Did someone say the brr word, winter being in the air, temperatures dropping to single digits? Not if you were present at the Fall/Winter collections of Indian fashion designers in the capital. If you belong to the A-list of self-respecting social hostesses, woe begone if every week you did not have at least one invitation sitting on your table last November or December.
Togged in the warmest clothing permissible under the social law, most in the audience were surprised to see spaghetti straps, transparent fabrics and more often than not, more body than usual on display. Confesses designer Manish Arora, whose own presentation had its share of skin on show: "This year there were definitely more shows that had revealing clothes. Maybe everyone got bored of what they were doing, so they felt the need to shock."
While Aroras may be a tentative analysis, Harmeet Bajaj, head of the fashion communication department at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (nift), provides a perspective to it. The problem, she feels, "is that the designers are not showing fall/winter, but rather trousseau/Diwali/ festival collections". So, Swarovski crystal made a regular appearance in most shows as did most forms of glitter, various kinds of embroideries and embellishments. With big weddings all scheduled around this time of the year, the focus of clothes as always was on the bride and her attendant guests. And if you werent in the wedding loop then London, New York or the local tailor still remained your best options for winter clothing.
Says Rohit Gandhi, whose two shows this "season" had the audiences sitting up on a couple of occasions on seeing garments that revealed more than they covered: "I was doing a show to predict for 2000, not really a winter showing. Anyway, people in India do not really buy/wear winter clothing." There is an element of truth in what Gandhi has to say. Most dos, weddings, or social evenings see the fashion-conscious in skimpy attires. Says a social observer: "It is a sign of our times. People are willing to wear less and less even at a wedding just to stand out. To be noticed amongst a crowd of overadorned women has become important."
What no one wants to admit, however, is that most designers are unwilling to actually design and experiment with fabrics to bring out a viable winter collection. Says fashion designer, forecaster and consultant Anurag Gupta: "There is also a lack of knowledge of different fabrics. For most designers, their bank of fabric is limited to Lajpat Nagar and Chandni Chowk. They are unaware of how to use mohair, brushed wool or felt and so they depend on chiffon and crepe easily available from the Lajpat Nagar market."
With little to show in terms of style or trends, most designers fell back to a generous showing of skin to garner attention. Take, for instance, the end-November Rina Dhaka show. Always having celebrated the sexy image, the designer outdid herself this season. See-through crochet pants or transparent blouses she has done before, but this time she took liberties that went far beyond the "essential ramp requirements". Thus a model trotted out in just a black pantyhose and a short top; another wore slim cords that were a desperate substitute for conventional pants and others came out in saris worn without petticoats. The grand finale, of course was Sapna Kumar clad in a fur-lined, stainless steel bikini. Admits Kumar, whose appearance in Gandhis show in a see-through outfit also created quite a furore: "It is a bit odd walking down the ramp in those clothes in winter but then its a designers prerogative. "
Indeed, its an argument most designers trot out in their defence. Says Gandhi: "Skin showing is not important but people in India are bored of regular shows so a little bit of drama is required." So, entertainment rather than clothes become the larger purpose of these evenings. That, coupled with the fact that the more scandalous the outfit, the greater chances it has of making a splash in various newspaper supplements.
Exploitation of the female form? Who cares? The only truth the fashion world abides by is that the success of a show depends on well-toned and sculpted female bodies. Some like former Miss India Manpreet Brar, however, refuse to wear the more revealing clothes. "If you dont put your foot down," says she, "there is no limit. I am paid to model clothes, not the lack of them."
Sailaja Tahiliani, owner of fashion store Ensemble, defends her kind. Says she: "The fashion industry is still young and winter wear is a niche area. It will take a while before it happens but it will." However, even she finds it difficult to defend some of the more "raunchy" shows that the chatterati were witness to this winter.
Countering Tahilianis defence is nift graduate, designer Namrata Joshipura: "The essential point is that one should do a show only if you have something new to say, a point to make. This whole concept of seasons doesnt work in India." Privately, most designers would agree that India does not have either a fall or even a definite spring, the intensity of winter varies, its really a melange of seasons all over the country. In public, however, most swear by Paris and Milan, thereby falling flat on their faces in New Delhi.
Cornering maximum newsprint is another compelling reason for these designers to do a show. "Most of them feel that if they arent constantly featured in the media, the world will forget them," says Joshipura. Hence the breathless race to host shows, sometimes even two, as some designers did this year.
While designers continue to clamour for recognition on par with the trends worldwide (hence the seasonal showings, the exorbitant pricing, the justification of being in the media), its time for a wake-up call. Of showing style and substance rather than just sending down "modern brides" in reveal-all bustiers. And while we are no votaries of prudery or the purdah, some of that skin could look better covered. Sensation be damned!