Friday, June 19, 2015

Why I do fashion

Colin Firth has said as verdict on his quite illustrious career:

‘I always imagined I’d have moved on beyond this infantile career choice. By this point, I would have become a virtuoso on a musical instrument or written novels or become an astronaut’.

This quite succinctly sums up how I often feel about what I do.

The very winding tale about how this ties into the greater question in question, is that through the last couple of years women in India have come under focus, and by consequence the image of women in India, following which fashion magazines joined the spate, following which I began to question if what I do contributes to the image of women in India, following which I asked myself yet again, why I do fashion.

The simple answer is, because I can.

I’ve tried other things. And I probably could have done other things. But nothing would have come as naturally to me as fashion.

For instance, I have a terrible musical memory and remember once not being able to recognise the piece the orchestra was playing as encore. It was a familiar tune, popular culture like, so I wracked my brain through every elevator-door-open-car-reversing-call-on-waiting tune that I knew but couldn’t name it. It turned out to be Bach’s Air on the G String, the fashion equivalent of not being able to recognise Dior’s New Look. And I studied classical music for 15 years. The same applies to literature. I have for years tried to make myself comfortable with literary styles - was it Edwardian, Victorian, what came first? Let’s read up the history of England and now I’m marveling at the economic viability of dressing Kate.

I know I should know these things, I want to know them, but I forget so easily.

But with fashion, every sense is alert. Alexander McQueen was part of my fashion initiation and having no formal background in the field, I remember pouring over his shows when I joined the industry 10 years ago. Earlier this year as I walked through Savage Beauty at the V&A, it brought me to my knees. Standing in that final room being surrounded by 30-foot-walls filled with his genius, this was my place of worship.

I have no problem remembering styles, the novelty of a cut, the peculiar cinch at the waist, the weighted fall. Not only do I notice them, but I appreciate it, something my academically inclined siblings find hard to wrap their heads around. My looks have resulted in comments such as, ‘Where are the sheep?’ - to a particularly flouncy dress, or ‘Does Django know you have his suit’ - to sky blue suit, of course. But the ridicule has caused neither to leave my wardrobe because the flouncy dress is hand-painted and the blue suit, well really now, which woman  doesn’t like a well-fitted blue suit. In my family, the cornerstone of a house is the book shelf. It represents decades of careful collection, and each addition holds a story. For me that cornerstone is my wardrobe.  Through the years I have been building it through street shopping, exports stores, Indian designers, high street, when highstreet got too ubiquitous, single store brands found through travels and sprinkles of luxury. For most other things, I must defer to a professional opinion, books to read, films to watch, music to listen to. But with clothes, I always knew.

Now how does this tie into an image for women? Well quite simply even after all these years, every time I finish reading a fashion magazine, I vow to myself to stop eating sev puri. I want to be thinner. But does this define me? No. Every time, actually every morning, that I see the 6+ min/km timing on my tracker, I want to be faster. Every time I read one of those ‘30 under 30’ lists, I vow to work harder. Hell, every time I meet my siblings, I want to be smarter.

But I do recognise that there is a larger image question at play and here, I have one argument. In the year of turning 30, my body has decided to expand. There was a time when I just had to think to myself to lose weight, and it was gone. That time is now gone. Therefore, and I say this with the blessing of at least one fashion editor, in this year of turning 30 I have found solace in one Kim Kardashian. If that woman, with that figure, can have an interesting dress sense, as manufactured as it might be, maybe it’s all right that I don’t have spindly legs.

And funnily enough if you think of the women in India who drive these fashion magazines - editors, writers and stylists, they don’t fit at all the popular image of size-zero-party-till-the-wee-hours ‘fashion’ industry. They are an incredibly smart, savvy and beautifully complex set of women.

How I wish more people knew that about what I do.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Running after a fashion

Christopher McDougall's Born to Run

People fall in love with Paris for different reasons, and with my background the first conclusion would be fashion. But since I have still to manipulate the very esoteric fashion sensibility of Paris – the nonchalant chic-ness that constantly makes you doubt the height of your heels or the redness of your lips – it’s a relationship in progress. No, what was love at first sight for me and Paris was running.

