Ludhiana Ladies don’t lunch. They just sip tea and discuss where to buy the Swarovski bra-straps from. Or whether an Armani dress with beret and gloves would befit an engagement party more than a Manish Malhotra sari. And form the biggest slice of the sales pie for brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Jimmy Choo with their 24 inch waists, perfectly coloured hair and bullet size diamonds. And that’s not even few drops of the pulsating fashion juice that drips from the pages of Powder Room, Shefalee Vasudev’s debut book.
A news-trained outsider turned a reticent founding editor of an international magazine to now an independent observer, Vasudev takes you through every ‘waft, wrap and cleavage’ of the fashion industry. From obvious accounts of small-town girls/aspiring models sipping the gullible cocktail of drugs, sex and partying to the often unheard tales of muddiness that makes a fashion journalist, her stories introduce you to fashion, without any subtext. But not without an astute and individual perspective, from Tarun Tahiliani’s business acumen behind the bling and Sabyasachi’s (or Yuvraj, she calls him the book) congenital intellect of what India wants to wear and Rohit Bal’s (The Rajah, in the book) natural fit in the image of a fashion designer in the late 80s. If the fashion translates to luxury malls and bags that cost the salaries of the sales executives selling them, then it also permeates to beauticians turned blouse makers who accessorise their professions with tags of community confidence boosters.
But more than anything else, she brings a thus far unattained respect to fashion writing in India, which otherwise remains relegated to headlines about Rohit Bal’s heart-attack or a boob-baring wardrobe malfunction. It’s the kind of research that makes you marvel at Vasudev’s commitment to ‘fashis-gative’ journalism. It is almost impossible to not gawk at the number of people she has spoken to.
And even though it’s easy to mute the flaws, there are some which are louder than the rest. Like, if you got your fashion know-how from the Madhur Bhandarkar cliché, which left you feeling sullen and wary of the industry that ODs on bling and air-kissing, then the book will make you feel no different. It’s still a desperate place of power politics, with no time for truth and honesty and where designers like Bollywood stars roam in packs. Each chapter deals with a capsule that offloads many sides of the crystal prisms, ultimately making the decision for what you should interpret.
Vasudev doesn’t let you ignore her detest for sho-shaa brides who’d rather ignore the vintage richness of a Patan Patola sari for a Roberto Cavalli or the small-town model who wouldn’t give up being on The Pill, despite her semi-transformation into semblance. Even her magazine editing job is a thorny road lined with freebies and marketing division puppet masters. Though hope stays afloat, the book leaves the dark, ugly underbelly of Indian fashion uncovered. A brilliantly engaging read for a story that needed a translator to be told.