At one of the noisiest times in the recent life of Delhi as a political furnace, made grim and riotous in the aftermath of a 23-year-old girl’s gang rape, fashion designers decided to be seen and heard as a “lobby”. Lobbying is not an unfamiliar term in the fashion industry, except that it is largely used by outsiders to make sense of what they assume is fashion ‘politics’. “We did not send out any press releases, we just requested a large number of designers on the FDCI board to join a silent protest march at India Gate last Saturday,” said Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India, (FDCI) when asked about the (unusually) large turnout of designers at a venue that had nothing to do with glamour. He did sound thankful that Rohit Bal (who attracts attention easily) turned up too besides other big names, but didn’t say so in as many words. So they arrived, lit candles and stood by to be counted as a group.
“What are they trying to prove?” I argued with a social commentator, “this protest is not about pre-categorised demographics; about painters and designers, IT groups or street vendors. Being a part of the masses is the whole point. Why are designers trying to be distinct?” It was a flawed argument, I was told. “Identifiable groups are what politics is all about, unless this movement lists rickshaw pullers and housewives; stars, students and designers, separately as well as collectively, it is not good politics,” was the reply I got, along with praise for the designer lobby.
The designers did get noticed, with sections of the media splashing their pictures, the photo-op offering a joint venture between “glamour” and “causes”, that we lifestyle journalists, backhandedly seek to redeem ourselves from the guilt of being airy-fairy.
But that’s only half the story. Having stood up for what they believed in, the fashion fraternity may now want to find ways to edge into popular culture debates and get counted for making more than making pretty clothes. Not one TV talk show around the rape case in the last week invited a designer to deconstruct the all-important question: does the glamour world really objectify women? Priyanka Chopra was asked for her view on dolling up, as were other stars, but no one from the fashion fraternity—some of who have written books, chronicled fashion history for exhibitions, mounted rebellious social ideas on the ramp—was called to explain why a clinging garment actually means a lot to some contemporary Indian women. Or, why fashion helps resolve conflicts around body image and what do men buy when they buy clothes for women and how these are dramatically different from what women buy for themselves.
Designers have deep insights into urban psychological behavior; why aren’t they included as our co-pundits, even as we make sense of India Now? Let’s make way for Fashion Causeratti, Part Two.
This fortnightly series is a comment on popular culture statements made through actions or words.