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More cuts than frills

It’s hard to say whether the dreaded R word has actually affected the closet. Designers are realising that the market is not worth risking huge sums. Sujata Reddy finds.

fashion and trends Updated: Mar 19, 2009 16:15 IST
Sujata Reddy

It’s hard to say whether the dreaded R word has actually affected the closet. Those who insist that the fashion industry would not be affected by the economic slowdown argue, “One needs to buy clothes all the time and most women seek solace in wearing new clothes.”

True. Nothing succeeds like retail therapy. But designers are now coming to terms with the fact that the market is not worth risking huge sums. Raakesh Agarvwal, a regular at the Lakme Fashion Week has opted out this time. “I want to take a sabbatical and see where things have gone wrong. The economic slowdown has slowed business too, so I thought it would be best not to invest in a fashion week and set things right in my company instead,” says Agarvwal.

Relying on star value
Designer Nikhil Mehra — a regular at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week — of the label Shantanu and Nikhil, chooses to concentrate on retail instead of a fashion week this time. The duo has an alternate plan. “We’re using Bollywood as a marketing instrument. Deepika Padukone will be seen wearing our label at various events. The masses associate with a star,” says Mehra adding that he wants to get back to the ramp but only when he is assured that there substantial number of international buyers at the venue.

The target audience, says Mehra, is confusing. “Designers are told to keep the international buyer in mind while making a line for fashion weeks. But there are more of local buyers attending the fashion weeks,” he retorts.

There is enough evidence that the top brass is barely affected by the economic slowdown. “We’re talking of people who spend over a lakh of rupees on each garment. They’re prepared for any recession,” says top designer Tarun Tahiliani. Manish Malhotra is showing both at the Delhi and Bombay fashion weeks.

So, whose version should we believe?
Agarvwal sheds some light. “Designers like Tarun, Manish and Rohit Bal have been in the industry for decades. The common man is however reducing his budget of purchasing clothes from the small fry,” he explains, adding that a lot of his export orders have been cancelled off late. “A lot of buyers who were familiar with my style have stopped coming to fashion weeks. Of course a newer lot is taking their place, but that only means explaining my style to them all over again.”

Designer Falguni Peacock agrees that business has been affected, but only a bit. “Those who would save up to buy a grand ensemble for a festival are being choosy,” she says adding that the situation is no different across the world.

Side effects
“The international market has been affected by 40 per cent or so. Fashion houses aren’t taking on newer designers because that means investing a lot in training and marketing their talent. Most designers are also unhappy that both the Delhi Fashion Week and Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week heads are busy picking on each other instead of concentrating on the designer’s problems.

“A designer is charged around Rs 3.5 lakh per show, inclusive of models. He then spends an additional sum on setting the stage to suit his theme. Since I am spending around Rs 10 lakh per show I expect to get 10 times the returns from a show. Off late I have been making only two times the invested amount,” says a designer who did not wish to be named.

Snowball effect
The recession has hit models and make-up artists as well. Make-up artist Cory Walia had to cut down on the number of persons in his team. “A fashion week requires at least three teams to sail smoothly. This time there are only two and lesser assistants in each team,” he says.

Fashion choreographer Lubna Adams says that those who have been super selective about the work they were doing won’t feel the heat. “The situation will get grim but one can’t do away with a fashion week. So there’s enough work for all,” she says.

Sushma Puri, CEO, Elite Model Management says models are doing the same number of shows at Fashion Weeks: “Certain designers may not be showing but others are taking their place and they all need models.”

Model Viraf Patel will be walking the ramp for Lakme this month. He says, “Most companies are cutting down on promotional activities so it’s natural for our assignments to be cut too. We have not been given a hike in pay this year but there has not been a pay cut either,” he says.