A recent tryst with the book Born to Run had made me vow to myself to keep fit irrelevant of my situation. That meant putting on sneakers in a city that so far I had only braved with heels. Added to which the anomalous Parisian ability to stay thin makes any overt effort to do so seem like trying too hard. So you can imagine my feeling of being judged as I made my way to the Tuileries, dressed in muddy shoes and an oversized t-shirt, through the Place de la Madeleine and windows of Chanel and Dior. Thankfully I found another runner as sacrilegious as I and followed him straight into the garden for a wonderful run. That’s the beauty of running, there’s an unspoken camaraderie that let’s you belong, even in Paris. Just when I thought my evening couldn’t get any better, I noticed an orchestra set up for a concert in the park. So I leaned my sweaty self against a tree to be lulled by the ethereal sounds of the music. Maybe because I live in a city that sees as any moving person as a nine-pin, this place that brought running and music together had won me over.

I have never attempted an association between running and fashion (which explains the shoes and t-shirt) although it seems that working-out has become fashionable. Hearing friend’s escapades when it comes to staying fit never ceases to amaze me. Power yoga, Pilates, zumba, cross training, spinning – it seems that every week there is a new miraculous way to keep fit. Running has slowly been creeping into this equation ever since the Mumbai marathon brought a spate of distance running activities. And with the marathon training season just beginning, I’ve been involved in a couple of conversations related to finding the right shoes. Not surprisingly most of these people have ended up with bright new shiny Nike Frees for that barefoot feel. You see, chronic running injuries had led to more and more people running barefoot, which really reached its climax with Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run. I’ll leave you to read the book since it’s really something intriguing, but the gist of it is we’ve been doing it wrong all along with padded feet. So after years of giving us pillows to run on, Nike now tells us that we need to use the opposite. Bottom line, buy new shoes. How convenient.

What the designers have done is create a good looking, fashionable shoe, which by-the-way might revolutionize the way we run. The neon colour palette with the less bulky silhouette has made these shoes a trend. And that’s the real genius of this collection. In fact, all over Paris, people seemed to be wearing little black dresses with Nike shoes. And if Paris does it, then that’s gospel truth. I must add here that I have not submitted, I still run in my two-year-old Nike Air pair. Yes, the sloppiness that is me running shall not yet be maimed by a fashion.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When I get older

An image from the book 'Advanced Style' by Ari Seth Cohen

If you asked me what would follow a word association of old age and fashion, my answer would be ‘sensible shoes’. After all, when your age adds up to less than a dozen, the geriatric generation must involve the ultimate fashion submission. Of course they are of consequence to us, they raised us. First we did everything they told us to do, then we did everything they told us not to do, and finally we are amused with what they think we should do. But fashion? The keepers of the handbook of wisdom surely have something better to do with their time.

It was Iris Apfel that actually got me thinking otherwise. In a talk with Tavi Gevinson (that child wonder who flouts all age barriers on wisdom), she and Apfel discussed the perils of being fashionable. Of course that’s a bit of a catch-22, because once you are Tavi or Iris Apfel, you are fashionable. Now what is commendable is that you can associate fashion with a 90-something-year-old woman, who had to be wheeled onto stage just to speak on the subject. But what hit home for me was one line that Apfel said, that we live in a youth-centric society. How terrible a thing it is to imagine that you become irrelevant past a certain age.

Thankfully Ari Seth Cohen’s blog, ‘Advanced Style’ is going about proving that wrong. Fascinated with the aging model since he was a young photographer, Cohen now goes around New York photographing what he calls ‘advanced style’. The blog is full of fascinatingly senior women in exaggerated outfits, and poses to match. It’s as if the women are daring the realms of our expectations. As for Cohen, you might see this as a means to differentiate himself in an increasingly crowded blog space, or even as somewhat of a fetish. It might be both, or none. But what he does for sure is make us aware of a moment of relevance that we might have breezed over in the cliché rush to get somewhere.

Admittedly, the first time you encounter this blog you might be amused. It’s like the other end of the spectrum of a five-year-old putting on her mother’s wardrobe. At this moment in my life, I cannot fathom that age, or their thoughts or purposes. But perhaps we’re not so far away from each other, fashionably speaking. My grandmother’s clip-on earrings, now a wardrobe staple for me, are testimony to that. Can I imagine her wearing a ludicrous hat? Unfortunately I only knew her till an age when all I expected of her was molded jello. But now, at this age, I’d like to think she had the same audacity as these women, to put one on. And frankly, I hope I do too.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fashionably yours: Vogue Fashion's Night Out

Vogue Fashion's Night Out is the fashion community’s chance to indulge. Now when fashion and indulge are put in the same sentence it usually translates to shopping. But strangely enough this is not what the night amounts to. It’s not to suggest that one must not shop, the charity-focused nature of the event almost demands it, but what is delicious about the evening is just to be amongst those with a sartorial concern.

