The fashion business catches up with time

PTI | BySourish Bhattacharyya, New Delhi
May 03, 2004 12:40 PM IST

As the lights dim on the least controversial and best-managed Lakme India Fashion Week in its five-year history, I'd like to take you back to the Stone Age.

As the lights dim on the least controversial and best-managed Lakmé India Fashion Week in its five-year history, I'd like to take you back to the Stone Age.

HT Image
HT Image

Remember those days when designers would spend one-half of the year planning their shows and the other half putting their collections together? More than their collections, the designers would worry endlessly about finding sponsors and then cutting corners by gifting away their clothes to models. And we would sit in our ivory towers and say that when it came to freebie-hunting, no one could beat the designers.

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A designer's life then could be divided into five seasons – two spent planning collections, another two spent planning how to show the collections, and the fifth spent combining a bit of business (selling unsold stocks to unsuspecting NRIs) with pleasure (a holiday in London or Dubai). The designers lived from collection to collection, from marriage to marriage; their bread and butter came from the export units their families ran.

Cut to the present, and you'll find life has become a lot easier for the fashion frat. The burden of shows is now carried by the organisers of the Lakmé India Fashion Week (LIFW) – Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) and IMG, the sport, lifestyle and entertainment company. Designers have only to pay a token amount (in New York, a design house has to fork out anything from US$50,000 to US$500,000 for a show) for access to an array of service providers, from event managers to models, from make-up artists to choreographers.

At last, our designers can do what they're meant to do best – design good clothes and let their work speak for themselves. LIFW has restored sanity to the lives of our designers. For five years, they've had one platform to showcase their work to the world.

The world has started coming in dribbles to LIFW. For the last two years, Michael Fink of Saks Fifth Avenue had been planning to come to LIFW, for there was a "buzz about the work of Indian designers" in his circles. He could come this year because the FDCI decided to change the dates to May. Albert Morris of Browns, who came across as one no-nonsense headmaster, opted for LIFW over the Australian Fashion Week.

That's good news, though they didn't have many good things to say about the way our designers work. Many designers felt it was pointless spoiling them the way we did, for much of their business is still done with domestic buyers and NRI-oriented stores like London's RCKC, Hong Kong's Sanskrit, Dubai's Aesthetics and Singapore's Chokri. Even Fern Mallis of IMG seemed to go along with this point of view. "The designers have to address their market, which is India. They have to do what's good for their business," she said.

But the foreign buyers had a take-home message for the designers and they shouldn't ignore it in the afterglow of a fashion week that had a lot of energy. Their message to designers was to get more serious about the business side of their business.

First, get your basics like look books, delivery schedules, colour charts and supply side in order. Be like Wendell Rodricks, who gave the buyers attending his show comprehensive item-wise details of his collection (including price points and colour charts). Delve into the social compliance norms (no child labour; insistence on chemical-free dyes) of the western world. Only then will you be able to do business with the bigger world.

There's no point, as Citibank executive-turned-design house baron Sanjay Kapoor of Satya Paul told me, in "discovering the world's brightest diamond and not tell anyone about it." If our designers have a product that makes them proud, if they dare to dream big, then there's no reason why they can't sell it to the world.

But to do business with the world, you've got to play by the rules of the people who are already there. At this year's LIFW, the germ of this idea has been planted. As IMG's Ravi Krishnan pointed out, with the country experiencing the first wave of a retail revolution, and with a significant segment of the population being between 18 and 35, more in sync with the world than with their traditions, the fashion market is changing very fast.

Increasingly, young people are looking for fashionable clothes at reasonable prices, and the metro market is moving away fast from the homogeneity of salwars and saris. If our designers aren't able to feed on this opportunity, foreign players will do it. Our designers mustn't be content predicting the future; they must create it.

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