Once a raging trend, showstoppers today present a ‘Catch 22’ situation for the couturiers and are viewed as a necessary evil capable of killing a creative mind’s craft, believe veteran fashion designers.
In a session titled, ‘The Voice of Fashion: Questions No One Asks’ on the third day of Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2019, seasoned names such as Wendell Rodricks, Rohit Bal, Shahab Durazi, David Abraham of duo Abraham & Thakore and Rajesh Pratap Singh shared their experiences with the long-standing trend and warned budding designers about getting star-struck.
The panel was moderated by The Voice of Fashion editor Shefalee Vasudev.
When asked how does he put his clothes on a Bollywood star without PR machinery, Rodricks responded with a tongue-in-cheek question: “I wish Manish Malhotra was here.” The designer recalled an incident in 2004 where he put Malaika Arora as a showstopper and was actually ridiculed for the idea.
“Younger people threatened me and sent me nasty messages, saying ‘How can you bring a star into the press room?’ Now, we have a star changing room. Back then, I didn’t even know I was starting a horror story called the ‘showstopper’. I hate that word now,” he said.
Rodricks added, designers shouldn’t bother about Bollywood and fashion, as the lines between these two worlds blurred when Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sushmita Sen joined the film industry.
“They took the stylists and make-up artistes like Mickey Contractor with them,” he said.
Bal believes showstoppers are present only because of the sponsors; they are never the wish of the designer. In a scathing remark, he added, “The showstopper is mainly used by a lot of people as a disguise for the lack of their talent.”
The designer said that the only photographs from the show one tends to see are of the showstopper. He said, “The history of your entire show is entirely dissolved within the given fame of the star. It takes away from the entire hard work of the designer. That 15-second-long walk of showstopper is all that is remembered about that show.”
“My advice to young designers try and avoid the showstopper syndrome, it is lethal and will kill your craft. It’s Catch 22, we do need sponsors, and with sponsors come the showstoppers,” Bal said.
Durazi narrated his own brush with showstoppers and brands.
“The concept started when Swiss watch group launched Omega with Shah Rukh Khan in India as ambassador with Rohit Bal in Delhi and Longines had Aishwarya for my show in Mumbai. And that was the first time that two of the big mainstream Bollywood stars walked the ramp and that’s when it started.
“I think they were signed as brand ambassadors and I wasn’t very happy about it. I didn’t know Aishwarya had signed up another brand. I was dissuading Longines from having her on the ramp and I found that she was a part of their entire campaign,” he said.
The designer asserted the only star on the ramp should be the designer and his craft, nothing else.
“I want to tell all the young designers that you don’t need a Bollywood star. And if you’re paying a star money to walk for you, use that money well to invest in infrastructure, skilled labour, raw materials, etc. You will get a moment’s fame with a star but will you able to sustain that?” he asked.
Durazi said a designer can always negotiate with the sponsors. “The sponsors have to respect the fact that they are having a fashion show to present a designer’s craft,” he added.
Abraham said media has an important role to play in helping the designers reach out to the masses.
“We, as designers, often talk about the process and creativity. But unfortunately, it’s not always picked up upon. We can’t really complain about the journalist per se as he/she is also entangled with an organisation and it depends on the aim of the organisation.
“A newspaper supplement will want colourful pictures of pretty people. They don’t want to talk about environmentalism, they want to have a star. It’s a much larger issue. Celebrities and fluff occupy the minds of the people,” he explained.
Singh recalled going in for Rajkummar Rao as his muse last year and said his sponsor had given him a lot of options to choose from out of which having the National Award-winning actor was the right fit.
“Rajkummar Rao as showstopper made sense to me. I use a lot of characters in my shows technicians, surgeons, karigars, tailors, watchmen. He was the only person I thought would fit into the character,” he said.
Another question that was begging to be asked was the absence of women veteran designers in the panel. Vasudev addressed the elephant in the room before beginning the session, saying the five designers were pioneers in one way or the other.
“In the ’90s, when India was trying to detangle itself from the grip of colonialism in fashion, they were the part of a small group of fashion designers who knocked down the door through which we walked quite beautifully Each of them stands for certain genre that has not been really scaled by the younger designers,” she said.
Asked why there were no women on the panel, the moderator said it was a matter of logistics, not malice.
“We asked Ritu Kumar to come here, but she wasn’t free. She didn’t even come for her own show. This was not consciously done. Also, all of them head a certain genre in their own way, so it was done without malice to genders,” Vasudev told PTI.