Flashback to circa 2000. Amid the brouhaha over the Y2K bug that had turned out to be quite a bummer, an innocuous snippet in the newspaper caught my eye. It said India might have its first ever fashion week later that year. Though I was editing a tech magazine at the time, the lifestyle journalist in me instantly saw New York, Milan and Paris runways flash simultaneously before my eyes. It was just the coolest thing to think that even if microscopic, India would finally have a legitimate presence on the global fashion map.
In the next few months, the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) announced that the first ever Fashion Week in the country would take place in Delhi during August 17-23. The days preceding the event saw some heavy duty jugaad by those in the city’s social circles to get passes — no one connected to fashion in any way wanted to miss being there, even if it was just to compare the ‘local’ event with what one had seen on FTV during visits abroad.A senior bureaucrat friend in the textile ministry who owed me one for teaching him the nuances of website development (not a kid’s job 11 years ago) obliged with invites and I, along with a friend, entered the convention centre of Delhi’s Taj Palace Hotel that afternoon, clutching our passes like kids and excited to be a part of the history-making moment.
Designer Ranna Gill opened what was then called the Lakmé India Fashion Week where over seven days, 36 models catwalked for 33 designers, wearing a total 1,536 outfits. No one quite followed the international convention of seasons. So one saw on display a mix of autumn-winter and spring-summer dresses that varied from understated to utterly outlandish. There weren’t too many firang buyers in sight but there surely were angrez models on the ramp who got a tad louder applause than our desis.
And while developments like designers Ravi Bajaj and Suneet Varma pulling out at the last minute, or some Mumbai designers led by Pallavi Jaikishan boycotting the event kept the gossip mills rolling, the overall atmosphere was abuzz with bonhomie. Sitting in the third row and pretending to take serious notes, my friend and I had a blast, nodding knowingly at some creations and suppressing giggles at some others. I couldn’t help but brag about my ‘Fashion Week experience’ for days afterwards to anyone who asked… and even to those who didn’t. Up until the day my husband of four months snapped back saying “Great. But how many people can afford those kind of designer clothes?”
Fast forward circa 2011. Life seems to have come a long way since that sultry August afternoon. India now has more fashion weeks than Paris, Milan and New York put together, with almost every city from Bareilly to Bilaspur claiming to have one. And the grand daddy of them all — FDCI’s Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week kicks off in the capital today.
The 12,000 sq ft convention centre of the Taj has given way to the gigantic multi-acre Pragati Maidan where, over the next five days, 77 designers will showcase 2,460 creations on the ramp. And 64 more will put up stalls in the exhibition area at the event that’s now Asia’s biggest in fashion. The week may have shrunk from seven days to five, but the expected footfall of 50,000 has more than trebled from the humble 15,000 in 2000. The number of leggy beauties who’ll tip-toe across the ramp has increased to 48.
The Mumbai designers’ grudge got them their own fashion week years ago, though gossip mills continue to roll about the Mumbai vs Delhi fashion wars. And I still clutch my show invites as excitedly and pretend to take notes, although from the front row. But as I stick the autumn-winter 2011 show schedule on my desk, a colleague passes by and says, “Fashion week time again? But how many can afford those kind of clothes?” Some things just don’t change.