Digital media has made fashion truly anarchic

  • David Abraham
  • Updated: Jul 31, 2016 20:21 IST
Today, we’re simultaneously inspired by what we see in Ginza, Shoreditch and Hauz Khas Village

It’s only when you sit down and really think about it that you realise how difficult it is to sum up and predict fashion trends today. You know, the sort of thing fashion consultants say: oh, do wear neutrals with the new pastels, did you know that skinny jeans are out, and anti-fit silhouettes aren’t. High waist, low waist. And the palazzo, and the anarkali, and yes, let’s not forget about gender and androgyny too.

We live in exciting and anarchic times now. Fashion is truly all over the place. And we are, all of us, direct participants. The old hierarchies of style are crumbling around us. Digital media has made everyone a direct participant in the documentation and shaping of trends. The fashion magazines we once depended upon to tell us what to wear and what to buy, now face competition from upstarts who wield camera phones and get more eyeballs on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Fashion images are everywhere. In colour, in HD. Everything is instant. We share our selfies, along with Kim Kardashian’s and Sonam Kapoor’s. And as fashion designers show collections on catwalks all over the world, images are now uploaded in real time. Geographical style boundaries have dissolved and what we see today is what we want. Now!

The digital world has ensured that everyone is a direct participant in the documenting of trends

Problematically, for the fashion industry, today’s fashion obsessions are not dictated by a few influential stakeholders.

This dislocation is now reshaping fashion around the world as consumer tastes change rapidly and get increasingly difficult to predict. No real solution to all this upheaval seems to be emerging, but with the ever increasing rate of change in technology, learning to live with constant change, uncertainty and upheaval is going to be the new norm. We’ll adapt. And so will fashion.

What we see on our screens influences our tastes, our aspirations. And now thanks to our digital worlds, we are simultaneously inspired by what is being worn in the Ginza, in Shoreditch and in Hauz Khas Village. Everything is up for grabs, so maybe today I’ll wear an Ikat sari with a pair of oxford lace ups and team it with a new designer trench coat. A nod to my heritage, a reference to menswear and androgyny, all combined in one style statement.

So who sets the trends, and who follows the trends?

I think we all do.

Fashionistas in the Western world, and indeed, here too, are all atwitter over the recent revolutionary collections of two new designer stars. Gucci’s designer Alessandro Michele, and the Vetements (now Balenciaga too) designer Demna Gvasalia, have succeeded in turning things upside down. And inside out too, in a few cases. The past two or three seasons have seen the Western world’s fashion media hailing the two as the most directional designers of the time.

The old hierarchies of style have crumbled. Fashion magazines now face competition from upstarts who wield camera phones and become influencers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

The Gucci approach is to throw opposing looks, colour, print and silhouettes from the ’70s and the ’80s along with something from a grandmother’s closet. Gvasalia’s sensibility, as I read in endless editorials, was shaped by urban life in the old Soviet Union, a bleak urban environment of grey concrete and a very particular street culture. This has thrown up collections of deconstructed and re-proportioned hoodies and anoraks, re-appropriated blue jeans and a much photographed T-shirt with DHL emblazoned on it. Also printed floral frocks like no others you have seen, worn with stern footwear. Both designers’ catwalks feature both women and men models dressed indeterminately in gender-fluid clothing.

Strong statements of post-modern irony, their messages are reverberating in Paris and Milan. But shaped by histories so alien from ours, the messages will need to be translated into different vocabularies to reverberate with quite the same resonance on the Indian urban scene.

The important takeaway here, however, is that both these very talented designers are speaking to our dislocated, multitasking, multicultural smartphone world where the more the world shrinks, and the more we are exposed to, the more we lean to our roots for both reassurance and context.

Fashion in India is subject to the same forces. While the trends of the world are there for us, for the picking, what really works is being able to weld the schizophrenia of our international digital lives to the roots that anchor us.

On the Fall Winter (F/W) catwalks of influential Indian designers, the sari can be seen often, sometimes worn with a bra, sometimes a Nehru jacket, or even a baggy linen shirt. Juxtaposed with slinky cocktail dresses designed for a red carpet. Whatever.

Some designer collections extol and reinvent old Indian handloom weaves, and others experiment with polyester and neoprene and decorate it with all the glitter and bling only a true Indian can understand and love. Nawabs, Bollywood sirens and university campus intellectuals.

And all this works. Because this is the way we live now. Global local, as someone once said.

The writer is a well-known fashion designer based in Delhi

From HT Brunch, July 31, 2016

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