Monday, September 27, 2010

'They all look alike' syndrome

Bootleg images from Tom Ford's SS11 show

Two reasons made the 20-something-hour haul back and from America bearable. One was the stack of discounted shoes that filled most of my luggage, and the second was my smug belief that no one would have the same pairs when I came home.

With shoes enough to last me through fashion week, the first reason for my being in the land of the free had been fulfilled. It was the second that had me on shaky grounds.

Often while driving through the States, I fell asleep looking at manicured roads, lined with Target and Subway and McDonalds, only to wake up later, looking at manicured roads lined with Target and Subway and McDonalds. Such is the state of comatose that a moving car inflicts on me, that on more than one occassion my initial reaction was that my family had reached a restaurant, finished a meal, and were back home, all while I was asleep in the car. What began to unnerve me even more though, was that the people too were beginning to look alike. For example, autumn collections had just hit while I was there and I saw in one store, a well styled pair of mid-calf boots. I was soon to find out though, that I was not the only one of that opinion. By the end of one week of driving around, I had counted at least 20 people wearing the exact same pair of boots. Since it’s a country wide store, it chills me to think how many people are wearing those shoes.

Unfortunately for us, the phenomenon has started here. You can smell Zara on person from a mile away, and what will happen when stores like H&M and Topshop hit? What is this brave new world that we are creating? Will there have to be a reserve for single-city boutique owners?

It was for this reason that I was relieved with Tom Ford’s marketing plan this year. After a hiatus of six years, he revealed his Spring Summer 2011 collection, not to the usual humbug of fashion week paparazzi, but in a private viewing to the ‘queens’ of the fashion. So all we have is word from the powers that be that the collection is breathtaking. No clothes will be seen in magazines till January 2011 and the same will be in stores in February 2011. It’s a start in the direction away from mass merchandising.

Just a step though. Thanks to Zara’s track record of drawing board-to-store in 2 weeks, we’ll be wearing a Tom Ford ‘inspired’ look in March, instead of January. If you need to pick me out, I have a birth mark under my left foot.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The gleek in you

(Clockwise from left top: Steve Urkel, Chuck from Gossip Girl, Fashion designers Viktor and Rolf, spectacles from Agnelos, Sabyasachi's 'nerd' look, jazz shoes

Strangely enough the word ‘nerd’ first came up in a Dr. Seuss poem.

It was used in context of rounding up exotic animals for a zoo. Who?

In a fashion context, the ‘nerd’ style of dressing is associated with someone of a high intelligence, with a nonexistent sense of fashion. How the two came to be inversely related is perhaps the result of famous intelligentsia’s questionable appearances, like Einstein’s hair. The image was also encouraged by TV personas like Steve Urkel from Family Matters and in more recent times the gang from Big Bang Theory (with special reference to the ingenious dressing of Howard).

But lo and behold the genius of fashion, to make looking unfashionable, fashionable. Think of the plaid vest, bow-tie wearing Chuck from Gossip Girl. Spectacles, the epitome of geekiness have long found their way onto the runway, offering a chic intelligent look. (Not to be confused with the bespectacled secretary, with after hours stripping skills).

The basic clothing for any nerd look is checks. Plaid shirt, plaid pant, plaid vest, but be smart about it and don’t wear them together! Checked shirts are all over the place, you can get them off the road (Hill Road, in the lane opp Elco Arcade Rs 200), and in most of the export shops like Cotton On and H20 (Bandra). I picked up lovely tartan printed pair of skinny pants from Besos (Bandra) for Rs.1500. For spectacles, I got a lovely pair from Agnelos (Bandra) for a steal – Rs. 400. They’ve got them in different colours too, so you can get an entire set. If you’re willing to stretch your budget, you can pick up the true blue Ray Ban Wayfarers, because that’s where it all began. They should set you back around Rs. 4000. Suspenders and bow ties you can get at Al’s Shop on Hill Road (approx. Rs 300-500). Zara’s has a really cute racer back with a bow tie printed on it, just to change the look around.

