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The Fashion Police is here

fashion-and-trends Updated: Oct 16, 2010 18:13 IST
Parul Khanna Tewari
Parul Khanna Tewari
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Aishwarya Rai has had brushes with them, Mallika Sherawat is a serial offender. Vidya Balan was arrested so often, she had to mend her ways. But though she seems to have turned over a new leaf, Vidya Balan knows she’s only on parole. The fashion police will continue to keep a stern eye on her – and on everyone else they believe belongs to the Bad Taste Bunch. Because the fashion police spare no one. From starlets to mega stars, Page 3 people to industrialists, if the fashion police blow their whistles, everyone has to answer for crimes against good taste.

So who are the fashion police and where did they come from? Well, they’re people in websites and magazines with a strong sense of style, and they make it a point to analyse, dissect and criticise the style quotient of celebrities when they make public appearances.

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The trend of policing the aesthetics of stars in India became popular with Aishwarya Rai’s first appearance at Cannes in 2003. Her red carpet look was heavily discussed and debated by the international media and bloggers. In India too, blogs sprang up and tabloids started talking about what Ash wore. This became so popular that it became an institution, says our in-house fashion policeperson Rochelle Pinto, who has a column called Bewear in Hindustan Times Café.

Celebrities – those glamourous creatures who apparently have the money to continue to be glamorous – have always been associated with fashion. They have access to the best of designer wear and also have stylists whose jobs consist of creating ‘looks’ for their clients. “If, after all this, they wear outfits that don’t suit them, or commit fashion faux pas, they need to be checked,” says Khalid Ansari, editor-in-charge of Fashioncurry.com. “That’s largely the reason for the birth of the fashion police.”

But the fashion police couldn’t have been sustained if it weren’t for a couple of other factors. The first is the fact that fashion itself is popular – there are fashion weeks in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, couture weeks and men’s fashion weeks. So there are many people with more than a superficial interest in what celebs wear, says fashion designer Nida Mehmood who polices celebrities in the People Watch section of Fashioncurry.com.

And secondly, says Pinto, there’s a change in the way we see celebs. “A couple of years ago, we treated stars like gods,” she explains. “We never got irreverent with them. Now, the general public have gotten saturated with that kind of sugar-coated coverage. So stars are not taken seriously any more.”

It’s this combination of factors that led Nandini Shenoy to set up her fashion police-social networking site, inkvilla.com, in 2007. “At that time, there was no site where people could discuss the fashion choices of their favourite Bollywood stars,” says Shenoy. “Pinkvilla was started to fill that void.”

Stop, or we’ll shoot
So how do the fashion police work? It’s simple. Photographers supply websites, bloggers and magazines with pictures of the latest events (such as premieres, promotional events, parties and awards ceremonies), and an in-house expert – someone with a sense of style – comments on what the celebs are wearing.

The person who comments usually has a fashion background. Pinto of HT Café’s Bewear is a fashion journalist, Mehmood of Fashioncurry.com is a designer herself and on Pinkvilla.com, all registered users can comment. “So, at the end of the day every post is a reflection of what is on the minds of the public,” explains Shenoy.

Who are the people most likely to be policed? There’s usually a flavour of the season. If an Indian actress is attending a foreign event such as the Cannes Film Festival or the Oscars, the fashion police will be very interested – ask Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone and Freida Pinto. Last year, when Priyanka Chopra had several film releases, the fashion police focused on her. “Aishwarya Rai is judged the most, thanks to her international appearances,” says Nandini Shenoy. “Other celebs who are frequently judged include Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif and Sonam Kapoor.”

What not to wear
Aesthetics are subjective, so making a statement about what a person is wearing is not easy. But it isn’t difficult either, say our fashion police. A judgement is usually based on the critic’s first reaction to how the celeb looks. That’s it. There are some criteria, of course. For instance, wardrobe malfunctions such as visible panty lines and inner wear that pops out and so on, is good fodder for discussion, says Andrea of Bollywoodfashionpolice.com. Then there’s fashion foolishness – wearing boots in summer, matching loud prints, wearing tight corsets, blinging on the jewellery, and so on. And when stars wear the same outfit twice, or wear something that someone else has worn before, that makes for front-page news.

“That’s because celebrities have many designers and stylists to refer to,” says Mehmood. “So you’d expect them to stay ahead. It’s also because there’s still a belief that celebs lead highly glamorous lives, and repeating an outfit does not go with the image. So it’s noticed and commented upon.”

Mostly though, the fashion police critique celebs on how they carry off what they’re wearing, and whether their choice of clothes suits them or not.

“For instance, Sophie Chaudhary wore a black net dress for IIFA 2010,” explains Pinto. “Hollywood actress Halle Berry had worn a similar dress at an international public event, but on her it didn’t look half as vulgar as it did on Sophie. That’s because their body structures are different. So it was a classic case of bad styling.”

Vidya Balan spent years being criticised for wearing western clothes that didn’t look good on her. She fought this opinion, ignored it, blamed it on her designer Manish Malhotra… but finally accepted defeat and went back to wearing traditional outfits (a look she was praised for in the film Parineeta). Now everyone agrees she looks lovely in her Sabyasachi saris and suits.

And when Mallika Sherawat wore a hideous black outfit at an international event, the desi and foreign fashion police all panned her look. “There were no certain criteria for judging in both cases,” says Shenoy. “But there is a certain way these stars look and people respond to that. Anything that looks obnoxious and out of place is judged.”

Other people are criticised for not dressing their age or for aping trends blindly. “Bollywood stars usually have no idea what suits them,” says Shenoy. “If red lips are in fashion internationally, they wear the look whether it suits them or not.” And the fashion police are not there solely to criticise. “I also suggest other style options,” says Nida.

Line of defence
Some celebs don’t take criticism kindly. In his blog, Amitabh Bachchan defended his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai against the charge of creases on her gown, and Vidya Balan blamed her designer.

Very often, says Shenoy, celebrities demand that posts criticising them are deleted, or want negative comments to be filtered. “On many occasions we have had celeb PRs visit the site and post positive comments on the star,” she adds.
But there is one rule that every cop on the fashion police abides by: Do Not Get Personal. “The idea is to talk about the star’s fashion sense. Rarely do we indulge in designer bashing,” says Pinto.

Most of the policing is done in a tongue-in-cheek and irreverent way, and many celebrities are sports about what is written about them. “I often meet the celebrities I write about, and nobody has ever said anything to me. In fact, I once had Simone Singh come up to me and ask in a teasing way if I liked what she wore,” says Pinto.

Singer Shibani Kashyap, who has often been Pinto’s victim, says: “As long as it’s tongue in cheek, I am okay with being featured in the fashion police. Rochelle once had a picture of me in a printed dress and said I looked like a printed tent. That’s fine. Celebrities will be discussed. In any case, I want to be known for my singing, not for my fashion sense, so I don’t take all this too seriously.”

But not everyone reacts with the same spirit. Actress Amrita Rao, a regular victim, says: “As long as you are comfortable in what you wear, you shouldn’t be bothered about what people think. There can be 10 different fashion critics with 10 different views on fashion. Plus, the style critics have a job to do. But they must also bear in mind that an actor or actress needs to focus on acting skills rather than what to wear.”

Sometimes the celebs are affected by what is written about them, and rework their wardrobes. But in other cases, publicity-hungry people seem to revel in being targeted by the fashion police. “I know a page three person who wears the most outrageous looks and happily poses for shutterbugs,” chuckles Ansari. “Her explanation: ‘Any publicity is good publicity’.”
Perhaps that’s why Mallika Sherawat wears such hideous outfits. It’s one way to get on the front page of the papers…!