Saturday, July 27, 2002

Are mega shows no more than page-three events?
Anjana Sarin

Photo Manoj MahajanDISCORDANT notes are being heard from Delhi even before the Lakme India Fashion Week (LIFW) takes off at the cityís Taj Hotel on August 2. Bangaloreís Manoviraj Khosla spoke out against his suspension for breaking a rule that forbids designers from displaying brands on the catwalk.

Mumbaiís Manish Malhotra withdrew his participation, saying that he would be preoccupied with wedding orders in Antwerp and London. Another leading Mumbai designer, Sangeeta Chopra, also opted out, stating that she would be out of the country during the show.

But the biggest slap on the face of the organisers, the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), came when a board member, Krishna Mehta, pulled out of the show, citing "personal reasons". No amount of persuasion could make her change her mind.


Nevertheless, FDCI executive director Vinod Kaul kept a brave front with the promise of making the LIFW 2002 the biggest fashion event ever seen in the subcontinent. "This year we have 53 designers, as opposed to 44 last year," he announced cheerfully. "We are providing a forum for new talent as well."

The question that is, however, being asked all around is the purpose behind holding such high-profile fashion events. Is it just hype and hoopla? Or is there more to it? Above all, how much does the Indian fashion industry stand to gain from this mega show?

Opinion is divided. On the one hand, there is an upcoming designer like Renu Nigam who claims that her exports have been growing at a steady rate of 10 to 15 per cent per annum ever since she started participating in the LIFW and the New Delhi International Fashion Week (NDIFW), another big show. On the other hand, Madhu Chawla, who has been exporting to the USA and Europe for the last 21 years, argues that the LIFW and the NDIFW are events targeted at domestic buyers. "I would say that events such as these are more about hype and gimmickry, and whoís seen in what," she points out.

Elaborates Anshu Khanna, a leading fashion writer: "Such events are more about air kissing. Looking at the fashion shows abroad, one can make out the difference. There they have trade shows, which look at the trade aspect of fashion, then there are couture shows that look at select clients. Indian shows are yet to reach that stage of professionalism. Fashion in India needs to become serious."

Comparisons with the West are expected, even as it is generally acknowledged that the Indian fashion industry is still at a fledgling state and wraps itself in a cocoon. Besides, it lacks the support of the government as in the case of fashion industries in Europe.

"Even in Brazil, the government supports its designers," designer Ashish Soni informs. "In Australia, the government actually flies down buyers from different parts of the world to participate in the fashion shows. "Itís only here in India that the government takes no interest in the industry."

Fuelling the debate is the absence of statistics to substantiate the business generated at the Indian fashion weeks. "To point out the exact figures is a little difficult because in events like the LIFW, one canít really talk about orders," says Sumeet Nair, former director of the FDCI. "What really matters are the contacts one makes at such places."

Elaborates Nigam: "While these events help in stabilising the domestic market for us, indirectly they help us in increasing our exports."

Counters Jaya Jaitley, known for her involvement in promotion of traditional crafts: "Events like the LIFW are relevant only if they include Indian crafts, textiles and designs. Otherwise, they are no more than page three events. Designers and fashion shows constitute a very small part of the Indian garments industry." (MF)