Exposed – Haute Couture Delhi

Picture by Mayank Austen SoofiA Delhi-based fashion designer, not fond of the city, reveals the murky secrets of the fashion industry.

[The author, a well-known fashion designer, does not wish to disclose his identity.]

Fashion in Delhi? What fashion? People don’t have clothes to wear in this city, and you’re talking haute couture? Hot what, 99% of Delhiites would ask if you mentioned the term to them. Remember, a Big Mac is still a novelty here, even though Vorsprung durch Technik is starting to sound familiar.

I have never been to a page 3 party, or any of the squillions of parties the swish set in this city are supposed to throw in honour of one another, that are too risqué for page 3 coverage. But I know this: regardless of your social status, economic status, mode of commuting, caste and favourite food, if you suddenly start calling yourself a fashion designer in this city, most people around you will take you seriously and invite you to all their parties.

Ask any of the street side tailors in Sangam Vihar: one I know worked for a week at an export house, then quit and went back to his 6 sq ft shop, put up a sign saying Ex Fasion Disigner, and his business has quadrupled. Or you could visit Punjabi Bagh, pick out a house at random, ask to see the Auntie when the underpaid servant opens the door, and ask her what she does other than watch Saas Bahu soaps, the reply has got to be: “Oh I am a fashion designer ji. Part time for now, but when my husband ji gives more money, or saas ji dies, I will go full time.”

Alternatively, you could go to the half yearly drama called the Fashion Week and see it for yourself all under one roof. Folks who couldn’t spell fashion if the other option were to hang by their balls from the Eiffel Tower are couturiers to folks who are convinced that they cannot possibly go on wearing saris with no sequins on them, because their husbands have now got too much money besides three Honda cars. Bugger the people who don’t have clothes to wear. And never mind how the money happened – can you run an auto parts business in Karol Bagh without giving gaali?

So, quite clearly, Delhi now takes fashion very seriously indeed. Never mind what the British bitches say at every Fashion Week – those firangis never could understand our best-in-all-things land, could they? Never mind that Fashion Weeks across the world, according to a friend who’s followed it all for over a decade, feel like nice West End musicals, and the ones in Delhi are just about Bhojpuri nautanki. Everything has its takers, I suppose.

And what is it all about? Well, where do I begin? Okay, some shopkeepers in Old Delhi decided to sell colourful riffraff so people from places like Uttar Pradesh could come and buy those things and go back to their villages there and sell them to local people who were engaged in making weird clothes for the likes of the Moguls since the year 1550.

Then one day a Punjabi auntie, while chomping on paranthas in that overrated lane in Chandni Chowk, decided to buy some of the colourful riffraff, stuck it with superglue to a sari and dazzled everyone at the next kitty party in Greater Kailash. Mrs. Chadha got so jealous she immediately ordered the maid to investigate. Next thing we knew Mrs. Chadha and her whole family were fashion designers, thanks to lots of superglue. And they made enough money to buy a store (by this time, sadly demolished/sealed), run it like the blazes and marry both the daughters off at farmhouse venues.

For the most part, most Indian designers are still doing precisely this. That is to say, since they are too busy posing for pictures for the media, sleeping with one another, or getting raided by the (you-supply-the-name-as-they-all-do-it-to-fashion-designers) department of the Indian Government, their workers are busy doing it for them.

Which brings us to the workers…was a lovelier breed of blood suckers ever created? Nay, I think not. Even the cops and the government put together are nothing compared to how this lot can pull your balls (or bosom, if you’re an auntie ji designer). Hailing from that most blessed of Indian states whose name begins with a B, they have over the years realized that the big designer cannot do shit about anything if they all say we don’t want to work today, we want more pay, or simply It’s Friday.

Trust me, no Delhi designer ever says Thank God It’s Friday. Forget wages and work, the workers are instruments of plagiarism, strikes and riots in these poor social butterflies’ tiny workshops. Going with popular tradition in this city, many designers pretend to have outrageous foreign accents and would have you believe they speak no Hindi at all. Just go and see them at work some time: I am still shocked! Judging by that, you’d think nobody who knows how to plead like that with a tailor could possibly be a bitchy socialite the same evening.

So if it’s all that phony, who buys their crap anyway? Well, Non Resident Indians, mostly. After all, when you’re done with selling auto parts in Delhi, and you’ve gone all the way to Jackson Heights/Southall to do something worse, and you’ve still managed to save up enough to actually go in a taxi to the Dolce & Gabbana store, what do you do? Nah – screw D&G! You go to Delhi drinking airline Scotch all the way, loaded with business cards of all the leading designers, collected two months before from people around the block who have done it before, make appointments over the phone in a phony accent, and show up.

You never see a grubby obviously-hard-at-work designer. Well, neither would you at Lagerfeld. But here you never see a designer who can make a fashion illustration either. Most designer’s studios are shops where they have a selection of clothes with their label on them, clothes procured over the years from illiterate embroiderers who cannot imitate a British accent. They are shops, a la Mrs. Chadha’s, once of Greater Kailash, now of Aurangzeb Road. Still, to keep up with the Joneses, and with the Chudanis back in Jakarta or Johannesburg, you end up paying what you’d have paid for a nice Laura Ashley back home to someone who is the city’s couture king’s first assistant, and hence thought himself privileged enough to stare at your crotch throughout the meeting.

So why would anyone with half a mind on them do it? The women I do not claim to know why. And the men? Clearly, not the partying –gosh! I hear even the booze is fake, not just the jewels, and clearly, not the taken-away-in-imminent-raid money, nor the love of the workers, nor the clients’ boobs saying Bebe all day long.

I think they do it because it’s convenient, supposedly classy in Delhi echelons, pays rent and bills yet gives them time to sit home and engage in all kinds of bollocks while you’re probably going to your sorry little Nehru Place office in bus number 423 (with about 7000 people who stink yet wear neckties), and because they can say things like 106 people work for me, I have three chauffeurs and don’t have to bother with getting married or having kids – the only truth universally acknowledged about the fashion industry is that any man working in it of his own accord must be gay – and no questions asked. No, not even in Delhi.