Wendell Rodricks is one of the country’s best-known design names. He lives in a remote village in Goa, but is always in the thick of the fashion industry and has been designing his unique brand of fluid outfits for the past 20 years.
Darshan Mehta was CEO of VF Arvind Brands Ltd, which introduced Tommy Hilfiger, Lee and Nautica to India. He is now president and CEO of Reliance Brands Ltd, which will launch iconic denim brand Diesel in the country in 2010.
Tapur Chatterjihas been modelling since 2001, and has walked the ramp for Indian and international designers. The commercial arts student has won a national award for a poster on adult education and also designs jewellery for friends.
Nachiket Barve launched his eponymous label in 2007 after stints with designers Michael Kors, Abu-Sandeep and Neeru Kumar. He won the British Council’s Young Fashion Entrepreneur Award 2009.
Democratization of Fashion
Trends don’t rule as severely as before, we are free to choose our own styles. “I have noticed that there are no strict rules about styles and trends any more. Everything is accepted and individualistic,” says Tapur Chatterji. Whether you wear your skirt at thigh-length or floor length, or your denims skin-tight or billowing, you can still be stylish. Fashion also became accessible to everyone, and has percolated quickly to reach all levels of society.
Though we may not be aping celebrity fashion mindlessly, Bollywood is where the masses get their fashion instruction and inspiration from. But Wendell Rodricks points out that even movie star clout can’t impose a trend if the masses cannot relate to it.
Migration of the Waist
We wear our trousers, jeans and skirts lower than we used to 10 years ago. The panellists all agree that it is not a bad trend for people with a heavier midriff. The low-waist is an example of something starting out as a trend and ending up being the norm. “If any man wears his trousers on his waist today, it looks outdated,” says Rodricks. “Thankfully,” says Chatterji, “Those extremely low-cut jeans where the underwear sticks out are not seen any more.”
The big trends:(left) Variations of the Indian were seen all over Indian and international ramps; this was the decade of the dress.
The Lust for Logos
We seem to need the security that others will recognize we have spent so much on clothing or accessories. Darshan Mehta explains that all-new money economies see designer and luxury logos as “the quickest way to change their standing in society”.
The Bollywoodization of Weddings
It’s costume vs style as we swap our ethnic garments in favour of Karan Johar and Yash Chopra’s ideal of the shaadi ensemble, for a glorified, 70mm version of the Great Indian Wedding. Brides are forfeiting the individuality of their community’s traditional attire for the ubiquitous zardozi lehenga. “A wedding has become role playing. It’s costume, not style,” says Nachiket Barve.
Reinvention of the Sari
The beauty of the kanjeevaram, the jamewar and the paithani have made way for the uniformity of sequins and borders on georgette or net, a development that made the panel uneasy. According to Rodricks, silks were bought as investment heirloom pieces; these days saris are no longer woven even, they are just embellished lengths of chiffon.
We want our clothes to reflect our newly discovered healthy lifestyle and toned figures. Rodricks points out that Indians have taken care of themselves this decade and now want the garment cut closer to show their shape. Barve also points out that this issue is quite a dichotomy. “On the one hand we are fitter, but on the other, neurotic and miserable as well about fitting into a size zero. People weren’t that neurotic about their bodies 10 years ago,” he says.
Beauty is Skin Deep
Using chemicals and surgical procedures to alter the body has become an all-pervasive phenomenon. Rodricks and Barve also spoke about beauty being only skin deep, and the widespread acceptance of chemicals and surgery to alter our appearance.
Exporting the Great Indian Trouser
The salwar, in its various shapes and forms, has evolved and been imported by international designers. The Indian pant went international, and terms such as sheer churidars, dhoti pants and jodhpurs were added to fashion lexicons all over the world. “It’s not a salwar any more, it’s become a trouser and is worn as outerwear,” says Rodricks.
The dress was never as important as it is now. We wear dresses as kurtas, as minis, with leggings, and in varying lengths. The last trend was unanimous on everyone’s list. “The dress was never that important in the last decade, it became important in this one, even with women who didn’t wear dresses,” says Rodricks.
On a weekday evening at Taj Lands End in suburban Mumbai, model Tapur Chatterji, designers Wendell Rodricks and Nachiket Barve, and retail expert Darshan Mehta were gathered over a snack that is the antithesis of food consumed in fashion circles—pepperoni pizza.
The quartet were together to debate the 10 trends that changed Indian fashion in the past decade, for better or worse. Before deciding on the trends, our panel made one thing clear: that in a country as diverse as India, one trend can never be representative of the whole. As Mehta put it, “You’ll never find an aggregate truth in India.”
Mehta explained that compared with the rest of the world, India was still in stage 1 of fashion consumption. “We are a new-money economy and new money demonstrates itself in a particular way. Ten years ago we mindlessly aped, today there is more assimilation and individuality,” he said, adding, “While we want to be individualistic, we still use movies and movie stars to for interpretation and inspiration. In most of Europe, fashion trends are born out of inspiration from music or art, not movie theatres and footballers’ wives, as it is in the US.”
In many European countries, most people have an innate sense of style; “They follow trained people who know design, while Indians and Americans follow people who wear it,” said Chatterji.
The conversation moved from the need for media to be well educated in fashion to the dying appreciation for Indian handicrafts and handloom, which all four felt very strongly about. “It is my sincere hope as an Indian designer that we retain our Indian-ness in one part of our garments every day. I would hate to see this country become like China or Japan where they reserve their ethnicity for only their wedding. If the desire and aspiration to own a paithani or jamewar disappears, it will kill the small weaving industries and handworkers which are the pride of our country,” Rodricks said.
They agreed the reinvention of the sari was a trend, but one Indian fashion could do without. Chatterjee said she learnt to appreciate craft ever since she was a child, and remembers the saris her grandmother passed on to her mother were beautifully woven pieces with gold zari. Mehta pointed out how those limited, artisanal saris were considered luxury at that time. “You had to book a patola and wait one and a half years till it was made,” he said.
“The heirloom saris are dead. Tapur’s grandmother could pass them on because you could keep them intact. Now saris fall apart by the end of the evening,” said Barve.
All four of our panel members work with and study new trends, innovations and developments in fashion. However, each of them believes that style is about finding and following your own voice, adapting trends that are relevant to India, and preserving its textile and handicraft heritage.