BEHIND THE MASQUERADE
This book cuts through the cliches of Indian fashion and tells the story behind the glitz
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.