In 2010, if you threw a stone anywhere, you’d hit a fashion week. With Pune being the last to join the fray of cities taking its claim to a piece of the designer pie, India’s fashion cartels, holding fort in Delhi and Mumbai, are looking at a serious decentralisation of their power. But in this rag-tag mix of fashion weeks, most lasting a contradictory three days, it’s not the designer who’s reaping the benefits.
Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), says “We ourselves had five fashion weeks this year, if you count the two pret shows in Delhi, two couture weeks in Delhi and Mumbai respectively, and the menswear week. But I would hardly call what smaller cities are having, fashion weeks. They’re more like fashion ‘melas’ where a rich sponsor gets to treat his friends and family to a glamourous event.”
Designer duo Dev R Nil who started their fashion innings at Mumbai’s Lakme Fashion Week, then moved to Kolkata Fashion Week (KFW) before finally settling with the FDCI’s Wills Lifestyle India Fashion week, are hopeful that the fashion week fad has died a natural death. “It’s just a money-making racket and a way for everybody to get their 15 minutes of fame. The people who really benefit are the organisers and the crew like the models, choreographers and make-up artistes, and as we saw in the case of the KFW, the modelling agency had not been paid even a year after the shows ended,” says Dev.
On the argument that these new fashion weeks promote hidden talent, Sethi points out that the new designers who make the cut are often not deserving of a show. He insists that while FDCI also scouts for new talent, a jury selects only the best from thousands of entries.
Dev agrees with Sethi, adding, “Regional fashion weeks promote certain designers who shouldn’t exist at all. To make room for these people, who can pay for a show without having talent, isn’t right. It may give them temporary glory, but I doubt they get orders because there are no buyers at such places.”
So are the buyers attending these events, as the organisers would like to have us believe? “There are many peripheral fashion events that take place in the country, but it would be impossible for us to travel to each one of them,” says Dr Alka Nishar of multi-designer store Aza. “If there is an interesting designer, they usually get in touch with us themselves.
We treat FDCI’s fashion week as the main trade event for fashion.”
New kids on the block
* Managing director of Pune Fashion Week, Babal Saboo, is turning a deaf ear to the criticism that his two-season old baby is a small fish in a very big pond. Elaborating that Pune, and other fashion friendly cities like Chandigarh, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkatta who have all attempted to strike out on their own, have growing luxury markets that are as yet untapped. “Personal buyers from these cities do not travel to Delhi and Mumbai to see the shows. Plus, designers who come to these markets to host shows get a feel of what the local audience likes.”
A student of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Saboo insists that political factioning within the industry has allowed smaller fashion weeks to become successful.
“We want to run an unbiased fashion event, based purely as a platform for talent,” he says. Ask him whether the wealth of sponsors available, especially liquor and cigarette companies that would otherwise not be able to advertise, makes fashion an easy medium for everyone’s glamour fix and he responds, “We’ve created a platform and it is open for anyone to use it. We haven’t yet associated ourselves with one liquor brand specifically because we don’t want to antagonise the others. But we are taking baby steps to ensure this platform doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.”
Reaping the benefits
Designers depend on buyers to make their fashion week investments successful. According to Sunil Sethi, president of the FDCI, a designer pays approximately Rs 10 lakh to participate in a show. Established names like Tarun Tahiliani and Ranna Gill, who book more than one stall in the exhibition area, pay around Rs 5 lakh for the stalls alone. So while designers may be picky about which fashion week they pledge their loyalties to, it’s the models, especially males, make-up artistes and choreographers who benefit the most. “Until recently, models had lost all their plum assignments to actors and sportsmen,” says make-up artiste Ojas Rajani of L’Oreal Paris. “But with the growing number of fashion weeks, they are getting more exposure and are better paid. For a make-up artiste, it’s the creative satisfaction of inventing new looks on the ramp that pleases more than the money, because we have to slog for several hours to make the same amount that we might make for one hour of doing up a celebrity.”
Model Hemangi Pate agrees, adding, “Fashion shows that take place in smaller towns give opportunities to models there, who might have found it very expensive to travel to Mumbai or Delhi for one day of auditions.” Contradicting the theory that too many fashion weeks could lead to model burnouts, Pate adds, “Doing so many shows in one year only helps you practice your skill and make you more professional. Besides, unlike a nine-to-five job, you have the option of taking a break if you can’t handle the pressure. My friends who have normal jobs in banks or the corporate sector have far more stressful jobs than we do.”