For shoes, Oxfords or brogues are the way to go, but the problem is that they’re usually for men. Aldo has some really cute ones (on SALE now!) but I found some interesting shoes, again at Besos, that weren’t exactly Oxfords but jazz shoes. They’re made on order, fitted specifically for you and are around Rs. 2500, which I thought was quite reasonable.

As much as we of the non-quantum world like to dress up, we don’t really want to make ‘nerds’ fashionable. Not at all. If we didn’t have Sheldon (Big Bang Theory), who would think white tailed tuxedos were cool. Bazinga.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Six Degrees: Fashion and Politics

(L-R:Female impersonator Chen Yan as Mao Zedong, Vivienne Tam's caricature)

(L-R: Nehru, Beatles at Shea Stadium)

(L-R: Yassir Arafat, cow-boy styled kaffiyeh)

When you put fashion and politics together in the same sentence, the names that might spring to mind are Jackie O and her pill box hats, and Michelle Obama. If you think a little harder, there’s Queen Raina, and Carla Bruni and if you really stretch it, you’ll reach Sarah Palin. But you’ll be surprised to know that although these women are remembered for their sense of fashion (or how much of tax payer’s money they spent on it) it’s the men in politics that have left an indelible mark on fashion.

The most unlikely source of a fashion trend comes from the communist Chinese leader, Mao Zedong and is called the ‘Mao suit’. The tunic suit was designed to establish a dress code different from western traditions and found prominence in China’s convoluted political struggles under the reign of Mao. While western suit patterns are symbolic of affiliations with ‘offers that cannot be refused’, with the Mao suit, each pocket and button has a reference to the Chinese constitution and political philosophy. Unfortunately because of his controversial policies and the consequent disasters that followed, the Mao suit soon lost its prominence with political leaders. However Chinese designer Vivienne Tam, brought Mao and his suit back to the forefront with her quirky 1995 ‘Mao’ collection. In an attempt to soothe memories of her families struggle under his rule, the collection featured an image of Mao with a fly on his nose, among other caricatures. Perhaps the Chinese version of ‘Little Peter Rabbit’?

Another jacket that bears the name of a political leader is our very own, Nehru jacket. The jacket is fashioned as a hip length coat with a mandarin collar, and is usually worn on top of a kurta for more formal occasions here in India. In the 1960’s it gained international recognition, most famously being used by the Beatles in their 1965 concert at Shea Stadium. Apparently the fans went so crazy with yelling at the snugly fitted boys, that they couldn’t hear themselves play or sing. Such was the confusion that an amused Lennon began playing the keyboard with his elbows.

The most recent and perhaps most controversial borrowing that fashion has taken from politics is the kaffiyeh. The black and white patterned headgear was made famous by Yasir Arafat and is a symbol of the Palestinian struggle. However in the past year, the kaffiyeh has developed a cosmopolitan prominence. Such is the nature of globalization that the Chinese put the Palestinian manufacturers out of business to cater to America’s fashion trend of draping it like a cowboy scarf. Like all things fashionable today, it is made in China, sold in America and mimicked on Hill Road.

There’s one more thing that fashion and politics have in common. As the fur clad Anna Wintour and the Ukranian parliament discovered, it’s the affinity of having eggs hurled in their direction. Talk about six degrees of separation.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

When in Vogue...

(Left, American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, right, Vogue India May 2010)
If your bone to pick with Vogue is that it does not cater to your shopping abilities, with its alligator shoes and diamond studded bags, rest assured, it never did.

Vogue started off as a gazette meant to instruct only ladies of high society. Rather than journalists, it had socialites, and it was to be distributed to a very elite clientele. Eventually it was taken over by a man named Condé Nast who attempted to make it more mainstream, and that’s where fashion took over. Slowly he sculpted it into today’s monthly ‘fashion bible’ that preaches in 19 countries, the strongest of which are America, Britain and Paris.

