Now that we are heading towards weeks and weeks of fashion shows, I think the timing is perfect to tell you something about our kind — the fashion scribes. Are we genuine with our critique? Are we objectively reporting a designer’s collection? Do we have our personal favourites? And the big question is: is there Catwalk Corruption? My decade-long experience in the field says, yes there is.
The seating at fashion shows is the most obvious indicator of how the system of patronage functions. Friendly journalists get the front row; less favoured individuals are shoved to the back. Socialite-turned-scribes get the prized front row, while the less popular but respected reporters are packed off to a spot from where one can’t see the cowl skirt without getting a crick in the neck.
Free clothing is one of the main ways some designers seek to buy off the press. It happened in front of me once. A well-known fashion journalist walked up to a designer’s stall and wanted to get a dress for the after-show party. In fact, she took it under the pretence that she was going to pay for it. But the PR promptly said, “Oh, no, don’t worry about the cheque.” When you are walking around in several thousand rupees worth of designer frock that you didn’t pay for, it is unlikely you are going to criticise your benefactor.
But Catwalk Corruption is not something unique to India. In fact it’s much more prevalent in the fashion capitals of the world.
A dear friend of mine in London, Carmen Haid, who has worked as a communication director with big labels like YSL, Louis Vuitton and Celine, shared some ridiculously shocking incidents. She said, “There are less subtle ways to sway journalistic opinion. My friend, who works with a fashion glossy, received a questionnaire from Versace. It asked her to tick boxes to select which item from the current collection she might like to receive free. She wrote ‘anything without gold twiddly bits on’, supposing this might be a tricky request. It proved so. Her crisp carrier bag didn’t arrive.”
Carmen explains, “The reason designer labels do this is two-fold. First, it is good marketing to get their products seen on the fashion cognoscenti. Second, it silences critics.” I totally agree. No one wants to be the only one in the front row with a Marks & Spencer plastic carrier bag, do they?
One of the other major tricks used by designers is that of access. In an increasingly celebrity-driven world, the access to a designer’s celebrity clients or favourite stars is a bait many fashion scribes fall for. And with more and more media organisations fighting for the same famous faces, designer clout is magnified.
I very well remember when Raveena Tandon got married in Udaipur and the media were barred, everyone sucked up to Manav Gangwani, who had designed her trousseau. Fortunately, Manav didn’t exploit that access ticket.
I just can’t blame the designers here because the glossies and newspapers offering these bargain deals are equal partners in crime.
Last but not the least, the trend of socialites-turning-fashion critics is taking Catwalk Corruption to a new level. These lunching ladies are not just ignorant about the warp and the weft of fashion but also have favourites. They are lured by free clothes and that definitely makes their opinion biased. They take the ‘bias cut’ ignorantly and literally and write biased pieces for any friendly designer who gifts them a ‘biased cut’ silk dress.