These days, fashion weeks, secure havens for the flamboyant, are changing the construct of masculinity.
Over six years of attending them, I have realised that Fashion Weeks are not just about good fashion, cuts-colours-layers or trend spotting. For most people — especially men — it is a safe haven to be themselves and dress just the way they want to. For androgynous or sexually fluid men, it becomes a space to hang out and meet new people, and to try to expand a social and professional circle. Here, they are away from the claustrophobic rules of their homes and families, the trepidation of being bullied in a pub and the bitchy chatter of the workplace. Fashion Weeks are, therefore, a refreshing escape from their suffocating closets.
Earlier, even though the audience might have been celebrating individuality and the ambiguous, the ramps always saw tall and brawny men mannequin the designers’ choicest pieces. The “ideal man” was still hetero-normative, and even the most homosexual of designers did nothing to change that. Was it because the Alpha Male archetype is what they aspired to — or lusted after? This dichotomy in Indian menswear always confused me. With the movie industry’s active interest in fashion — which began around 2005 and reached a high during 2010-2012 — it seemed that no one other than Bollywood stars seemed to be wearing these designers and following their trends. During a Manish Malhotra or Sabyasachi Mukherjee show, the people and the paps used to be more interested in the starry front row than the ramp. So, while fashion enthusiasts were experimenting with skirts and dress lengths, the designers were still designing for the movie stars.
Over the last few years, however, even on the design front, this has changed. Anti-Fit is the new in, and even Bollywood stars have begun dabbling with what was earlier “weird” and “crazy”. Hemlines, shirt lengths and pant breadths have changed. The likes of Ranveer Singh are lauded and #OOTD is the hottest hashtag every season. Bollywood’s obsession with Fashion Weeks has also simmered down, with today’s front rows sporting starlets, TV actors and aspirants. With social media, fashion has left the hallowed ramp and has, finally, become a part of daily life. Celebrities have to be fashionable even while exiting an airport, which is why wearability has increasingly become important, and fashion enthusiasts and influencers expect fashion to be more omnipresent. With so many online stores and affordable brands, “getting the look” is not difficult any more, and with buzzwords like “dressing down” and “I-woke-up- like-this”, fashion has become regular — and regular people have become fashionable. So, with changing design aesthetics, the models have changed too, because if the industry embraces the common man, why would the ramps still reflect a regressive archetype?
This change from the north Indian Alpha Man has been slow and distinct. Three to four years ago, most of the male models were from Delhi, Haryana or Rajasthan. They were fair, tall, broad, ripped, sharp-nosed and extremely sexy — because that was the most widely accepted definition of “sexy”. Slowly, darker men began appearing on the ramp; men from north-eastern India started making appearances after that. Interestingly, the male model body requirements are very different in India and abroad. If you take a look at international campaigns, the men are wafer-slim, hardly have any definition and are not necessarily tall. Globally, for male models, the focus has started shifting from “hot bod” (barring the usual suspects like Calvin Klein) to “interesting face”. And with Indian male models actively signing up with international agencies, the need for different-looking men cropped up. That affected our ramps, too. Models started getting darker, thinner and shorter — more regular, in other words. Facial features that were earlier seen as anomalies were now celebrated.
In the last two years, there has been a spike in conversations about beauty and the pressures of normativity in fashion, and how the country is opening up to variety, eccentricity and inclusivity. Such changes are healthy and progressive. Designer look books now feature transgender models, magazine fashion shoots have models with dreadlocks and navel piercings and our ramps have become more democratic and less aspirational — and all these are welcome changes.