2019 has been a time when people have had conversations about how the world of fashion and Bollywood coexist. I don’t know the details of how the idea of a showstopper started, but I feel like I only see it happening more in our country. As a designer, when you make a garment, it is the hero of the story. It is made because it is relevant; it is to be worn by anyone who chooses it. Indian fashion industry has been selling clothes through Bollywood, but unless it actually enmeshes in the celebrity’s wardrobe and personal style, which it rarely does, as an industry, we are selling a story that’s saying that the hero is not the garment but the star who promotes it, and this greatly devalues design.
This brings me to a point: Why as an industry, we have been working as Bollywood’s entourage instead of celebrating talent from other fields, or actually creating your brand family hand-picked? Why haven’t we celebrated designers themselves or models and new faces in casting? Why do we always fall back on movie artists and exclude individuals who actually impact fashion with their personal taste and style?
I understand that at the end of the day, you’re in a commercial space and you have to sell. That’s where the showstoppers come into play. Drawing a parallel, why do brands have ambassadors? It’s for the very same reason as having a showstopper; it helps the audience and people connect with the product or the clothes more easily. However, when you’re doing a show, it’s not a sales point yet. It’s a vision, and the first stage. If we’re going to dilute the birth of an idea in the first stage only, it loses its credibility as powerful work and stands out on its own.
I don’t see myself as a fashion designer. I see myself as a storyteller and clothes are the medium I’ve chosen to tell these stories. When we launched Huemn, we wanted to sell culture and to be able to sell that, we needed to identify culture. We started tapping into these little clusters of people and their issues to understand the world around us. We’ve also evolved in the past seven years. Being receptive to the right questions has driven us in the right direction. The idea is not always to appeal to the masses, it’s about how you are able to influence even five people to bring them on the same page as you.
Fashion is not the only industry that looks for that one face to make a collection more visible, it’s almost all sections. Magazines do it, the beauty industry does it. Everyone’s involved. The question is are you here to sell clothes or sell a brand? I’m here to sell a brand. For me, what the brand stands for matters. Talking about fashion weeks, Bollywood has a huge influence there. But in a way, it’s justified too. I’m not against the idea of putting a face to a brand at all, because economically it’s viable. My problem is, why are we made to feel like the second unit of an industry? Why are we a fashion industry not making the “fashion” of it more relevant? We have so many designers in India, but we need to make so much more impact globally as the fashion industry of India. By keeping celebrity campaigns the primary tool, we end up making the brand secondary and that’s my issue.
There are two ways to look at the same: Either we sell clothes through popular faces because they are already popular or we empower talent and sell a new narrative that makes the product relevant. Fashion as an industry needs to take risks, create more career opportunities, and grow our own industry and its influence. We have taken new, unorthodox paths in our brand building and realised that you don’t always have to shout from rooftops for your audience to be listening; you just need to present them with an honest idea and a fresh approach.