BE­HIND THE MAS­QUER­ADE

This book cuts through the cliches of In­dian fash­ion and tells the story be­hind the glitz

India Today - - LEISURE - By Anuja Chauhan

When you pick up a book called Pow­der Room: The Un­told Story of In­dian Fash­ion, you are sort of ex­pect­ing to meet gay de­sign­ers, bitchy stylists, neu­rotic drug- snort­ing mod­els and preda­tory ed­i­tors. And the book doesn’t dis­ap­point. All “The Devil Wears Prada” and Mad­hur Bhan­darkar clichés fea­ture on its pages in their full clingy- blingy, emo­tion­ally- dam­aged, Swarovski- en­crusted glory. The re­ally good part, though, is that the book by She­falee Va­sudev, who is a hard­core woman jour­nal­ist first and fluffy fash­ion ed­i­tor much later, trav­els be­yond the clichés and man­ages to de­liver a sense of the many lay­ers and con­tra­dic­tions that make up the In­dian fash­ion busi­ness.

So we have mid­dle class girls work­ing in DLF Em­po­rio, sell­ing clothes at prices that are six times their monthly salary. We meet the ladies of Lud­hi­ana, who wear the lat­est, most pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive western wear to visit their gy­nae­col­o­gists and check on the sex of their foe­tuses. We meet en­ter­pris­ing ‘ ladies tai­lors’ who run bou­tiques out of garages and send their mas­ter­jis off to see the lat­est Bol­ly­wood movies first- day- first­show, so they can quickly knock off the de­signer out­fits the hero­ines wear in the film. We meet weavers in Gu­jarat who refuse to com­pro­mise— swear­ing that “the pa­tola will come apart, but never lose its pat­tern”. We visit the Horn­bill Fes­ti­val in the North- east and meet beau­ti­ful pork and prawn eat­ing girls in Ugg boots, jeans, scarves and belted coats, who have 20- inch waists and are to­tally un­e­n­amoured of Bol­ly­wood, pre­fer­ring to look to Ja­pan and Korea for their fash­ion in­spi­ra­tion. We get a glimpse of the big Ital­ian and French fash­ion giants, arm- twist­ing ed­i­tors with gifts of ex­pen­sive free­bies in or­der to get their bags and watches onto mag­a­zine cov­ers. We are privy to a de­light­ful lit­tle red car­pet in­ter­ac­tion be­tween a re­porter and a clue­less- to- de­signer- la­bels Hema Malini: “What are you wear­ing, ma’am?” “A sari, can’t you see?” “Yes, but whose it is?” “Mine of course, why would I go and wear some­one else’s?”

The au­thor is in­tel­li­gent, in­volved, but never over­whelmed. She re­tains a sen­si­ble, mid­dle­class at­ti­tude, even as she deep- dives into a world where drop­ping three- and- a- half lakhs on a lit­tle kiss lock purse is com­pletely nor­mal, where weigh­ing 52 kg is all good, even though you are five- feet- eleven- inches tall. She brings a sense of per­spec­tive to the fash­ion carnival, manag­ing ( with­out seem­ing to try or get­ting ei­ther preachy or screechy) to jux­ta­po­si­tion it, en­tirely with­out ed­i­to­ri­al­i­sa­tion, against the In­dia of khap pan­chay­ats and the Rs 32- a- day poverty line.

I missed Bom­bay in the book though. All the in­depth in­ter­views are with de­sign­ers who are ei­ther Delhi- based or Kolkata- based. No Rocky S, no Manish Malhotra, no Neeta Lulla. They may be kitschy and Bol­ly­woody, but not ig­nor­able? And I missed pho­tog­ra­phers. Where’s the in­ter­view with Prabud­dha Das­gupta, Faroukh Chau­thia or Dab­boo Rat­nani? Plus, no pho­to­graphs! There are mouth- wa­ter­ing de­scrip­tions of Ro­hit Bal’s mul mul anarkalis and Sabyasachi’s black cho­lis and Patan pa­tola saris , but it would’ve been nice to see what they looked like with­out hav­ing to google as I did. And also, a sense of over­view ( both his­tor­i­cal and fi­nan­cial) seems miss­ing. But that sense of be­ing handed a back­stage pass, of be­ing given an ex­clu­sive, priv­i­leged peek pre­vails, mak­ing the book riv­et­ing. Even for philistines like me who feel that no one, sin­gle piece of cloth­ing has any busi­ness cost­ing more than Rs 3,000. Priced at Rs 399, Pow­der Room in black, white and mauve hard­cover could be your fash­ion steal of the sea­son.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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