“If Something Slips off, Call Me”

Impressions of a fly on the wall at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai
Aspiration
A security guard checks out the hairdo of a model for the James Fereira show
Two models head off happily in search of beer after the last show of the day
A young boy picks his nose as models walk the ramp for Bhairavi Jaikishen’s collection
Another model helps a male colleague before a show
A volunteer guards an outfit
A model conceals her hairdo with a plastic bag

It is the first show at the Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2012. GenNext designers are making valiant attempts at getting noticed—becoming worthy of that ‘Next Big Thing’ moniker. They want to be different. They want to command that shock-and-awe moment, that reaffirming ruffle that goes down the audience at the appearance of something spectacular. Fashion magazine editors and journalists are tapping their iPhones with manicured nails. Buyers are watching with glazed eyes. In the fifth row, two middle-aged ladies, decked in their best ‘Western’ outfits—glittery tunics with tights and platforms—are eyeing the ramp with an amused expression. They cover their mouths that form a ‘haw’ as they watch a model walk down the ramp with a mask that could remind you of the one Jason wore in Friday the 13th. And then they whisper, “Yeh fashion hai?”

Fashion is everywhere at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai, and to this writer, it seems to be a great divider. The swarms milling around here are in two clear groups: those who are fashionable, and those who are trying hard to be fashionable. They are all watching one another intensely—the former rolling their eyes at the latter, and the latter ignoring the laughs directed at their church frocks paired with ‘bellies’. There are a few who can’t resist casting more than just snide glances around. Dressed in a black dress that would be considered illegal anywhere outside this venue, a nubile young thing tells her pink-suited chic friend, “You should see the rest of my colleagues who come here. They wear salwar kameezes. Who does that? And they stay in places like Virar and Vasai. OMG!” A well-known street-style chronicler looks unimpressed with the crowd. “They all want to be stylish, but style can’t be taught. The stylists, designers and models are closer to fashion so they dress well. The rest are just trying hard but failing.”

The waiting area reminds one of eras gone by juxtaposed with the future. The older ladies are safe and elegant in their Kanjeevarams. The middle-aged, evidently in a mood to revisit their college days, have turned up in crinkled fish skirts and Indo-Western kurtis that were ‘in’ back then. The young, on their part, are trying out every trend they’ve found in fashion magazines, so lace dresses and block colours rule their choice.

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Inside the main show area, the stage is set for many happenings, the least exciting ones being on the runway. The front row gang guards its seats with gusto, only moving over to include the ‘right kind’. In the fourth row, a mini-fight erupts. “That’s my seat, it had a tag,” says a frustrated soul, only to be greeted by a “no tag, no seat” brush-off by a fashionista who has no idea that many eyes saw her whisk off the tag. Not too far away, a fashion magazine editor in her designer dress rolls her eyes at her newspaper counterpart’s satin dress and black heels from Lokhandwala. Attitudes differ. Footloose bloggers dig into chocolates that were left on their seats as part of the press kit, even as a glossy mag stylist puts them aside without a glance. “I have been losing weight for fashion week since December,” says another stylist. An audience member’s long-flowing prom dress gets stuck on the stairs, and a kind journalist helps her out, only to snicker, “What was she wearing?” as soon as she walks away. What isn’t said aloud is said on Twitter, be it the curiosity around the Grihalakshmi journalist in the third row, the fascination with the Fashion Week regular who wears dresses closer to her waist than her knees, the disappointment over the “done to death” spin on Indian wear, or the admiration of a new look, print or drape.

As the show gets underway, the crowd settles down to be inspired. Some just love the music and sing along, some get wowed by glittery purple pants, and some wait for a model to trip. Soon enough, one does, and then trips again (“Oh!”), but she walks on and it’s back to business. Later, as she’s back on stage for the final applause, her face registers no more than a twinge of nervousness. And then she smiles, and it’s all over. Here is a model in a bikini, and one delighted enthusiast remarks, “Wow, even models have cellulite. Love this!”

More than cellulite, most are on the lookout for celebrities. A hot Prateik Babbar gets the whistles alright, but is canned later for stripping in the smoking area to do push-ups. At another show, Dia Mirza walks the ramp to pin-drop silence—no claps, no hoots—and it’s a bit awkward, but she’s big-girl enough to handle it. Zoa Morani slips and then quips, “I am human. It happens.” Rhea Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor’s sister, gets heads to turn in an oh-so-trendy peach suit. As the adage goes, “In fashion, one day you’re in, the next, you’re out.” What wonderful words. Thank you, Heidi Klum.

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One afternoon in a long gap between shows, we realise that models are people after all. The place where it’s most evident is the backstage make-up area. Patience is their weapon of choice here, as they sit and get new hair and faces. “Yesterday, I saw a model break down,” says a photographer. A seasoned hairstylist responds wryly, “She wasn’t Indian… Indian models don’t cry.” A popular face admires her hair in the mirror and declares, “I look so hot. Now if only I looked like this all the time.” Now, now, isn’t a self-deprecating model the most winsome?

At lunch, over salads and desserts, models talk work and let it all out as they attack that chocolate mousse. “I sleep late and get up early, and then she tells me I don’t look good.” But a myth lies shattered—they do eat. Rice and cake are favourites. And if they bear each other grim and grimy grudges, it doesn’t show. “Models don’t fight, at least not these ones,” says a backstage assistant, dealing our wicked hopes a blow, “They all get along. Is that considered strange? They have their groups, though—Indians hang out with Indians and firangs flock together. But that’s natural, eh?” An online fashion editor, however, is shocked: “I thought diva models exist only in the movies, but yesterday, I saw a model ask interns to help her remove her underwear! Another got an intern to open a bottle of water, though there was nothing stopping her from doing it herself. ”

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The smoking area is a hot hub. Gossip flows freely and filterlessly.

“Did you see Aki Narula? What a hottie!”

“Why do people buy bags from Linking Road?”

“You could find better saris at a government emporium.”

“I can’t see one thing right with that outfit.”

“That collection was so with it. I want that jacket now!”

“Why have models become the definition of beauty?”

“Am I looking fat in this?”

“Why does she always look the same? Time to stop going to Zara.”

“I ain’t taking runway shots—if something slips off, call me.”

Closeby, people are taking pictures for Facebook, some with the venue’s crazy installations, others with semi-celebrities—aka Pooja Bedi and Sky, with Anurag Kashyap and Kalki an obliging option. Some see better Facebook sense in cornering designers—such as Narendra Kumar and Masaba Gupta, who flaunts a curvy figure in figure-hugging jeans. Beyonce, your time is up.

But once the lights go off and the spotlight returns to the runway, everything else seems to recede. All that matters now are the clothes, the fabric, the vision and the art. It makes you think, and yes, it does inspire. And once the evening is over, as the audience swarms the exits, it’s clear. The stylish and not-so-stylish are bound by a fascination that only demands that they be fascinated, not fashionable.