, a recycled cotton fabric sourced from Tamil Nadu’s Anandi Enterprises, an organization that supplies organic cotton. The collection consists of recycled twills in herringbone and check weaves. The recycled cotton is soft and is different in texture from the light weight organic cotton she has used previously. The movement is forged by a social media initiative, run with the hashtag ‘#RestartFashion’, intended to educate consumers about the consequences of fast fashion and benefits of using post-consumer waste.
Master of the weave: Sanjay Garg, Raw Mango
Delhi-based Garg’s latest collection, “Angels” or “Cloud People”, opens Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) this season, with an off-site showcase at the Royal Opera House in Mumbai. It highlights the softness of white with delicate chikankari on Bengal mul, zardozi and handwoven brocade. “The angel motif adds a new vocabulary to chikankari, which traditionally features florals and paisley motifs. In this case, it was about questioning the use of chikankari, as almost everything seen today is a diluted derivative. The chikan work in this collection is incredibly fine and delicate.” Garg recommends viewing the garments closely to examine the insides and details. What you’re likely to discover is soft feathers and clouds of angels in flight.
Bender of Norms: Anaam by Sumiran Kabir Sharma
Delhi-based Sumiran Kabir Sharma’s collection is inspired by Sonagachi, the red light district in Kolkata. “Our collection, ‘Sonagachi’, represents an unstoppable, unbeatable army of warriors from the infamous district, those who march headfirst in flowy uniforms. Fierce, nameless, ageless, genderless silhouettes representing the collective strength and a call for identity, respect and recognition,” says Sharma. He goes for a representative colour palette with grey, black and earthy browns. The material used is suiting fabric, which is conventionally menswear fabric used for uniforms or corporate clothing. Drapes and patterns co-exist to form unique silhouettes, dotted with epaulettes and stitch detailing. He asks that you “come prepared to view it with equality and acceptance”.
Nostalgia artist: Eká by Rina Singh
Inspired by old, discarded sketchbooks and undone artworks, Delhi-based designer Rina Singh’s theme embraces unfinished techniques. She creates a patchwork of artisanal, aged textiles, in a subtle aesthetic of Gandhian India. “I like to use the feeling of familiarity as opposed to sharp, untouched starched clothes. I like to present the clothes with a feeling of being washed and touched by hand, almost like it has been a part of your wardrobe already,” says Singh in an email interview. She looked to late artist Amrita Sher-Gil for inspiration, and also reached out to activist-author Arundhati Roy and artist Mithu Sen, to ask them questions about their choices and mementos in clothing.
In this collection, you will find monotones of nude with washed-down teal, indigo and blush pink. Faded shades of cement, iron and charcoal “lend a sepia-tinted veneer”. Visualize unfinished floral motifs on jamdani silk wool, block-printed textiles in art mosaic, and embroidery in unspun wool, silk and cotton yarns.
Upcycling advocate: Doodlage by Kriti Tula
Delhi-based Doodlage started with the idea of being able to use scraps from the garment industry and to work around fabric defects to create limited-edition collections. Tula has collaborated with Conserve India, a Delhi-based organization that re-purposes used polybags, discarded seat belts and tyre tubes. They will present together on the second day of the five-day event of LFW; the day is dedicated to themes of sustainability. “Upcycling industrial waste is the central idea of our brand. Each garment is created using industrial scraps, defected fabric and end-of-the-line fabrics which are all a part of pre-consumer waste that often end up in massive quantities of landfill,” says Tula. The collection for LFW, “Dreams and Dystopia”, addresses the chaos and distress in current political and social situations. “What we need is a call to action. To find the strength to push for change and to go beyond likes and shares on social media,” she says.
Deep tones of navy, maroon, sap green are combined with light under-tones of pastel blue and steel grey. “A layer of patchwork and prints representing complex city grids is superimposed with whimsical floral details,” says the designer. Doodlage employs slogans as part of its fashion vocabulary. “Clothing is a means of self-expression and slogans allow you to be more vocal and expressive,” says Tula, of the typographic design employed in her fashion line.
Published in Mint Lounge, Saturday May 27, 2017
(Additional images and content used for this post)
If you eat meat, stop reading now. If you are often accused of being a grass-eater, carry on. The eureka moment, when you realize that if you don’t eat it, you shouldn’t wear it, is accompanied by a sense of sartorial discomfort. In India, while designers flirt with the idea of cruelty-free fashion, it’s not all-encompassing. Satin clutches and beaded pouches aside, where do you find the sophisticated bag, the kind with fashion lineage and net worth, the bag that speaks a million dollars with a slight flash of its label? Where do you find a bag that isn’t nouveau riche and one which shows that you care? It may sound noble, but saying no to leather isn’t glamorous when your options are polyurethane.