FNO was started with Anna Wintour in 2009 in an attempt to jumpstart an industry that was beaten badly by the recession. What is does in India though, is allow a ‘common’ party. While shopping at a luxury store, at least in India, is usually a serious affair, this is one night where stores will let their hair down, in other words, let the wrong crowd in. On any other day, a certain customer might enter these hallowed environs and slink around the periphery, trying desperately to avoid eye contact lest they betray their limited buying power. The magic of this night somehow grants one the power to walk, nay, stroll into stores and even pull something of the shelf. Innards of bags are inspected, shoes are flipped over and price tags contemplated.

While I tried to maneuver my six inch heels through wired floors, I took a minute to compute that I was pleasantly surrounded by striped jersey maxi dresses, polka dotted blazers and fedoras, all accompanied by champagne and infectious music. The shelves of Vogue Steals were bare, while the Vogue Loves store still had a line outside even though the event was running into its 4th hour. How had we, who saw the light of a Zara only a year ago, become so cool?

There is recent speculation that our reputation as a luxury utopia is beginning to fade with the lack of infrastructure and tough taxes. Also, we're not turning out to be a consumer infected society the world expected us to be. Well, what this night gave evidence to is that while maybe a generation or two behind would frown at this blatant hedonism, there was a crop being brewed that had different aspirations. Give us a decade and we won’t want to slink so much.

There is one point of interest to note though. Just adjacent to this mall, was another that sat calmly, in a Saturday late night buzz of family dinner-and-a-movie. It brings to point that fashion exists within a bubble, which is actually quite reassuring. Not so much the fact that everyone’s life doesn’t revolve around the colour of the season, but by the fact that they aren’t even concerned by it. In fact I take a quiet pleasure in noting that somewhere my fashion wired frame I have a gene that connects me to a Phd toting sister who is uncertain of whether grey pants can be accompanied by a lemon yellow top.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

When you're Happy and you know it

There’s only one thing I love better than attending a Zubin Mehta concert, and that’s attending a Zubin Mehta rehearsal. One reason for this is of course is listening to the maestro deconstruct a piece. The way he breaks it down to its bare bones and then packs it all together again, strings, winds, percussion and all, it’s magic. Now while this remains my official excuse for getting out of work on a Tuesday morning, what truly fascinates me is looking at people’s socks.

Before you think me perverse, you must understand that the general rule of an orchestra is uniformity. Classical music is a rigid affair when it comes to dressing and unless a soloist, it’s hard to break away from the black and white. When you watch an orchestra on performance day, there’s a clear difference between the audience and the performers. For one, they place themselves above you, about five feet actually and for another, for that hour and a half or so, being part of the orchestra is just greater than being part of the audience. But now this is all on performance day. Catch them on rehearsal day, and it’s a whole other ball game.

At rehearsals, the tailcoats are replaced by jeans and t-shirts, and even slippers. For a moment, looking at the Hawaiian shirts and floaters, you can actually deem to think that you could be one of them. What’s most interesting is how their sense of dressing gives away their character. And it’s here that the socks play a pivotal role. The little piece of their character that they can carry into the monochromatic sea, is their socks. Let’s face, men have it fairly tough when it comes to formal dressing. Everything must remain sober and well, dull. But there is one aspect of their dressing where they do they to play around, and that’s the socks. It’s sort of a guilty pleasure, white shirt, black blazer and trousers, and red and black striped socks.

That’s why I was thrilled when I found I always have more respect for a man with coloured socks. And respect can always grow to something more when it’s a chiseled faced, six-foot-one double bassist.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

They do it with heels

Give a person two fingers and a piano and they play Chopsticks.

Give them a pair of heels and they make a French Connection Spring Summer 2011 campaign.

The campaign centres around ‘Are you woman?’ and ‘Are you man’, attempting to bring each sex back to their roots. The collection has for men, Nehru-collar shirts, nautical stripes and chinos. For women, lace dresses, breezy printed tops, summer ideals. What I like about this campaign is that they’ve gotten over the whole ‘FCUK’ is almost ‘fuck’ and are now concentrating on creating their own style. Formal, but still casual. Perfect for the weather we’re in for.

