Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bandana Tewari, Voice of Modern India

Every city has those women who act as both intellectual heavyweights and style arbiters. In New York, there's Plum Sykes; São Paulo has Alexandra Farah; and in Los Angeles there's Lisa Eisner. India's equivalent is Bandana Tewari, a long-standing voice of fashion and style as a contributor to Elle and Marie Claire magazines, among other publications, and as an international social force to be reckoned with. As the recently appointed Fashion Features Editor of Vogue India, set to launch in September, we sought out Tewari's keen wisdom and insider vantage, and asked her to weigh in on the pulse of the new India.

JCR: There's much talk about a style revolution in India; when do you estimate a visible shift in Western influences having widespread impact on Indian style?

BT: The impact is very perceptible already. Indians have quickly learned to appropriate ethnicity in traditional clothes and wear designs that are Indian but have strong Western nuances that cross borders effortlessly. The hemlines of kurtas (typical Indian tunics) have gone up and are being worn increasingly with international designer jeans, saris have become sexy and draped in the manner of Grecian dresses, and dresses with empire-line and blouson silhouettes, amongst others, have also become quite popular. But here's the interesting part: instead of wearing them say as dresses, they are teamed with the traditional churidaar (Indian tights worn under the tunic), so it is not too big a jump for the fashion initiates to partake in global designs. It's also a telling tale of our times, even with urbanization and in a world consumed by Hilton-esque sensibilities, Indian consumers are still tied to a quaint sense of modesty that perhaps stems from their refusal to be completely internationalized.

JCR: Sum up modern Indian fashion tastes.

BT: Modern Indian fashion tastes are as varied as our curries! The hierarchy of consumers is baffling to say the least, given the sheer numbers of consumers in our socio-economic structure. Old moneyed consumers — very affluent, globe-trotting, and educated — are no less sophisticated than the affluent European consumers to whom taste is a matter of discretion. The nouveau riche will soon outnumber the former and are ostentatious, aspirational, and believe in one-upmanship of their neighbor for anything from the right recipe to the right bag. And then we have the middle-class, educated youth who are challenging old norms and readying themselves to become the kind of spenders their parents never were.

JCR: We made our picks of the worthy Indian designers, who are some of yours?

BT: Manish Arora for the pure cacophony of creativity, if I may say so! Behind all that color and drama are pieces that are ingeniously designed, using the best that this country can offer: impeccable craft, beautiful textiles, and popular Indian iconography that make his clothes a visual narrative of our times. Then there is Anamika Khanna, whose use of indigenous crafts is rendered so painstakingly in modern silhouettes that each garment has the touch-and-feel quality that any "evolved" consumer from any part of the world is ready to spend money on. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, with his intelligentsia-chic look, has brought back handicraft, archaic prints, and a witty take on the British Raj that continues to influence our day-to-day perceptions. There is Tarun Tahiliani, the designer who perennially upholds Indian classicism by giving us the best of Indo-Western fusion-wear. The Young Turks of Indian fashion like Gaurav Gupta, Aki Narula, Namrata Joshipura, and Varun Bahl all impress with their idiosyncratic understanding of what it is to be an Indian designer in a global arena.

JCR: Mega-wealth is not new to India, but with Forbes magazine naming more and more billionaires in the country, the logic goes that they will need outlets to spend their new money, is that enough to deem India a major emerging market?

BT: Absolutely. Here are just a few statistics that should convince the world that we are certainly emerging! There are some 600 malls under construction or under planning in India right now. Modern retail in India could be worth US$175-200 billion by 2016. At the moment, it is said only four percent is organized, so you can imagine the sheer potential! Last year Indians traveling overseas spent $7.5 billion, and per capita spending of Indians traveling overseas is growing by 28 percent every year. But whilst millionaires and billionaires will always have the option of traveling and shopping overseas, there is a huge population that is getting increasingly wealthy and want to shop in the comfort of their home country. The wedding industry, for which Indians are known to shop mindlessly, is worth $10 billion. And top that with this country's colossal youth population (55 percent of the population is under the age of 25) who are hungry to consume and you have one hell of an emerging market! Embedded within all these numbers however, is an unmistakable sense of Indian pride that wants this country to be no less a provider of all things new and beautiful as any other country in the world.

JCR: At the recent Hindustan Times luxury conference, major international brands aired their strategies for breaking into India, which luxury categories do you see taking hold early?

BT: In my opinion, without a doubt, accessories from the international labels will do best, as Indians still need to make that leap of faith into buying clothes that they are sometimes culturally uncomfortable wearing. But fragrances, timepieces, and luxury homewares (more Indians are buying bigger, better homes than ever before) are some obvious ones.

JCR: In addition to the products that these luxury purveyors can bring to India, how else can they impact the region?

BT: India has serviced the world for decades, whether by providing the best doctors or the best embroiderers. With the luxury labels now in our own domain, I hope they teach our indigenous fashion industry how to market itself better! We need to internationalize our operations, learn marketing savior faire, and access corporate funding in order to make the "made in India" label one to reckon with worldwide. By sheer proximity of these international luxury labels, I hope they will impact our fashion business skills!

This interview was conducted by Jason Campbell

Source: The JC Report

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