Stella McCartney’s #FalabellaBox in wicker.
In 2001, Stella McCartney, a life-long vegetarian and a supporter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, took her lifestyle choice and made it a sustainable business. The British designer doesn’t use leather or fur in any of her high-end fashion products. They are cool, edgy and modern and keep the good politics alive, one animal at a time. It actually mimics leather so beautifully that you wouldn’t know the difference, unless your eye picks out the giveaway trademark metal edging (and really, with that price tag, it will keep society from judging you on the basis of your bag).
Matt & Nat’s ‘Parallel’ Handbag, worn as a briefcase or cross-body bag.
While McCartney’s classic Falabella handbag (distinguished by a braided chain detail) packs a punch, the Canadian company, Matt & Nat (Materials and Nature), came as a complete eye-opener. When it arrived in the mail (after the whole customs shindig), the vegan bag itself was sleek and functional, but what the “live-beautifully” product said was that the lining was made with 100% recycled plastic bottles (clocked at approximately 21 bottles per bag). The label is made from recycled cork, the price tag moonlights as a bookmark. They have introduced recycled bicycle tyres in their collection and on Earth day, their Instagram post noted that they have recycled over three million plastic bottles to create the linings of their bags. Unlike cheaper man-made materials, this bag lasts until you tire of it, without any difference in texture or appearance.
While their site does not publicize it, the founders are of Indian origin: Inder Bedi launched the company in 1995 after moving to Montreal to go to university and attempted to go vegan. He found his options limited, so he set out to become a game changer. Five years later, Manny Kohli, another passionate vegan, joined him, and is currently president and chief executive officer. Their office lives by the philosophy, including having monthly vegan potluck meals.
Gunas bag and wallet.
Take another instance of vegetarian-turned-vegan Sugandh Agrawal, who grew up in India and now lives in New York. Her experience with raw hide, while interning at a local handbag design firm that specialized in exotic skin handbags and shoes, led her to start her own line of vegan fashion wear, Gunas.
Grain’s stirrup tote bag.
Unlike man-made leather, ahimsa leather, which has become a topic of serious discussion in India over the last few years, is made from the hide of dead animals. Grain, started by Avinash Bhalerao in 2014, offers unisex bags. While no certification is provided, they work with 30-year-old tanneries that recycle the skin of dead animals into leather, which is the closest you can get to the real thing, without actually harming the animal.
Brands like Guess are dipping into the man-made leather initiatives—but it wouldn’t be amiss to begin thinking about sustainability, and going all the way while you are at it. It is a process of transition, as model Renee Peters explains on Ethica, an ethical fashion blog: “The hardest thing about going completely green has been doing it while being a member of the fashion industry and wanting to express my personal style. I have to work harder at curating my own look….” Go ahead, make a difference, one bag at a time. There is #NoRheson to say no.
Stella McCartney’s Falabella wallets and bags made from eco alter-nappa and the oversized Stella Popper.
Anaam, Androgyny, Antar Agni, Burberry, Chanel, Design, Designers, Fashion, Genderless, Genderless Kei, Gucci, Kallol Datta, Korean Beauty, Louis Vuitton, Maithili Ahluwalia, Mint Lounge, Payal Khandwala, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Ungendered, Writing, Yves Saint Laurent
Published in Mint Lounge, Saturday May 13, 2017 (Future of Design special edition).
(Additional images added below for this blog post)
We have had women in tuxedos and men in skirts. But the new ‘genderless’ direction in the global fashion world might further dissolve the idea of binary identities
An image from ‘Vogue India’s’ May issue, guest-edited by Mario Testino. The editorial, titled ‘Role Play’, attempts to ‘challenge gender with fashion’. Photo: Courtesy Mario Testino for Vogue India/May 2017
Earlier this week, Emma Watson received the first gender-neutral award for Best Actor (Beauty And The Beast) at the MTV Movie & TV Awards. “It says something about how we perceive the human experience,” she said. The award was presented by Asia Kate Dillon, who plays TV’s first gender non-binary character (Taylor, on Billions).
Like other recent events, this added to the ongoing conversation on gender-fluidity.
For a culture like ours, with its thrust on uber masculinity and coy femininity, reconciling to this phenomenon may be shocking, but not impossible. While one knows androgyny to be the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, ambiguity in gender could be a lifestyle, sexual or style choice.
Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus have identified themselves as pansexual, but perhaps it is young actor-rapper Jaden Smith’s bold outlook that has fired up the imagination. Will Smith’s son is seen wearing a skirt as part of Louis Vuitton’s Series 4 (Spring/Summer 2016) campaign about a heroine and the multiple facets to her personality. The brand’s creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière, believes Smith “represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom, one that is free of manifestos and questions about gender. Wearing a skirt comes as naturally to him as it would to a woman who, long ago, granted herself permission to wear a man’s trench or a tuxedo”.
Le Smoking, Yves Saint Laurent by Helmut Newton
Worldwide, sartorial acceptance tipped when the founders of two path-breaking French haute couture houses, Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, gave women trousers and tuxedos in the early and mid- 20th century, respectively. Many male music legends have flirted with everything from make-up and heels to ruffles and florals, but it was David Bowie (in his sexually ambiguous Ziggy Stardust persona) and Prince (in his flamboyant Purple Rain-era) who cut the sartorial cord with their seminal style statements. More recently, American hip hop artiste Young Thug wore a dress for his album cover, while British footballer David Beckham has been spotted in nail paint and a sarong.
Historically, pre-colonial India saw no issue in dressing up its men, particularly royalty; the traditional male outfits of Gujarat and Rajasthan are adorned with colours, mirrors and gathers, while drapes like shawls, anarkalis, lungis, kurtas, salwars and churidars have been a long-standing part of India’s unisex fashion grammar. Even as the idea trickles down—Tridha, a school in Mumbai, has genderless uniforms (a short kurta students can wear with lowers of their choice)—in a country that lends exaggerated importance to binary sexuality, fashion is setting a new pace for a forward-thinking society.
A model wearing Rajesh Pratap Singh.
Designer Rajesh Pratap Singh, who has an affinity towards androgyny, finds the audience for unisex clothing limited. “As women found independence and emancipation once again in India, wearing men’s clothing is considered stylish in most urban areas, but it doesn’t hold true for most parts of the country,” he points out.
What is true though is that modern silhouettes for the local landscape increasingly tend to be sleeker, deconstructed or fluid, shaped according to will, body type and occasion. From anarkalis to dhoti pants, from cholis to shirt-blouses, we have made a shift in styles, and increased the functional element of formal wear. But are women able to take the leap to wearing perhaps a tuxedo to an Indian wedding? Mumbai-based designer Payal Khandwala, whose lines for women are largely anti-fit, says: “It (gender-fluid dressing) will be a parallel movement. The bright side is that it makes us question the male gaze we have taken for granted and re-examine our preoccupation with ‘pretty’ and ‘hyper-sexualized’ clothing for women.”
Unisex clothing creates ambiguity towards age, shape and size, naturally defying the restrictions imposed, stereotypes perpetuated and social comment invited by accentuating and fitted garments. While many designers locally have nailed the anti-fit trend, there have been attempts, such as the “Ungendered” clothing line released online last year by Zara, that faced flak for its unimaginative designs. Unisex outfits shouldn’t be drab, shapeless or colourless—rather, they should be a celebration of clothing that is chic while being free of conservative parameters.
A model wearing Gucci.
Women in menswear may be de rigueur, but men in women’s clothing is certainly up for exploration. A key designer of genderless fashion, J.W. Anderson’s Fall 2013 collection sent a male model on the runway in ruffled shorts and knee-high boots, showing off muscular, hairy legs. Singer Pharrell Williams, who likes Chanel necklaces, has starred in the couture house’s Gabrielle bag campaign this year. International luxury brands like Gucci (whose fluid vision under creative director Alessandro Michele has been touted as inspired and sound) have “genderless” models—those without an associated gender—on the runway, also unifying men’s and women’s fashion weeks. Michele stated last year, “It’s the way I see the world today.”
It was a “fluid-packed” fall 2016, with Burberry harking back to Bowie-esque ruffled shirts for men and military-style jackets (also seen in Givenchy’s campaign) for women, along with gender-neutral trench coats.
A model wearing J.W. Anderson.
Bungalow 8 founder Maithili Ahluwalia is unimpressed by men in skirts. “It is not a natural evolution, it is fashion. A man’s body is structured differently and it is a bit limiting to think that what works for one may work for the other. It should be a mindset over a sartorial choice, not a surface-level relationship with fashion. Would a man wear gender-fluid clothing to work, particularly if he works in a bank?” she asks. Possibly, if he is anything like actor Ranveer Singh, who has turned red-carpet dressing on its head with his penchant for aggressive experimentation—of course, creative professions do allow for more sartorial freedom.
