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Outrageous Outfits


Nicholas Coleridge, author of the famous book, the ‘The Fashion Conspiracy’ flew to Madras in January ’85 to interview Tamil terrorists for a television programme. While killing time between interviews at the steam bath he met Mr. Kumar who initiated the conversation with “Are you acquainted with Her Majesty the Queen’s dressmaker, by appointment Mr. Hardy Amies? At one time I had the honour of manufacturing in my factory accessories for the Hardy Amies boutique, but lately we hitting the big time and working with Liz Claiborne of New York. Each day we are manufacturing 1000 garments for Liz Claiborne.”

Truly intrigued by this Nicholas Coleridge rode down with Mr. Kumar to a suburb in Madras called Shenoynagar where the warehouse was situated. Eighty girls worked and Nicholas remembers one young girl of 13 who smiled shyly at him as she fed a length of pink and blue check material through her machine.

Coleridge recalls “eight or nine months later when I had all but forgotten my excursion to the Madras warehouse I happened to be in Manhattan one Sunday morning and was reading the New York Times when an advertisement for Macy’s departmental store caught my eye. A teenage American with blonde hair was smiling out of the page in a familiar pink and blue check ‘jumpsuit’. The caption read ‘Herald the season with gifts and gladness from Macy’s …Something for little girls to celebrate in the terrific holiday collection from Liz Claidorne. In dusty pink and blueberry cotton $ 43”.

This journey from a Rs. 40/- outfit in a backstreet sweatshop to a fullpage advertisement for a major departmental store seriously intrigued Coleridge and resulted in his book ‘The Fashion Conspiracy’.

This is no phenomenon, it is happening all the time all over India. If Coleridge had happened to go to Fridkot near Delhi, he would have stumbled upon a modest workshop that imports soles from Italy and makes shoes which are eventually sold by Gucchi.

Like in China it is difficult to match the keen workmanship and herd labour that re easily available in India. Pierre Cardin, the leading Paris haute couturier, has cleverly exploited this aspect and his licensees in India make his clothes which are promptly sold in Russia.

Haute couturier Zandra Rhodes had heard and seen so much so the skilled karigars (artisans) from India that she catwalked into the country a couple of years ago determined to transform the traditional Indian saree into a high fashion garment. Her creation when modelled produced an utter gasp of disbelief as viewers watched with rising horror the graceful saree cut, serrated, over-spangled, heavily motified and worn every which way but the way it should be. Her outrageously priced ‘designer sarees’ were bought by jet-set socialites. Zandra amused more than she charmed with her outlandish ideas.

It is the way of the haute couture world to create bizarre out of the way fashion garments which are appreciated as a salute to the designer’s imagination but are never worn. This the students of NIFT had learnt very well. They had come form Delhi to the fashion capital – Bombay to hold their haute couture fashion show and displayed some tremendous talent but also some alarming selection of themes and costumes. In one scene they literally went potty with matkas (earthen-pots) scattered around the stage as the model strolled stylishly amidst them wearing a matka outfit-mud brown in colour-studded with mirrors and structured to look like a real matka-this creation has found its way to the fashion house ‘Glitterrati’.

James Ferreria, a leading fashion designer, who pioneered fashion in India, slipped into the matka skirt and swayed around saying “its a good creation, imaginative, a good outfit to come up with in your graduation year but wearability has to be the key point when designing fashion garments”.

Over the last 14 years James has been slowly but surely instilling an awareness of international fashion with his select group of industrialist and filmstar clients who swear by him and wear only designer outfits.

James, in his formative years as a designer worked with Zandra Rhodes and this probably resulted in his creation of ‘designer sarees’. James’ designer sarees are priced at Rs. 6000/-upwards. His latest is the double palla sari with both pallas designed differently, while one flows down the back the other is taken round the shoulder or neatly tucked into the waist. Another of his interesting saress is the zip up sari which is cut and tailored in a manner whereby the minute you zip into it the pleats automatically fall into place from your knees to your feet.

Indians are growing increasingly fashion conscious and are buying designed clothes. This is evident from the fact that the personal darzi is nowan extinct breed. Cities are dotted with clothiers, boutiques and designer studios. A walk down Kemps Corner which could well be termed India’s Fashion Avenue confirms this. You have ‘Litolier’ with their exclusive designer sarees, ‘Ravissant’ who sell an entire life-style and ‘Glitterrati’ down Kemps Corner. ‘Ensemble’ truly stands apart tucked away in a quiet corner in the heart of the throbbing city.

