Published: Verve Magazine, Nerve, October 2009
Looking at cult American television styling for inspiration may not be such a bad idea for the Indian boob tube, suggests Sitanshi Talati-Parikh
It was in 1998 that a deep sense of style began to permeate American television, with the advent of hit TV show Sex and the City. While the women were sharp, well put together and style conscious, the show only became the crucible of fashion a couple of seasons down, as it became more firmly established and daring. Not surprisingly, the show won an Emmy award for Costumes, and last year, designer Patricia Field launched a 60-piece Marks and Spencer clothes line modelled on the show’s styling.
And in that very fact lies the secret of the show’s successful outfitting: it brought about the genuine mix of high street and high-end designer fashion and made it accessible; also pointing out that the protagonists are not afraid to poke around musty vintage shops. Not just in the fact that Carrie is brave enough to wear her wardrobe experiments with élan, but also the fact that her concoctions are acceptable because of her supreme confidence. Think of the time she wore a Chanel top backwards with a handkerchief, or embellished her outfits with exaggerated accessories (corsages). Not to miss her unabashedly running through the streets of Manhattan in bright hot pants and stilettos.
One would assume all shows set in Manhattan would immediately be style and brand conscious – but that was not the case with Friends, where the styling was often atrocious (which did nothing to reduce its fan following). Gossip Girls may never achieve cult status like that of Sex and the City, but for both men and women, the show promises a feast for style-conscious eyes.
So what’s wrong with urban Indian television? Is it the fact that there are no shows set in trendy metros? Are we to remain relegated to putting up with the antiquated styling and oppressive jewellery of soap operas on the one hand and jeans and trashy urban outfits of reality shows on the other? Brinda Shah, styling consultant for television channels like Zoom explains, “We have a lot of restrictions in terms of clothes. Not just with the censor board which is difficult to say the least, but also the fact that Indian women cannot carry styles like high-cut backs. While celebs and VJs can experiment, regular people and TV actors are not as easy to work with.
The receptiveness of the audience needs to be considered – and really, it’s all about attitude.”
Undoubtedly, top TRP-endorsed Indian serials manage to put together a dazzling array of traditional finery – to the extent that it creates aspirational dressing for the audience, particularly when occasions demand such opulence. In that lies the strength and weakness of the fashion quotient that exists on television: it remains more traditional costuming where the women practically ‘sleep in their jadau’, rather than moving up the design ladder to becoming cutting-edge styling that has design houses taking notice. With top designers upping the ante in the Indian film industry (where Karisma Kapoor’s puff-sleeved frilly dresses changed into Kareena Kapoor’s chic minidresses) hopefully it is just a matter of time before they decide to foray into televsion – an untapped medium of huge impact.