Delhi designer Ujjawal Dubey, founder of label Antar-Agni, whose styles are “androgynous and flattering to both the sexes, avoiding stark lines and labels between genders”, believes India is primed for change. So does Sumiran Kabir Sharma, whose new label Anaam is said to “dissolve all stereotypes”. Sharma works as “a silhouette generation artist, not focusing on the physical and the biological part of the human body that defines gender”. According to him, going genderless is not a passing phase—“it is definitely the future of fashion”.
A model in an Anaam piece.
Kolkata-based designer Kallol Datta, who started out making (and wearing) gender-neutral clothing, is now moving towards “sexless clothing, where there is no acknowledgement of gender”. “I’ve favoured all-enveloping shapes and certain proportions when layering pieces of clothing…there is a blurring of lines with these shapes.”
If the male gaze changes, so may the female gaze. In Tokyo, following the explosive trend of “genderless kei” (kei means style), “genderless boys” have appeared on the scene since 2015. The popular Japanese idols tend to be slim-bodied, with dyed hair, make-up and nail polish, coloured contact lenses, and attention-grabbing outfits. They are not necessarily gay or trying to be like women, they are rejecting gender norms and establishing a new yardstick of style. It’s likely inspired by the Korean term ulzzang (“best face”), a common beauty standard for both men and women derived from the “flawless” K-Pop idols.
In America, Marilyn Manson’s genderless Mechanical Animals cover set the tone years ago but today, gender-neutral models like Rain Dove have gained supermodel status. Dove’s Instagram page says: “I’m not a Boy. I’m not a Girl either. I am I.” And further, “Sometimes I like lace panties. Sometimes I like briefs. It’s my body…. And I’ll cover it however I damn please.”
Today, numerous designers worldwide offer unisex lines of clothing, and stores like Selfridges in London stock an “Agender Fashion Without Definition” collection across three storeys, suggesting that the trend is more than that—it’s a new way of life.
Fashion should cater seamlessly to one’s individuality, without leaning towards homogeneity. Khandwala agrees: “At its core, what one wears must be a democratic decision that comes from a place of honesty and self-evaluation. The impetus cannot be external and certainly not because it is a fashion movement.”
Is the potential dissolution of gender a fantasy of the future or a reality of today? As predefined roles get blurry, so does the way we dress. And we should find our voice in that freedom. Worldwide, as socio-politico-religious mindsets get narrower, perhaps it is fashion’s lot to expressively push back as the non-conformist and heterogenous “genderless uniform” of a truly inclusive and free-spirited society where it is, literally, best face forward.
How we got here
A brief sartorial history of the blurring of gender lines
1910s: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel changed women’s relationships with their bodies and ways of life by introducing them to trousers and jersey sportswear.
1930s: Katharine Hepburn’s path-breaking attachment to men’s shirts bought secretly from the back of New York’s Brooks Brothers store and Marlene Dietrich’s seminal moment kissing a woman on screen while wearing a bow tie and top hat.
1960s: Yves Saint Laurent’s (muse Violeta Sanchez) “Le Smoking” tuxedo suit for women pioneered the modern-day power suit; Mick Jagger performed in Hyde Park in a white “man’s dress” designed by Mr Fish.
1970s: Patti Smith’s obvious androgyny, Jane Fonda’s bold red-carpet moments and David Bowie’s sexually ambiguous Ziggy Stardust persona triggered cultural shifts.
1980s: Feminine Prince and masculine Grace Jones set the tone for blurry gender lines. Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo’s ambiguous collections set the tone for the future.
Marilyn Manson ‘Mechanical Animals’ cover
2000s: Marilyn Manson appeared genderless on the ‘Mechanical Animals’ cover.
Vervemagazine.in December 2014
Photograph by Shovan Gandhi
From being a writer and fashion stylist for fashion publications to curating a resortwear shop in Goa, Sacha Mendes’ journey has been interesting, to say the least. As she puts it, it started with a small shop of cushion covers by her mother, two racks of clothes by her friends (SavioJon and Anuj Sharma), and a few jars of orange-peel cookies made by a friendly neighbour, all in the comfort of her father’s ancestral home. “It was never meant to be a store, just a cabinet of curiosities to amuse us.” Today, Sacha’s Shop in Panjim, Goa is an eclectic collection of style goodies that a local can rely upon and a traveller makes it a point to always check out. You would be likely to find deconstructed trousers made into a dress, leather puppets, paper birds, and cross-stitch towels.
Sacha’s Shop appears as a pop-up in Mumbai at The Vintage Garden (Patkar Bungalow, Turner Road, Bandra), December 12-14 (11am-7pm) with resortwear for men and women, furniture, jewellery, table linen, art and design books, home décor, floral arrangements and a range of collectibles.
