A Insider Reveals The Murky Workings Of Our Fashion Industry
Jennifer’s dream is to work in the luxury sector in Dubai. She’s 23, dark skinned, and from a middle class family in East Delhi. She works for an unnamed luxury store in DLF Emporio, a glitzy mall that counts Louis Vuitton, Dior and Gucci among its tenants. There, she earns Rs27,500 a month. If she could, she would buy herself a Louis Vuitton Monogram Canvas Neverfull bag, but that’s fanciful thinking. She knows how to address a customer (never use “didi”) and carry herself gracefully across a shop floor, but is beginning to resent her family and boyfriend Devendra, a slippery 29-year-old electronics showroom employee who needles her for being “foreigner logon ki chamchee”.
Jennifer (her real identity is kept secret) is one of the characters who populates Powder Room, Shefalee Vasudev’s cracker of a book on “The untold story of Indian fashion”, an exploratory account of not only the ascendance of the luxury industry, but its web of tributary sectors—darzis and models, Bollywood and brides, artisans and journalists. It’s a wide sweep of Indian fashion history, one exactingly and brilliantly researched through the glittery and frequently unseen people that put forth its public face to the world. If it was a fictional novel, it’d be bought and turned into a Bollywood movie, a readymade masala cast of Ludhiana ladies and their dizzying obsession with designer brands; small-town models and their shady minders who ache to break into stardom; and cynical and unscrupulous journalists, who take turns in being the villains and champions of India’s fashion story. There are bridezillas who huff and demand their Sabyasachis; designers both young and old who fall prey to the industry’s unforgiving cycle; Fashion Week scrimmages; and old-school artisans loath to take their craft into the new consumer century. These are stereotypes to be sure, but palpably real, crafted with facets that show them to be far more complex than what the outside world imagines of this frivolous fairy-dusted land.
Vasudev, the founding editor of Marie Claire in India and currently an editor at The Indian Express, is peculiarly well placed to report on this topic having come into her role as a news-trained wary outsider. She confesses that, having never purchased a luxury item in her life, she is somewhat of an anomaly among her cohorts, and remains beguiled and baffled by the uncomfortable dealings between fashion magazines and luxury advertisers (she calls it “brochure journalism”). As the narrator, it is her voice that carries us through these interviews, her canny interpretations that clue us into Jennifer’s transformation, or reveal, not mean spiritedly, that Rohit Bal looks worn and older than his years; that Tarun Tahiliani is arrogant but an exceptionally astute businessman; and that Sabyasachi could pass as a “Shanti Niketan artist visiting Delhi for an art summit”. The book has such an extraordinary wealth of detail that frequently you find yourself bashing out a Google search to look up a story she writes about (Shilpa Shetty’s controversial Marie Claire cover for instance that led to a falling-out between the magazine and the actress) or people she interviews (like McDonald’s employee turned model Amit Ranjan).
If there is a flaw (other than the strange choice of a foreign looking model on the cover), it is that Vasudev is not an objective documenter—she is openly judgmental and on occasion, mildly disdainful of some of her subjects, particularly of a flighty Mumbai bride called Ravs determined to showcase her wealth at her upcoming wedding. But at least in most cases, the judgement is not without merit. In a field where coverage is either given for the outlandish (model bares breast on runway!) or the vacuous (Kareena walks the ramp for Manish!), Vasudev’s steely notes and incisive criticism should only be welcomed, if for nothing else then for bringing some long-overdue heft into Indian fashion journalism.
Powder Room by Shefalee Vasudev, Random House, Rs399. Buy it from Flipkart.com.Tags: book reviews, Books, Fashion, Powder Room, Shefalee Vasudev