There is no doubting Vogue’s contribution to fashion. It was Vogue that first published Chanel’s little black dress and it changed the course of fashion during the war years by encouraging American designers. The name most synonymous with Vogue today is Anna Wintour, who rules the roost in American Vogue. She embraced Hollywood, launching Vogue into a new era of celebrity fashion. Such is her influence over the industry that the Milan fashion week this March changed its dates to suit her schedule. Although her nature might be defined today by The Devil Wears Prada, in another film The September Issue, Wintour notes how her accomplished, brilliant siblings are ‘amused’ with what she does. It’s a rare glimpse into the vulnerability behind the dark glasses. Like other American royalty, who have a history of unnatural passing, so do the women at Vogue. Wintour's predecessors, Diana Vreeland and Grace Mirabella were both unceremoniously ousted from Vogue. There have been ongoing rumours of Wintour's dying reign, let's just hope her glasses aren't fogged over.

While the American Vogue remains relatively mainstream, Carine Roitfield, Wintour’s French counterpart, is anything but conventional. Known for her flippant attitude, such is her influence that she got herself and the French Vogue team banned from attending any Balenciaga shows. Apparently she sent a Balenciaga coat to Max Mara who quickly made a cheaper version to sell.

Vogue came to India in 2007, but has it revolutionized Indian fashion? Well that remains to be seen. What it does do is give an amazing stepping stone to upcoming designers. The Vogue India ( website is also the first comprehensive online coverage of Indian fashion.

With Vogue India, the fashion shoots are where the genius of Vogue shines through. In shoots that focus on aesthetics, Grace Coddington (American Vogue) is queen, especially when she pairs with photographer Annie Leibovitz. The other kind of shoot focuses on wearable clothes. The cover has the new Levi collection with Jean Paul Gaultier’s version of his conical bra in denim. It also has the Chanel Spring 2010 tattoos which are very chic with their little pearly chains and links. But going at approx. Rs. 3500 for something that comes off in one wash, I’m sticking with Fusen Gum.

Of course if you are in the habit of dining with the President, please take notes. As Vogue’s 1921 article ‘Social Customs in Washington D.C’ instructs - the President and his wife should be seated before you are, and that although he is addressed as Mr. President, she is simply, Mrs. X. Sigh. So much for women’s empowerment. It needs a little revision though, to include the appropriate manner in which to address the royal mutt.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to get to a concert by train

Travelling by train to a concert is an art.

You have to pick the right clothes, shoes and bag with enough equipment to make sure you don't have a traveled-by-train look when you arrive to applaud. Performers have an annoying habit of looking immaculate on stage and the break between movements is ideal for them to mock the crumpled audience.

In this weather sweating is a given so you don't want to pick anything in a light colour, or too tight. Also, nothing white, you never know who your seat's been under. Strangely enough modesty is not something you have to worry about. Evening traffic is not very rushed and if the sunglasses are big enough, they'll frighten people away.

Then there's the question of shoes. Now this is of utmost importance. The dilemma is that train- travel shoes are never really concert shoes. But there's a way around this. One is to carry two pairs of shoes. A flat pair to run for the train, and heels to make a poised arrival. If you don't want to change shoes, then you need to have a really sturdy heeled pair. Ideally you want a rubber soled easy-to-walk-in pair of pumps. Leather soles will get ruined and anything open will leave you with footprints for nail polish. Charles & Keith have some ideal 3 inch block heel for these occasions. Although an alien concept in fashion, for such times comfort is imperative. I once wore a very pretty, very pointed pair of shoes for a concert, after which I couldn't get up to pee during the interval.

Now the damage control you do, when you get in a cab from the station to the hall. First wet wipes because, well, because. Then you need to have compact, blush and lipstick (Lakme and MAC lipstick never come off). Keep the window closed on your side and let the breeze from the one along side cool you down. Also the change of shoes should be done here. I always feel really sneaky at this point. The changing act is a bit of a Bond experience only with no wetsuit and unfortunately no martini.

A chic carry-all is necessary to pitch everything into. I picked up a surprisingly pretty one from a store opposite KFC on Linking Road (Rs. 600). It's white and neatly quilted and can hold my wallet, shoes, phone with a separate compartment for wet wipes and makeup. Also they give you a six month guarantee on the bags. Unfortunately even then, I know it won't last very long. An Aldo , Mango and Tommy (Rs. 3000 onwards) have some neat carry-alls this season.

Between the vibratoes and the long-haired-blue-eyed man waving his stick, you're in for quite a hm, climatic experience. Please don't clap between the movements.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kallol Datta: For those too cool to be tanned...