A quick chat with Sacha Mendes:
Designers in store (Goa) SavioJon, Tilla, Small Shop, 11:11, Maku, Design By Example, Paromita Banerjee, Aish Naushad Ali, Runaway Bicycle, Aavaran, Hot Pink Cool Blue, Ninoshka, Not Like You, Ritika Sachdeva, Pretty Stoned, Lisa Jackal, Labrador
Greatest inspiration “Mostly it’s people I meet, dear friends, people whose work I look up to, people I learn from, people I fall in love with, and family.”
The idea “As I always say, it wasn’t a conscious decision. It was an experiment of filling a space with pieces that I love.”
The greatest challenge that comes with a start-up “There is no great challenge. There is just a journey, an adventure.”
The best part about being an entrepreneur “You can express yourself through your work.”
Your dream “Is to live on a farm and self educate my children!”
A change post Sacha’s Shop “My relationship with time.”
Harshest criticism “I don’t think I’ve ever received any harsh criticism. My friends and family are great for getting me on track, and keeping it real, but they always do it with love.”
Favourite fashion trend “Oversized clothes.”
A personal style quotient you swear by “To each their own. I don’t believe in dictating style tips to anyone, and I expect the same.”
Looking forward to in 2015… “New adventures.”
Vervemagazine.in October 2014
‘Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.’
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if we could shop aimlessly and with gay abandon, stumbling upon the things that most impressed us and made us merry? How lovely it would be if fashion, art, architecture and technology came together in a happy mix, giving us a sublime, subterranean world of exploration.
Illustrator Pierre Marie, who has also previously designed scarves for Hermès, worked with Bali Barret to design an interactive online shopping space in a rich illustrative style. As they describe it, it is Hermès’ first ‘dedicated virtual home for its ebullient women’s silk collections.’ The clever bit lies in the fact that the virtual home is in a constant state of change (taking into account the time of day and weather!), which the visitor discovers while wandering freely around, exploring the myriad rooms: a treasure chamber, a saloon, a cinema, a colour mixing kitchen…and even a boys’ bedroom. And in there lies a treasure trove of over six hundred models of silk squares, shawls, twillys, scarves and stoles.
Wherever you are in the world, at any point of time, using your computer, tablet or smartphone, you can explore this world and find the perfect scarf, based on colour, design, or material (silk/cashmere). Discover ideas for knotting a scarf, while you are at it! It launches on lamaisondescarres.com.
Published: Vervemagazine.in May 2014
The 160-year-old brand, Louis Vuitton, allows you to customise their products in 3 different ways. Verve guides you through the process….
I was floored when I heard that a gentleman had a custom-created Louis Vuitton case made just so that he could carry his mother’s homemade apple pie around in his travels. How does one go about customising a Louis Vuitton product? There are three distinct ways in which you can do so:
1. Special Order
WHAT This is a special creation, made specifically for people who want a custom Louis Vuitton case to carry something special like a guitar or their mother’s homemade apple pie, a baby bottle holder or a hair dresser’s trunk, or the famous Baroda tea case. With a specific concept in mind, you can sit with a brand representative (expect four-five meetings) and arrive at a sketch of the product you would like created. It is most likely based on something you have seen. You can then select the leather or canvas and choose the inside lining. Certain styles are non-negotiable. What that means is that certain styles can only be customized within boundaries, for instance, the Monogram canvas with gold fittings is linked to natural leather handles.
WHERE The order can be placed in any Louis Vuitton flagship store.
HOW One craftsman in France works on this piece from start to finish, and it can take up to six to eight months to complete.
2. Made to Order
WHAT It is a selection of products out of the Louis Vuitton permanent collection which are available for order in a selection of predefined exterior materials and interior linings. Any available product can be customized to some extent within the listed options.
WHERE The order can be placed in any Louis Vuitton store.
HOW This would take 1-3 months to complete.
(a) Hot Stamping
WHAT You can get a personalised ‘stamp’ on luggage tags, bags and wallets (depending on the style and material), at the time of purchase.
WHERE This can be done at the store level
PRICE There is no cost involved.
(b) Mon Monogram
WHAT You can create a personalised monogram within the Louis Vuitton template. There are options designed according to the style of the bag. This can be done with initials as well. They are generally vertical stripes of varying colours, taking off from how royal families have their own colour codes.
WHERE This is done on a few predefined products before purchase. You can use the computerised simulation app at a flagship store.
HOW This takes six to eight weeks to get done and the colour won’t scrape off. The application will also give you the exact delivery date and time once you are done making your choice.
PRICE There is an additional cost for this.
(c) Hand painting
WHAT You can get your bag hand painted.
HOW This can be done at the time of, or even after purchase, though the latter depends on the condition of the canvas.
PRICE There is no cost involved.