It's different
June 10, 1997
Gauri Parulekar

It is dark... and the stillness is born of a silence louder than words. The audience waits without a murmur. Suddenly, the roar of engines, their echo magnified on speakers. Silhouetted in the blue of the spotlight are two bare-torsoed men, sleek as panthers, reclining on two motorcycles. To the backdrop of sharp, staccato music, the two get up and gracefully, so gracefully, ease into shiny black leather jackets before acknowledging each others presence.

No, this is not a scene out of a slick new movie... This is the opening of the fashion show held by the Leather Trade Committee in Madras, for Madras is the acknowledged leather capital of India.

The trade fair, organised by the south-based leather barons, is an annual event. The purpose -- to enhance export, the mainstay of the industry -- by inviting clients from all over the world to participate, chart new trends, reach wider markets and encourage overall growth. The fair also encompasses a fashion show, two of them in fact, one for various buyers and others associated with the industry, the other for Madras' culturally attuned...

Yet, Leather '97 is essentially a trade fair show, not strictly haute couture. Which begs the question - why the hoopla? Elaborates designer-choreographer Hemant Trevedi, "Indian models get much more charged when they're working with a mixed team instead of a standard one. Whether it be an Aishwarya Rai soon after she successfully returned from the Miss World contest or international models or even a bevy of Miss Indias -- it's somebody different and, I think, that makes a difference. Also, I have an extremely good client who's ready to experiment!"

What the show displays are basically leather goods -- bags, shoes, jackets, skirts, trousers and accessories such as belts. This year, Gabor Shoes were the main sponsors; the show included top labels like Ponds (India) Ltd and A K International.

What sets the show apart is its timing, location and models. And the fact that this is one of the few shows where the sequences have more male entries than female -- what with leather shoes, belts, jackets exclusively for men. Male models, in this show, grace the ramp more often instead of just serving as props which, more often than not, is the case in other shows. Besides, the latest designs in leather make their debut here.

This is a stressful show too, for the number of sequences are greater, varying from 18 to 23. Also, there are two shows on the same night. Besides, the shows accent strongly on the year's theme. Two years ago, an acrylic stage and silver garments highlighted the "futuristic" theme. Last year, a bamboo stage was used to depict environmental friendliness. This year's theme, Retro, was left open to audience interpretation. Bikes were brought on the stage, the stage itself shaped to resemble nuts, bolts, an industrial mechanical feel.

To the international models participating, the inherent drama in the show is reason enough for participating. Says model Phillipa Maccarthie, who had flown in from South Africa, "These shows are so much more spectacular than those we do back home. There is so much more interaction."

Wolfgang Peretta of Austria calls the leather show "a truly enjoyable experience There is so much involvement, team work." And Amber Finlayson from Durban, South Africa, comments, "It is just like an international show in terms of the quality of the choreography."

Adds Vahbiz Mehta, a freelance professional in charge of backstage, "It may not be an haute couture show, but it is a prestigious one for the industry. Which is why it shall always be associated with the best names, the top models."

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