When it comes to fashion weeks, there's spring/summer and then autumn/winter. When it comes to Indian fashion weeks, there's a little more confusion. It seems everyone has a reason to get up and get dressed, with 3 fashion bodies having independent fashion weeks. As if that's not confusing enough, the Lakme Fashion week this year had a summer/resort week. What is that you ask? Why, it's a season. There's spring, when it's hot. Summer, when it's hot, and then there's resort, when it's hot, with a martini.

The resort collection is usually available in stores during Christmas. It was created in order to give rich Europeans something to wear as they sail down the Nile in their dahabiyas. Through winter, and this is the real thing, not 'what we call winter', Europeans escape to warmer climates to brown their pale white tushes. Unfortunately, the winter collection in stores at the time is not conducive to white linens and bikinis. So, the ever considerate money makers that are, decided to make some more money and give them something to shop about.

India, in true fashion (no pun intended), decided to hop on the bandwagon and have a resort collection. While most designers saw this as the time to bring out the flouncy-ness within them, thank God for Kallol Datta who turned his back on the yellow parade and took inspiration from an asylum. For the Lakme Fashion Summer/Resort 2010 collection, he had a his regular quirky prints and draped dresses, with a added macabre feel. Although a complete Kallol Datta look might seem too strong, you can always break it up. There are the shift dresses, churidar pants, printed tees (brilliantly done with a print that looks like a serial no.) and jumpsuits that are very wearable. I'd suggest the tees with a fitted formal jacket for a casual chic. My favourite are the shoes. Something out of 'Just William', it's perfect for a contrary look with a summer dress, and kicking a stone down the road.

Available at: Muse. Although on the expensive side, it's worth a look around for some really one off pieces. 46 VB Gandhi Marg, Kalaghoda, Mumbai; Tel: 22623133; Prices: Jeans start at Rs 7000, accessories at Rs 4500 and books at Rs 1500.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Brand, Season, Collection… Haversack?

Being an irregular regular at the park, I had established a pattern. Leave bag on stand, finish with track, pick up bag, stretch, stumble home. And every irregular regular day the guard reminded me ‘Madam, leave bag, your risk’.

One day, dazed with a run that was too fast and too long, I picked up my bag and scrounged around for my bottle. Unfortunately, instead of my blue faded one, I picked up a very crisp and clean bottle and an even cleaner sweatshirt. Realizing my mistake, I attempted to fake limbering down by jumping up and down and flaying my arms about. In what must have looked like a terrible circus act, I then dropped the wrong bag back as inconspicuously as a dancing bear in a china shop.

Finally walking back with my own muddied bag and bitten, scratched, faded bottle I found myself actually offended by the owner of that bag. He seemed like one of those purposeful runners, with their music plugged ears, that never panted. This got me worried, very worried. Considering I didn't carry my wallet, or cellphone, what would a total stranger make of me based on the contents of my haversack?

I began to sketch.

In my bag I found a sweater, Crocin, mints, homeopathic medicine, some change in coins, swimming cap still in packaging, swimming goggles, sweater, blue and green water bottle, stuffed miniature tortoise, payals.

Sitting there undoing the contents of my bag, I felt like I was one of those agents in CSI. Trying to be as objective as possible, I dissected and analyzed. I concluded that the mints and Crocin seemed normal. (Of course later on they would be broken down to test for arsenic, cyanide and cocaine while I wore goggles, a white coat and spoke short, terse sentences).The sweater with grass and sweat stains reflected questionable hygienic habits . The swimming cap, was evidence to an energetic plan abandoned. The tortoise would be passed off as a paperweight and the payals as cheap.

Now I was really upset.

How would I explain that the tortoise had a name and had sat with me through every examination, and that the payals though cheap, were a precious reminder of college ‘bohemian’ fashions? Didn't they know that soon after I bought the cap, I chopped all my hair off?

I have a handbag that makes a definite brand, season, collection statement, and I guard it with my life. Any excesses that litter are cleaned out every evening. My daily needs are neatly wrapped in leather and a gold clasp. You would never know that my sweatshirt hasn’t been washed for over a week now.