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Devdas and Scrabble…

Its festive season, so we are taking the excuse to watch Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 2002 version of Devdas


…and comparing it to Dev-D, Anurag Kashyap’s 2009 version of the same story written in 1901 by Saratchandra Chatterjee


…and playing Scrabble in mix of English and Hindi

Looking back and forward: Inspiration India

Whilst archiving my work as luxury editor for an Indian business newspaper I came across this one that I wrote reviewing Chanel‘s Paris:Bombay collection shown in December 2011. The article had to of course be written in suitable “journalistic” style for the newspaper, but captures many themes incredibly pertinent for issues of how design creates dialogues and practices grounded in ideas of national identity and an “intrinsic” cultural aesthetic. The aesthetic economy of India fashion now overlaps with a global regime of value where international luxury brands take inspiration from India, but also hope to capture its lucrative and growing luxury market. Inspiration India indeed!

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Inspiration India

Karl Lagerfeld paid tribute to an ‘India that is an idea’

Much attention was attracted last week when Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel— the famous French design house – sent models down the catwalk in a collection named Paris-Bombay. The models were styled with elaborate tikkas cascading down their foreheads. This, said Lagerfeld, was a tribute to India. So far, so good.

He inevitably invited raised eyebrows, however, when he spoke of how inspiring he found India — where, he assured us, even poor women look good, even poor women have dignity, and even poor women will be adorned with three gold bangles. This invited rapid debate across sections of the international media, which tut-tutted at his faux pas of painting the poor as a source of fashion inspiration. But they should know better. Fashion designers of Lagerfeld’s magnitude are frequently on a different planet by default.

“India for me is an idea, I know nothing about the reality, so I have the poetic vision of something,” Lagerfeld declared. The designs shown as part of the Paris-Bombay collection were a rich expression of a coffee table book vision of India. This was a vision of imperial grandeur given a masala twist. For example, some of the models sported regal polki tikas woven into their hair, which was styled into matted locks reminiscent of wandering ascetics.

Particularly sumptuous were the jewellery pieces, which blended the signature Chanel necklace, its long chain and pearls with polki diamond pendants set in white gold. In fact, it was these pieces, coupled with the huge tikas, which most obviously signalled inspiration from India.

Other influences drawn from India in the collection were the silhouettes and drapes. Some worked and some didn’t. Some of the heavily beaded pieces on metallic drapes looked too much like over-wrought bridal wear that pervades the Indian designer market. A sherwani inspired dress suit, given a slim masculine edge, looked derivative rather than re-inventive. The use of a shocking pink on a woollen jacket seemed gaudy rather than vibrant. For someone used to the creativity of Indian designers who consistently draw upon India’s rich and diverse sartorial heritage, some of the Chanel pieces seemed a little uninspired by comparison.

Nevertheless, Lagerfeld did triumph in the way in which he made use of contrasts in unexpected materials. Rich silk sari-inspired drapery forming skirts over leather churidars were one notable feature. As was the play between a soft white mohair sweater and sharp-edged crystal beading on a full black skirt.

When the combination betw­een Indian inspired silhouettes and beading and the severe but opulent signature style of Chanel successfully came together, the large part of the collection touched upon something different. It signalled how the future of the rather tired notion of indo-western wear could be given fresh direction.

As Lagerfeld himself noted to the press afterwards, if there isn’t a modern touch, then it’s just a costume show. He also emphasised that Indian women — the kind that can buy Chanel — “always mix it with something from India, they don’t have to renounce their own style because they have a strong one, they can add something, but they always stay Indian.”

City Retreat- The Imperial Hotel, Janpath, Delhi


Reservation signs lined-up ready for eminent guests at The Imperial’s Spice Route restaurant.

A real retreat from the heat and noise of Delhi are its grand hotels. I love the Leela for its  opulence, the Oberoi for it’s hushed and gleaming black marble foyer and Hermes store inside, and the Taj Ambassador for the times I have spent cocooned in its apartment-sized suites soaking-up its charming 1940’s ambience or meeting friends for cocktails at its Art Deco bar straight out of a Scott Fitzgerald novel.

