ARE FASHION WEEKS STILL RELEVANT?

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I’ve felt the buzz of fashion weeks, the assemblage of talent, creativity, and style. I’ve seen electrifying fashion shows, installations that were moving, innovative stalls, the interest of buyers, the presence of the serious press, the world watching. I’ve seen the other end of the spectrum too, mediocrity, repetition and shows the biggest Bollywood celebrity couldn’t resuscitate that and most recently I’ve seen them get duller and everybody more jaded.

Trends no longer exist (not for long anyway), commerciality has overtaken creativity, and for an industry built on exclusivity – social media has brought overwhelming inclusivity. Influencers are aplenty, street style hunted high and low, every single person, brand, platform, flogging pictures and stories unceasingly, yet none of it satisfying, inspiring, or beautiful.

You’ll understand then why I pose this question – is there a point to Fashion Week anymore?

If you were to distill the function of Fashion Week frankly, it served as a convenient space and time for the fashion industry to gather and do business. But not just anybody in the fashion industry — the top echelons. Designers selected for their creativity and innovation by a committee. Customers who wouldn’t blink at the noughts on the price tag. Buyers for luxury stores. And the fashion press, that osmotic body feeding trends, people, and designers to the masses, and providing some feedback to designers. And given traditional scales of production, these were done six months in advance of any given season.

That’s the system the Fashion Design Council of India, IMG, and Lakmé brought into India in 2000 with Lakmé India Fashion Week an annual week-long festival in New Delhi. Fashion Week helped Indian designers into an organized fashion. The big split that gave us two fashion weeks in 2006 – in Mumbai, Lakmé Fashion Week and Delhi, FDCI’s India Fashion Week – while shortening timelines to five days a week also gave the country four events to attend twice a year. In 2008, FDCI added another when it launched Couture Week. In 2010, Lakmé Fashion Week, acknowledging the Indian market schedules, shifted seasons to a ‘See Now Buy Now’ format with Summer-Resort and Winter-Festive replacing the traditional Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter.

Then, the internet and social media upended all systems. As Woolmark Prize-winning designer Ruchika Sachdeva of Bodice says, “Social media has jolted every institution that was built on hierarchy. You don’t have to go through certain people; talent is respected. Earlier, you had to know somebody to get to know somebody… beyond your talent, there were many other things. But now we live in a day and age where, by producing good content, you could reach out to the right people.”

What’s followed: Instagram fashion shows (Masaba was one of the first), designers like Sabyasachi releasing collections online, the ability to reach out to buyers by emailing lookbooks and the buying public via images of posting celebrities wearing your clothes (because dare they be caught wearing anything twice) and pretty much any model that is published online. Customers can also contact you directly, there are online stores, and even WhatsApp works to rustle up sales.

Designers who have never done fashion week can make a killing by touring the country on exhibitions and build up enough credibility that they are welcomed to fashion week later. Add in the fact that alcohol brands have fashion tours, magazines curate collections, society ladies organize exhibitions, every store promotes themselves by bringing in designers and what you have is fashion coming out of our every bodily cavity 24 hours a day.

When people like Sunil Sethi, president Fashion Design Council of India, agree that “people are not necessarily as excited to see 30 or 40 ramp shows” and Azmina Rahimtoola, co-owner of the Atosa comment that fashion weeks could perhaps be condensed into fewer days, it’s a marker that the industry is suffering from a certain amount of exhaustion.

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