Saturday, December 23, 2006

Undemocratic fashion.

Fashion : NOT (of the people, for the people, by the people)

There is actually something called FDCI. Fashion Design Council of India. If you insist on knowing the expansion.

Its not terribly clear whether it is something set up by designers to "institutionalise" their profession, or whether it is something the government has set up , in a sort of semi interested way, (if such a thing is at all possible); but the person heading it right now, is a retired IAS (Indian Administratice Service) lady officer, with a huge amount of experience in handicrafts, tourism, and setting up of the National Institutes of Fashion Technology (NIFT) all over India.

For a couple of years now, newpapers get occasionally slavishly addicted to writing about the annual FDCI/Lakme fashion shows. There is always some fight going on between Mumbai and Delhi designers which is highlighted. Reams of paper are devoted to how some Page 3 types, are leaving everything they are doing, to fly urgently to the concerned metros, so they can sit in the first row (reserved, if you please), wearing, what my mother would have called "shameless" clothes, and an expression that would make people think they are listening to a debate on the nuclear CTBT. These same people, change into more strange outfits every so many hours; and why not? Even something as sensible as NDTV has a fawning correspondent reporting on the appearance of the various queen bees and king moths, and their clothes and drinks.

All this for what ?

There is this longish stage sort of jutting out into the audience. Every designer has his or her special music playing. The audience is seated at a strategically planned lower level, probably at the ankle level of the parading models. I dont know about the FDCI, but when I was in elementary school, this kind of thing during any Annual Day would have got the parents into an uprising and the principal would have been fired. Ok. Its only children. The audience is only parents. But sitting at that level, and by default looking up someones skirt, is simply not done.

This is, of course, a non-issue at the FDCI. We're globalising, and these faltu things dont bother us.

And so what do you say about a girl, walking across the stage at an angle of 120 degrees to the horizontal; several degrees of amazing freedom created by pencil thin stilletoes; Her dress actually resembles a giant bib, (see the picture above ) like my son used to wear, when he sat in the swing hung on the balcony door, to eat his porridge. Except he wore a t-shirt inside; its not clear whether she wears anything inside, or not.

Then there is this lady who walks on to the stage next, wearing what reminds me of my grand uncle's pajamas. Except she has combined them with what i would define as my grandmothers saree blouse with only one shoulder and NO back. What is totally miraculous is the pajamas are worn BELOW the hips. And there appears to be a diamond stuck on to the navel. No wonder the lady has to walk with so much simple harmonic motion of the hips just to allow the pajama to stay in place. If she stops, they may slide, and she may have, what is these super globalised days, we call a wardrobe malfunction; my mother would have said that someone deserved a tight slap.

Sometimes these models appear wearing what looks like a pure balloon inspired dress. You need , around you, an empty space of at least 3 feet on all sides . Some of these dresses have no shoulders. Some only have sleeves, but no shoulders. The thing to do is to come fashionably in covered with your teenage brothers school blazer . These days its called a "shrug". You come on to the stage, give disdainful looks to a section of the audience, twirl, there is a clash of cymbals, and you remove the shrug; look ma, no shoulders !

They dont even let the saree alone .

Without the FDCI/designers et al, India has had a variety of saree draping styles, traditionally enjoyed by the women , over several hundred years. There is the Kerala Half Saree, the typical Tamil Nadu nine yard draping, the Maharashtrian nine yard grace, the various ways a six yard saree is draped, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Marwari and what have you. All these styles have evolved with the emancipation of women from that particular region. A way of draping when you maintain the housekeys (bengali), a way of draping in front of elders, a way of draping and tucking in when busy with some physical work, and a way of draping when feeling cold....

I remember from my childhood, two distinct ways the 9 yard saree was draped. One way was favoured by the more active ladies, who cycled to work, and were PT teachers in schools etc. The other method was patronised by those more homebound, with less strenuous lifestyles. There is a third style patented by the Koli women of Mumbai; a sensible, no nonsense style that allowed you to comfortably work in water and land, where you needed to rush here and there, picking fish from heaps, sortng, loading, travelling in a hurry to the market through crowded trains etc.

Todays designers have no concept of Utility of dress. Precious stones are stitched on to whole sarees , which are instrinsically made longer in length, and thinner in texture. The sarees are wound several times (more than normal) before the paloo is flung over the shoulder. ( I cant see myself running to catch a bus in this. And I would discourage anyone trying to do that with so many precious stones attached) . Poor me; I still dont believe it when the salesman says its 6 yards, and make him measure it. I shudder at the lenghth I will need to measure here.

The other trick is to make it look as if no blouse is worn. This is achiieved by having straps on blouses. And then casually allowing your open hair to fall over it. Sort of a cross of Meena Kumari and Princess Diana. Sometimes, the purpose of the palloo is done away with altogether. How else will anyone see the pearl beadwork on the non trivial section of the blouse ? Models march across the stage holding their palloos widely away from their torso.

(Take a deep breath. Count up to 10. Temper under control). 20 years ago, someone would have thought she is in the process of removing the saree. No nice girls did that on stage. Today nice is a bad word.

Can you see youself going to work in your uncle's pajamas, and grandmother's saree blouse? Will a balloon dress put you at a superior advantage getting into bus no 392 going to Ghatkopar ? Will a thigh level frock combined with skin colored tights be ideal wear in Central railway second class ladies bogey? How do you feel about squeezing your way to the front of the bus (trying to get off) during the 7 pm rush hour, wearing a stomach skin displaying top on low rise jeans ? And do you dare to complain if you get advertantly or inadvertantly pinched in the process?

Is that off-the-shoulder dress going to be dangerous healthwise, given that you are standing in the doorway of a ladies compartment, half out of the door, and not likely to get a place to enter in till your station comes? Do you think the strategically placed slit at the back of your knee length skirt is a great aid for climbing into buses when several people behind you urge you to hurry up in cast the bus starts moving ? And why crib about the staring, observant person (in the seat next to where you stand, wearing your smart short top, displaying your considerable midriff) as you hang on to the oscillating overhead starps , on you way to college?

Somehow, in the effort at promoting originality, the individuality has been lost.

The question is who is all this for, and who is going to wear these clothes. And is this what we teach at the National Institutes of Fashion Technology?

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