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.