Of course, if you're Liberace and playing Chopsticks, then you do it with a little help from flamboyance and Liszt.

I don’t know if this is the thought process for any pianist, but the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the FCUK video was a vision of her practicing for the ad. I keep imagining the girl in sweats and a t-shirt, dropping the lid as she opens it with her heels and biting her lip as she fudges the octaves, with no slow-motion breast-heaving jump at the end. Not as enticing is it?

As Ogden Nash aptly put:

'And 'Chopsticks' is their favourite melody,
And if there is one man who I hope his dentist was a sadist
and all his teeth were brittle ones,
It is he who invented 'Chopsticks' for the little ones.
My good wishes are less than frugal
For him who started the little ones going boogie-woogal,
But for him who started the little ones picking out 'Chopsticks'
on the ivories
Well I wish him a thousand harems of a thousand wives apiece,
and a thousand little ones by each wife, and
each little one playing 'Chopsticks' twentyfour hours a day
in all the nurseries of all his harems, or wiveries'.

(excerpt, Piano tuner, untune me that tune, Ogden Nash)

P.S: Did you know?

The French Connection is also the name of a prolific gay porn production company.

French Connection spring-summer 2011 collection: (very '70's vibe, no?)

Available in French Connection stores around the country.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fashion goes in reverse

I attended a Pablo Bartholomew exhibition this weekend where I caught a presentation by the photographer on his father's work. While making a comparison between son and father, he put on display a picture he had taken of this friends in 1975. When I saw the photograph, I immediately thought of a similar picture my mother had of her friends in the 1970s. I remembered looking at the picture and laughing at the way everyone was dressed in busy prints and bell-bottoms. Unfortunately, I realised there was a need to check that ridicule. You see, in the floral printed jumpsuit that I had chosen for the occasion, I could have stepped right out of that picture, almost four decades later.

If karma ever had its way about anything in my life, it’s fashion. I've inherited part of my mother's ill-fitted nose and dressed in my high-waist jeans and white shirt, I could be her. This worries me. Tremendously. As is befitting any mother-daughter relationship, anything that gives my mother leeway to say, ‘My God, that’s something I used to wear’, frightens me.

Thankfully my redemption came in the form of a pair of high-waist-lemon-yellow-floral pants that my aunt handed down to me. It was an outfit James Ferreira had made for her in the ‘70s and she deigned that I would be the only one in the family who would appreciate it. And she was right. The pants were delicious. But what was interesting was that while my aunt had worn them with a matching peter pan lace collar top—you may take a moment there to visualise that—I went for a more minimalist approach, a white gunji. So the conclusion I reached is that till we actually begin to dress in motorised costumes, as Hussein Chalayan wishes, the same shapes and colours are going to recycle themselves every decade, but with a twist. This time, it’s a more minimalistic approach to ‘70s fashion-less frills, simpler cuts, flatter hair.

There is one thing I do promise myself though. No matter how many bell-bottoms I put on, or how busy my prints get, there’s no way I’m ever doing the hand pounding dance my mother refers to as ‘the popcorn’. As for the picture of her party, I'm sure I wouldn't have been as harsh if she had had Bartholomew's sleight of hand to lessen the blow.

(Pablo Bartholomew, 1975. Catch Pablo Bartholomew, CHRONICLES OF A PAST LIFE - '70s & '80s in Bombay, Sakshi Gallery, Feb 19th- March 17th. It's a collection of photographs he's taken while strolling the streets of Mumbai in the '70s & '80s)

How it began:

(Clockwise from left top: Zeenat Aman in Hare rama, hare krishna, 1971; Bianca Jagger's infamous wedding suit, 1971; 1970s trend setters Farrah Fawcett and David Bowie)

'70s in spring-summer 2011:

(Clockwise from left top: White suit, Thakoon; Printed mini-dress, Dolce & Gabbana; Highwaist trousers, Derek Lam; Polka dot pants with printed top, Rodarte)

Get the look with bright prints, wide leg pants, platforms shoes and minis:

(Clockwise from the top left: Wide leg trousers, Zara, Rs 2,590; Yellow printed dress, Mango, Rs 3,790; Tasseled bag, Mango, Rs 4,690; Polka dot top, FCUK, Rs 1,999; Oversize sunglasses, Fendi at, Rs 6,588; Platform shoes, Mango, 5,990)