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Is the Fashion Week just hype?
Yusuf Begg |
July 19, 2003
It's that time of the year when the creative and the copyist congregate under one marquee; flashbulbs and bubbly are popped; and backslapping is in as much evidence as backstabbing.
The fourth edition of the Great Indian Fashion Circus -- both in its Le Carre-ian intrigue and in its flashes of brilliance -- took off on Friday at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai.
A decade-plus of the fashion sector's existence begs the questions: is it worth the media hoopla that surrounds it?
Has it managed to transform itself from a page 3 fixture to a serious business venture? Can the sector be called an industry?
Has it been able to merge the right and the left sides of the brain?
There is clear divide between the designers and their spin meisters, and the people who control the purse strings. "At the most we can call it a cottage industry," says an industry insider.
"Designers make it to the newspapers and TV for all the wrong reasons. And it is not always the media's hunger for titillation that is at fault," he goes on to add.
"The designers are more than willing to be known for their hair colour and butt tattoos than for their creativity."
According to him, by definition industry "implies rigour, a set of practices" that none of the designers possess.
Barring a few, none of the Indian designers have been able to come out with a business plan that can transform them into a brand and make them a household name like a Calvin Klein or a Ralph Lauren. They are happy making a few lakhs and being seen at the right parties.
"When you come to borrow money, you need to justify your business module," says a banker. "I don't think the designers know this. They think they can walk in and cash in on their fame. For us, it's too risky a business."
Bankers have the same, common refrain: the fashion sector is unorganised, and it is near impossible to assess the risks involved.
Moreover, most designers do not have professionals running their business. Being family-run enterprises, balance sheets are fudged. In such a scenario, lending becomes an equity risk.
Clueless about business, they are also said to be creatively challenged and derivative. "A better term to use for them is stylist," says the industry insider.
"Most Indian designers come out with garments that are loose-structured," says Sanjay Gupta of Delhi's National Institute of Fashion Technology.
"How many of these designers focus on styling, cut or silhouette?" he asks.
"These are much more rigorous disciplines. But today all you see on the ramps are loose skirts and flouncy tops passing off as design. Creativity does not end at putting a diamond here and a glitter there."
The problem lies deeper. When designers started peddling their wares they catered to a minuscule group. The designs evolved from the boutique or salon.
Because India does not have a fashion context except for weddings, these designers tended to have collections that were trousseau driven.
That they have not been able to move out of their mould and address a mass market reflects on their rigidity or, as Gupta says, "Lack of creativity."
But is all bleak on the fashion front? There are designers who keep abreast of changing times. Raghuvendra Rathore and Rohit Bal are two of the growing tribe who have read the writing on the wall.
"You have to understand that the industry is in an evolutionary stage. We are still on a learning curve, especially when it comes to the business side of our profession. The next couple of years are crucial. Either we shall make it or just sink under."
What's going to happen in the next couple of years? Corporatisation, for one. The message is clear: go prÍt, create a brand and separate the creator from the created.
The designer should stick to creating while the marketing of the brand should be left to professionals. Rathore has taken a step in this direction. A CEO runs his fashion company, and besides his prÍt collection, has chocolates, designer towels and furnishings under his umbrella.
Joseph Sam, CEO, Rohit Bal Designs, has charted a growth strategy that includes launching a range of accessories. Bal's prÍt line, Balance, has also hit the market.
"Compared to the Rs 200-crore (Rs 2 billion) high fashion segment, the prÍt market runs into several thousand crore (several billions). It is this segment we are targeting," he says.
Looking for overseas buyers, setting up shop-in-shops, benchmarking products and standardising procedures are some of the plans that designers are chalking out.
Though they swear by the Fashion Design Council of India and the IFW, only time will tell how far these have been helpful in pushing forward the designers' case.
For reasons best known to them, FDCI is cagey about the money invested in the fourth IFW. But executive director Vinod Kaul is confident that the 300-odd buyers who've flocked to NCPA this year (up from 200 last year) would push business by 30 per cent.
Last year the IFW clocked about Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million) worth of sales. FDCI and its consultants KPMG are thinking of setting up a "fashion fund" with a corpus of Rs 8 crore (Rs 80 million).
The major push for the coming year will be on trend forecasting. Sounds exciting, especially when Rathore thinks that in another 10 years IFW will become the industry's biggest business platform.
"The real value of IFW will be known a decade later. It will be the Cannes of the Indian fashion industry -- a healthy forum for business and creativity to mingle. But that's in the future."
Going by trends, this year's Fashion Week will be no different from earlier ones.
The bubbly will rule over biz, and the waves created by air kissing will be stronger than those by couture.