YOU & I asked four fashion stylists and industry insiders from across India to share images that influenced their understanding of fashion and style. Stalwarts in their fields, these ladies have in their way helped shape fashion in the country and beyond.
Vinita Makhija, Fashion Stylist and Visual Strategist
There is this fallacy that clothes come from stores or online carts. In India, specifically, they actually come from villages, smaller houses, and looms. More often, the hands that make ‘fashion’ have very little idea at what cost or what purpose they are being made—working merely as contractors rather than custodians of our crafts and traditions. Don’t get me wrong; we most definitely need fashion design and designer interventions to make this work relevant.
I’d hate to make this some social justice cause, but it is. In India, handmade has been the norm, even though the world is waking up to its ‘luxurious’ quotient only now. Nowhere else in the world does a garment wearer have so much autonomy over how their fashion looks. We can customise, alter, and commission couture-level work with startling ease and affordability.
Two years ago, as I got more interested in also reporting where the clothes that I style my shoots with come from, I started travelling to famous and remote parts of our country to map their journey.
How are they made? Who makes them? At what cost? I became a stylist to tell stories via clothes, not just promote consumption. These textile journeys make me more authentic and accountable for my own work. Styling cannot just be about sourcing clothes from designers/stores and then returning them pack in plastic sheets.
About the picture: Earlier this year, I went to Lucknow to trail the work of Chikankari. The lehengas that we see in the stores are exorbitantly priced. But we also discard and push past pieces with shocking dismissiveness. I realised women in remote Lucknow villages hand embroider each saree and lehenga set for months and years. They were doing this precious work as their side hustle between housework and lunch breaks. By the time they are done, the cloth apart from their stitches has paw prints, dust, and food stains. Its literally their blood, sweat and tears but they have no idea that each of these sells in lakhs at the stores. We need to include them better.
The pandemic has changed a lot, but I’m a realist. I don’t think people are suddenly going to forget pocket-friendly, in-trend high-street stores and go all organic and sustainable. We shouldn’t, and this time has made aware everyone about their consumption patterns. Please support your favourite brands and designers but also shop straight from weavers (many of them sell on Etsy) or organisations like Datskar that work and promote direct weaver buying. I hope the future takes us back to our past a little. Reignites our love for conscious consumption and fair wages for all.
Amber Tikari, Fashion Stylist Based In New Delhi
Poster from the Adventures of Priscilla “This cult classic film of the ’90s just blew my mind as an impressionable teen with its glamour, gaudiness and sheer gayness. I remember gaping at the film poster with one of the characters standing on top of a bus in a flamboyant costume with a long trail blowing in the wind. That image remains etched in my mind as if to say ‘Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.’ For me, that was my first big fashion moment!! Bill Cunningham once said ‘Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life’.
After months of this horrible year, and the shutdown of corporate offices, fabric mills and most fashion magazines, it seemed as if the fashion industry was ready to go into hibernation and lie low for the year.
What’s happening in our world right now is serious and scary and has forced each one of us to rethink strategies and how we should be aiming to consume less and recycle more. What it has also shown us is that our fast-fashion habit is causing irreparable damage to the environment.
Virtual fashion and digital technology is a solution, and the ‘New Need of the day’. Our digital fashion weeks have been proof of that, and many global brands and retailers don’t think it will be long before we see a completely digital collection sitting at home on our iPhones.
I am optimistic about 2021 and that it will forge new frontiers for the fashion industry. Here’s to change and to readjust post-pandemic and hopefully adopting systems leading to sustainable, meaningful change and reducing the negative carbon footprint.”
Zahra Khan, Former Fashion Editor and Content Consultant
“I’ve been a dedicated fan of the late designer Alexander McQueen from the beginning. His career was short - just 19 years - but his legacy is enduring.
This image is one among a series of extraordinary images created by photographer Sølve Sundsbø in 2011, for a stunning coffee table book called Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.
The book was commissioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of a gorgeous retrospective exhibition of his work a year after his tragic death and had a lasting impact on me.
In many ways, this image reflects McQueen’s unique concept of fashion, unconventional ideals of beauty, and his love of romanticism. He was both an ‘engineer’ as well as an ‘artist’ - a master of conceptual complexity, if you will.
For me, this image is representative of all of McQueen’s dichotomies; whether it was to do with beauty and terror, lightness and darkness, life and death. He was a true genius, merging wonder and terror in unique ways, and ALWAYS leaving you in awe of his creative genius. In my mind, no one else comes close to his dark genius.
The future of fashion in a post COVID environment rests on individual responsibility and sustainability. Conspicuous consumption needs to be replaced by more mindful and sustainable practices and purchases. Collectively, we have to be better and do better.”
Ekta Rajani, Stylist and Creative Consultant
I’ve chosen this image of Amrita Shergill’s since I think it allows me to see fashion from a different lens, something that is subtle yet striking, allows the personality of the wearer to emerge. From a branded point of view, we look at labels and brands over the last 150 years, there it’s about the label or person who designed it. There was a time when the personality emerging through a subtle style was something that just existed in society. I am drawn to that, being stylish without being branded, not to say brands aren’t fun. A lot of my Eastern sensibilities give me that understanding; it took me many years of working to realize style is beyond brands. This image is beautifully symbolic of that, it’s a style of society, her personality radiates through, comfortable, looking like others, deceptively simple, yet the handwoven textiles she wears are not in your face. The mathematics of handwoven textiles had geometric genius in it, something we don’t appreciate in today’s world.
More than her being an artist, I admire the fact that she is her own person. This was a time when there were more male leaders in society, fewer female voices. I like how she’s a strong female voice, from the time she belongs to. She could have been anything, but I am attracted to her fashion, it’s easy to relate to her as a stylish person in an artistic field. A person who has her own voice has such an understated image but is at the same time so striking. The image summarizes what I think his style, subtle, detailed, of their own mind, having a personality.
Regarding fashion post-pandemic, Oh gosh, I have no idea! I hope it comes together to clean up its act; there’s a lot we understand about it now since we’ve had the time to question it during the lockdown, the wastage, what conveniences are you ok without, under the larger conversation of what’s happening globally, this business too will have to ask itself a few questions. I just don’t know how things will change; I am a marching ant in a sea of people working in this profession. People are now more aware of things happening in this business than before. It’s a hope, and don’t know more than that.”