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Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s campaign in the eye of a storm

The designer apologises after his Instagram post sparks off criticism.

fashion and trends Updated: Jul 08, 2019 15:29 IST
Manish Mishra
Manish Mishra
Hindustan Times
Sabyasachi,Sabyasachi Mukherjee,Sabyasachi controversy
Designer Sabyasachi’s Instagram post invited a fusillade of vitriolic comments on social media.

Coco Chanel had once commented, “If you’re sad, add more lipstick and attack. Men hate women who weep.” This sweeping statement may have resonated with a few back in the day, but it’s not something which today’s empowered women believe in. And recently, designer Sabyasachi’s Instagram post invited a fusillade of vitriolic comments on social media.

Quoting Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the designer posted, “If you see a woman ‘overdressed’, caked with makeup, armoured with jewellery, it is most likely that she is wounded. Bleeding inside, silently (sic)” An array of bloggers, editors and commentators criticised the post as misogynistic, a case of mansplaining and some went on to label it as downright toxic. Soon the designer posted an apology acknowledging the feedback and accepting the blame.

Stylist Akshay Tyagi sees the post as a commercial gimmick. “Let’s just leave it as the beautifully realised imagery. We don’t have to make it meaningful to engage with a certain section of people. It’s a stunning campaign in terms of technicality, however, I don’t think it’s the right approach to have this kind of comment. At the end of the day people will buy bridal jewellery. He’s an earnest person and seems loyal to his cause. Having said that, he should have left the post with just the Miss Havisham quote. Sadly, the interpretation of the inspiration has lost its value. The intent may have been pure, but the message doesn’t tie up with the original quote and the imagery,” says Tyagi.

View this post on Instagram

I thought a lot about whether to post this, but sometimes it is important to set the record straight and get the right message across. Having been in the fashion industry for over 20 years, I have encountered it firsthand and commented about it in many of my interviews - how, while many women use fashion and beauty for joy and self-expression, others use it as ‘retail therapy’ to fill in the gaps and voids in their lives. We, as a society, often get extremely judgemental about peoples’ clothing choices, calling them ‘overdressed’ or ‘tacky’ or ‘inappropriate’. We fail to understand that maybe some are using these as coping mechanisms to put on a brave front to make up for the lack of a support system. The true essence of the post was to ask people to be aware, empathetic, and not judgemental of peoples’ personal clothing choices, which could be a manifestation of their internal anguish. One of the bigger issues in society today, that very few people address, is mental health, and a little bit of awareness, empathy and kindness go a long way in acknowledging it. I have coped with crippling depression as a teenager for 7 years. I found my coping mechanism through radical clothing choices.I was sneered at and bullied, but it helped me find my way again. When I was creating this jewellery collection, I referred to Tagore’s ‘Monihara’ because it talks about these issues, which are sadly more relevant today. And I, for one, have never shied away from speaking about uncomfortable truths, no matter how disruptive it might be for my personal gain. Because when power is given, social responsibility should not be shunned. The mistake, however, was to use the reference as a blanket statement, as sometimes when we are passionate about an issue, we end up becoming overzealous and hence, tone deaf. My sincere apologies for that. The original post (however flawed) was put up to invite introspection and debate about how love, sensitivity and compassion, alongside expressions of art, beauty and fashion can create a net positive in the world. I invite everyone to democratically join this debate. Regards, Sabyasachi

A post shared by Sabyasachi Mukherjee (@sabyasachiofficial) on

Over the years, the label has been the metaphor for cerebral sexiness and perhaps the real meaning was lost with way the post was drafted. Stylist Aastha Sharma shares, “Maybe he’s talking about one section of women from another era. It’s a very personal thing. For all you know, if a woman is overdressed, she could be thrilled with her life. At times, women dress for other women. Sabya has always been emotionally connected to women and in his campaigns he’s reflected women from different parts of country. In this situation, there is no right or wrong. It’s about how you’ve seen and experienced life.”

Steeped in dark romanticism and inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s literary work ‘Monihara’, this campaign had many layers of complexities. Designer Rahul Mishra shares that he has never experienced anything like that and that’s not how he views women around him. “It’s not about men or women. Individuals exhibit their emotions differently. Some people like to go out and get dressed when faced with sorrow, but then sorrow is of different kinds like losing a loved one or facing rejection. Maybe he came across something like that. Culturally also, it’s different how people express their emotions,” shares he.

Designer Nachiket Barve is of the view that a part of feminism is also the right to choose whether women want to dress up or be dishevelled as long as they are happy. “Everyone’s way of coping with their pain is different -it could be dressing up or withdrawing into a shell. One couldn’t box and judge them for dressing up or dressing down but each designer has his own way of deriving inspiration and storytelling so to each his own,” says Barve.

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First Published: Jul 08, 2019 11:28 IST