With designers choosing to debut collections on social media, magazine editors visiting infrequently, buyers cutting short their time spent and no one really clamouring for that controversial front row — does anybody still care? Asks Nishat Fatima.
I’ve felt the buzz of fashion weeks, the assemblage of talent, creativity, and style. I’ve seen fashion shows that were electrifying, installations that were moving, stalls that were innovative, the interest of buyers, the presence of the serious press, the world watching. I’ve seen the other end of the spectrum too, mediocrity, repetition and shows that couldn’t be resuscitated by the biggest Bollywood celebrity and most recently I’ve seen them get duller and everybody more jaded.
Trends no longer really exist (not for long anyway), commerciality has overtaken creativity, and for an industry built on exclusivity – social media has brought overwhelming inclusivity. Influencers are aplenty, street style hunted high and low, every single person, brand, platform, flogging pictures and stories unceasingly, yet none of it actually satisfying, inspiring, or beautiful.
You’ll understand then why I pose this question – is there a point to Fashion Week anymore?
If you were to frankly distil the function of Fashion Week, it served as a convenient space and time for the fashion industry to gather and do business. But not just anybody in the fashion industry — the top echelons. Designers selected for their creativity and innovation by a committee. Customers who wouldn’t blink at the noughts on the price tag. Buyers for luxury stores. And the fashion press, that osmotic body feeding trends, people, and designers to the masses, and providing some feedback to designers. And given traditional scales of production, these were done six months in advance of any given season.
That’s the system the Fashion Design Council of India, IMG and Lakmé brought into India in 2000 with Lakmé India Fashion Week an annual week-long festival in New Delhi. Fashion Week helped Indian designers into an organised fashion. The big split that gave us two fashion weeks in 2006 – in Mumbai, Lakmé Fashion Week and in Delhi, FDCI’s India Fashion Week – while shortening timelines to five days a week also gave the country four events to attend twice a year. In 2008, FDCI added another when it launched Couture Week. In 2010, Lakmé Fashion Week, acknowledging the Indian market schedules, shifted seasons to a ‘See Now Buy Now’ format with Summer-Resort and Winter-Festive replacing the traditional Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter.
Then, the internet and social media upended all systems. As Woolmark Prize-winning designer Ruchika Sachdeva of Bodice says, “Social media has jolted every institution that was built on hierarchy. You don’t have to go through certain people, talent is respected. Earlier, you had to know somebody to get to know somebody… beyond your talent, there were many other things. But now we live in a day and age where, by the virtue of producing good content, you could reach out to the right people.”
What’s followed: Instagram fashion shows (Masaba was one of the first), designers like Sabyasachi releasing collections online, the ability to reach out to buyers by emailing lookbooks and the buying public via images of posting celebrities wearing your clothes (because dare they be caught wearing anything twice) and pretty much any image that is posted online. Customers can also contact you directly, there are online stores, and even WhatsApp works to rustle up sales.
Designers who have never done fashion week can make a killing by touring the country on exhibitions and build up enough credibility that they are welcomed to fashion week later. Add in the fact that alcohol brands have fashion tours, magazines curate collections, society ladies organise exhibitions, every store promotes themselves by bringing in designers and what you have is fashion coming out of our every bodily cavity 24 hours a day.
When people like Sunil Sethi, president Fashion Design Council of India, agree that “people are not necessarily as excited to see 30 or 40 ramp shows” and Azmina Rahimtoola, co-owner of the Atosa comment that fashion weeks could perhaps be condensed into fewer days, it’s a marker that the industry is suffering from a certain amount of exhaustion.
Rahimtoola says not only is she is not interested in sitting for all the shows, she no longer even gets requests for passes from friends. As for discovering new designers, she finds they contact her directly. Seasoned buyers, she says quellingly when I ask whether she doesn’t need to touch and feel the clothes, can tell with a glance at a lookbook whether a collection works or not.
But does that make fashion week irrelevant? Or Are we just in a general state of exhaustion from fashion and street style and bloggers and stories that we consume 24/7? Or is this that moment of flux and a big change will soon be upon us as the world starts to embrace the cause of the environment completely and stops its crazy cycle of consumption by buying less and re-wearing more?
What’s happened with Fashion week is that it has become relevant for different people. Influencers. Students. Young people. Sethi gives the example of this season’s Gen-Z show, one where six new designers that have been scouted, will be showing their collections. Ergo, the people coming for fashion weeks have changed too. “It’s now students interested in getting a foothold into the industry,” says Rahimtoola.
Oh and all that stuff I said about environmental orientation, no, that’s really not relevant in this discussion. In fact, according to one Business of Fashion report, the world is looking to India as the market of the future because of its growing middle class and production capabilities.
Yes, fashion week can be a fabulous party of old friends and simultaneously a concentrated dose of toxicity. But is it irrelevant? “You can’t say that,” says Sachdeva. “For somebody who is an emerging designer and doesn’t really know a lot of people, being a part of either of the fashion weeks could definitely be a platform that could provide you with a certain exposure.”
Of course, established designers can benefit too, for example with sponsored shows, which provide financials, exposure, and a meeting of likeminded brand minds. And if I take off my jaded lenses for a second, designers do get a rush from presenting their aesthetic on stage, watching their babies step out into the world for the first time, all shiny, new, and untouched by the real world.
“If it had lost its relevance people would not be spending almost a crore of rupees to put up a show,” says Sethi. “Fashion week is like a Mecca, every single retailer comes to FDCI fashion week from all over the country and abroad. Here they are also able to compare each others’ pricing, sit across the table discuss the success sizes and options. Fashion week is not only about the ramp, but it is also about placing orders and discuss sizing,” he says. “How will they do that online?”
That’s one argument. But when the same stores and the same buyers and almost the same designers and models and stylists visit season after season, is there really that much new discussion to be had? This lack of freshness might be the crux of why fashion weeks seem more burden than a delight to people who are their season after season.
Fashion pushed boundaries once. Now it mostly pushes sales. As Rahimtoola feels the whole thing has come down to commercials for designers and buyers. She laments the commercial nature of the collections and the lack of drama in shows now. What makes fashion is an interesting design and honest good work, not synthesised versions that rest on Bollywood stars, influencers, venues or drones. That’s the problem with following the money, creative risks are the first sacrifices at its altar.
In India, if you have good work it’s easy to get noticed, says Sachdeva. “You have two fashion weeks and two venues and it’s very accessible because people are hunting for good work.” That sounds like an easy formula, but as somebody who has hunted on these grounds, it’s maybe easier to spot those tigers in Kanha. But disappointed though we are, it’s this hope that keeps everybody going back for more. All we want is a large measure of freshness and some moving fashion.