‘Ensemble’ and ‘Glitterrati’ both have a team of talented young dress designer displaying their creations. ‘Ensemble’ is just a fashion saloon modeled on the lines of big fashion houses and sells only designer clothes whereas ‘Glitterrati’ is situated within Inter Plaza which sells everything from shoes to jewellery to chinaware.

In fact the entrance to Inter Plaza is very disconcerting. Beyond the glass door off the entrance is parked a tiny red sports car with FUS painted on it in big bold black letters with a darwan standing guard. I have yet to figure out why that little sports car is parked within as they certainly don’t sell designer cars.

For Vijay Mehta of Inter Craft Exports it has been an interesting climb. A few yers back he began Inter Shoppe for the fashionable young teenagers but as they grew and began demanding better clothes at their favourite retail outlet he began Inter Plaza and has now added Inter Mezzo Linea for Italian men’s wear.

At Inter Plaza as you travel basement upwards to ‘Glitterrati’ no doubt you are stepping up to high fashion but it also definitely inclines towards higher prices. Naturally as they are virtually selling one piece per style.

On your way up to ‘Glitterrrati’ the one kiosk that demands your attention withits display of traditional India dresses, presented in all its Indianness, yet totally fashionable, is Pallavi, Jaikishan’s Boutique.

Her ethereal and feminie flowing muslin kurta-pyjama-duppatta with pastel embroidery studded with pearls is irresistible. Though mulmul (cambric) is only Rs. 16 a metre her finished products are easily sold for Rs. 3500/- a set.

A fantastic commercial success Pallavi has been in the fashion business for the last eighteen years. Film-star Mumtaz has blind faith in Pallavi’s creations and continues to buy her clothes even though she now lives in Africa. Pallavi’s client list ready like an Indian Who’s Who. Twice every year Pallavitakes her collection abroad and her agent arranges for buyers to vieiw her designs and soon her clothes find their way to well known boutiques in New York and London. Her daughter Bhhairavi who designs for ‘Glitterrati’ looks after the French exports as she studied show the obvious French influence.

At ‘Glitterrati’ all four designers sell different looks. Lester Manuel is into mod clothes, Bhairavi Jaikishan’s, is the French appeal, James Ferriera goes totally Indian and Shahab Dorabji is very very British.

Shahab Dorabji is a name to watch out for. His well structured impeccably tailored classic creations can be repeated year after year as they will never be démodé. Already popular with the expatriate Indians he is also sought after by Indians who travel widely. His clothes more suited to a cooler climate re finished beautifully and come closest to being haute couture.

Pallavi Jaikishan rightfully says, “what I’d call Indian Haute Couture are our bridal outfits. These clothes for the bride specially designed and fitted may never again be worn”. Pallavi specializes in designing bridal trousseau and her bridal dress by itself costs anything from Rs. 250000/- to Rs. 80000/- depending on the budget. The sky is the limit for a trousseau.

Exclusive designer bridal wear is the most fashionable requirement with the moneyed set today. Inter Plaza is openly gleeful about having pinched the Amaia designers from ‘Ensemble’ for their new outlet at the Plaza called ‘Jamaizari’ will cater only to a brides’ trousseau.

‘Glitterrati’ is hoping that Amaia will bring with her, her rich film clients. Ensemble down Apollo Street is the city’s latest status symbol. It is undoubtedly the only designer studio which comes closest to being a couturier with its brilliant team of designers – Tarun Tahilianni, Rohit Bahal and Rohit Khosla. Rohit Khosla has already made it to Harrods in London with his fine Kashmir paisley shawls and silk scarves.

Harrods it is said is planning 1990 as an India Year and Indian fashion designers are being invited to display their clothes. This is hardly startling as followers of followers of haute couture have noticed that in 1989 all fashion ramp showed an Indian influence. Sensational haute couturier Christian Lacroix of France this year used a lot of minakari work, Indian motifs and colours. Rifat Osbeck, a Turkk, created a forceful impact with his use of the eastern influence. Jean Paul Gaultier and Katherine Hemmett came with a total Indian look with fabrics that looked like cheap saris picked up from an ordinary market.

Here in India all the fashion houses work at a furious pace to come up with collections for display and eagerly await the arrival of their faithful buyers-the Sindhis form Hong Kong.

These exclusive clients from Hong Kong and Indian will treated to a special in-house fashion show where models will put and pirouette in the newest creations and champagne flows freely with hors d’oeuvrs. Let’s hope this desire to be a la Paris does not extend to the clothes because as designer Wendell Rodricks says ‘now when the whole world is turning toward us and the West is learning to appreciate the East it would be Disastrous if we took to imitating the West.