Prêt On The Streets Of Chennai…The Friday Fashion Post.
How do you know summer has started in Madras? Actually no, not when the sun burns your exposed skin as soon as you step out to the street in the morning. That happens all year long in Chennai and that’s why we have such a thriving anti-tanning pharmaceutical products (also known as sun-screen) industry. We only realize that the summer is truly on us when the shawls and stoles of the fall collection are put away and you see the new summer collection being debuted by the fashion conscious folk of the city. The look this year, as evidenced by the last one week seems to be the boyfriend-shirt look – Oversized man shirts with rolled up sleeves in light pastel colours teamed up with darker striped pants or capris for the casual but adventurous types.
If you check out the ramp collections shown on TV (that is if you are like me and don’t get invited to watch ramp shows live) you will see that most high street is boring, simply because you are restricted to the same old cuts and fabrics. For the price they are paid the high street designers dare not experiment too much at the risk of being labeled outrageous and at the far more telling risk of not selling. There is nothing more soul destroying to any couturier than feedback from the stores that people just browse through their collections and walk away. Hence they have perfected sticking to the safe and sound by rote, a high art in itself. Don’t believe me? Check out any couture (be-spoke or off-rail) at any high end store and you can see that they are primarily made of satin, silk and lace..repeat..rinse..the same combo again and again. The only idea of daring in couture is sometimes an adventurous cut with exposed skin. But that requires the right physique to carry it off which the couturier cannot anticipate.
And that’s the reason why the waif look as made famous by Kate Moss (yes she of the anorexic baby doll look) won’t be hitting the streets of Chennai anytime soon – that I can guarantee. For that look involves an over sized sheer white shirt with tight hot pants underneath, the shorter the better to make it look like there is nothing there. That kind of look can be found in only one place in India- the big screen with its item songs and I have never even seen that amount of daring on the party circuit in Chennai where pretty much anything goes sometimes. I can only make a wild guess that it’s because Indians are used to getting cheap cotton fabrics plentifully and we don’t stint on buying yards of clothes to drape ourselves in. After all we have one of the largest textile industries in the world and add to it the gandhian mentality of clothes being necessary only for covering up the body from others gaze, that we forget that clothes can also be used to highlight our bodies for others appreciation- properly covered and clothed of course. It’s not skin-show which attracts and defines us as fashion-conscious, it’s the combination of the clothes and the attitude to carry it off which makes a person a real fashionista. That and a good physique (well-toned) which adds a good silhouette to the clothes of any design.
And talking of physiques, in madras or chennai as it’s now known, we prefer that the clothes fit us, fit our bodies (our original, born this way, un-toned bodies), rather than the other way around as it is internationally. We don’t have a concept of summer bodies or beach bodies or winter bodies. We don’t anticipate buying clothes for different seasons/reasons and we don’t get our physiques ready in anticipation of that. Simply put we buy clothes which we expect to last us all year around and for all seasons and occasions. It’s a nightmare for designers to replicate something they designed at a size 32 as a size 42. It’s not just simple mathematics comprising multiplication, it involves more than that – like changing how the entire silhouette of the garment was visualized, where it drapes and where it flows. Its damn hard work and that why the really talented designers are some of the most creative and original thinkers you would ever meet, people who would be in top-most scientific genius range if they had opted for science instead of fashion designing.
During and after school I had flirted with a career in arts on-off but there was always the fear of not making a living off it in conservative Chennai. In fact, when I look around the fashion scene in Chennai, I sometimes despair of even the high end fashion available and wish that I had made that trip to Milan I had once planned, to get a career in fashion designing rather than opting for the old stand-by (the safe one) of medicine. I very nearly shifted over to fashion industry after my undergrad days when I had big plans of launching my own high-end lingerie chain, but circumstances diverted me back to my original field of medicine and I decided that right then it was an idea ahead of its time and India was not ready for pricey, lacy lingerie. So the designs are still in the attic and I keep telling myself that I will launch that store after I make enough money from hypochondriac patients with money to burn and retire when I turn 45 years to indulge my hobbies and other interests. Fingers crossed, wish me luck.
So to return to the premise of this post…go buy yourself or borrow from your boyfriend, a long sleeved-over sized man shirt and wear it over a striped/checked pant or a coloured denim (like the one shown here by my designer friend Bhusha) or a capri or even a hot pant (if you dare) and show off Chennai that you are in, when it comes to fashion. Rule the streets.
P.S. The author of this write-up imagines himself to a fashionably dressed person and also works out in the gym sporadically to get a body which fits his clothes.
P.P.S. Images courtesy Google Images under Creative Common Licence. The last one is of a fashion conscious colleague who has posed exclusively for this blog.