But I also have a special fondness for The Imperial on Janpath. From the moment I step inside there is a sense of entering another world, a story told by the walls covered with paintings and engravings steeped in the history of the Punjab. It’s linear Art Deco influenced architecture provides the backdrop to a succession of spaces, from  its iconic entrance path flanked by twenty-four palms planted when it first opened in 1945, the airy Atrium with its 1930s ambience to its lush green gardens and azure pool. Its wonderful French patisserie and range of restaurants also means its easy here to switch from a relaxed afternoon high tea to evening drinks at its 1911 bar.


One of the private suites in the spa at The Imperial

In the rooms there are always so many special touches, from the pretty silk dressing gowns to complimentary boxes of Forest Essentials toiletries, Porthault bed linen and lovely-light filled suites with huge marble bathrooms. The hotel has been undergoing some updating so when booking ask for one of it’s newly renovated rooms.

Eliza- grand heritage



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YSL to Saint Laurent Paris?

Burberry lost the s and Dior lost the Christian but the news that Yves Saint Laurent is unceremoniously dropping the first name of its eponymous founder does come as a bit of a surprise. Yet as the drive to rebrand old fashion houses into lucrative money spinning machines continues, a pared down brand name is considered part of the formula for success. The extent of the rebranding across product lines and difusion collections is unclear, and as yet, rather confusing.

The other twist in the YSL to Saint Laurent Paris story is of course that it comes as part of the appointment of Hedi Slimane. Its been reported in the fashion press as a bold gesture, aka the King is dead long live the King. But given the frequently short-lived relationship between designers and luxury fashion houses (popularly dubbed ‘designer musical chairs’) it’s also perhaps a smart move on the part of Slimane who knows that head honchos at luxury fashion conglomerates are rather quick to dismiss star designers who don’t quickly ramp up the bottom line. PPR’s compliance to Slimane’s terms that the name of the brand be changed, is not only a business strategy but surely something of an act of faith that PPR is in it for the long haul. changing those store fronts, packaging and media campaigns is costly business, and not something to be taken lightly. PPR must believe that Slimane can pull it off in order to hand over this kind of control.

Hedi Slimane has worked for YSL before, for five years from 1996 as  director of YSL’s men’s collections. It will be interesting to see the spin Slimane, known for his forceful reinvention of the classic men’s suit, will being to women’swear (not something he has previously been known for).

The alchemy between YSL and the newly minted Saint Laurent Paris might prove to be in Slimane’s own reinvention of the men’s suit into razor sharp, skinny cuts, coupled with the reinvention that Yves Saint Laurent brought to women’s fashion in the seventies.  Yves Saint Laurent’s masculine tailoring for his muses such as Catherine Deneuve and Bianca Jagger remain reference points for elegant, rebellious dressing. What Slimane will do in the context of the brand’s legacy but with his distinct creative vision will be interesting to watch, and clearly in the bold move of renaming the brand he has clear ideas about the direction he will take. Whether or not this risky move will pay off will be the subject of massive scrutiny as he unveils his first collection.

Red, White, Blue and a discount or two…

Jubilee madness appears to have hit Britain so this blog is bending to a little of the fervour with posts which cover important topics such as the Jubilee marketing strategy of UK fashion retailers plus Launer, the company who makes the Queen’s handbags, and what exactly is kept those handbags?

Whistles has 20% off a selection of dresses with the cheeky “One does love a discount”


In general UK fashion retailers seem to be offering themed discounts but in terms of graphics few with the glee of Matches have gone to town with photoshop with all the determination of the village committee of a country fair getting out the bunting, creating some fun patriotic-esque imagery in the process. Of course, being to do with the Queen, it references punk Sex Pistols imagery and has fun with pasting some seriously bling jewellery on the corgis.

Matches go to town with Jubilee fervour
Corgis do bling


It’s really great!

Selfridges have provided an edit worthy of the cheerfulness of a British seaside souvenir shop, but with luxury items such as Union Jack emblazoned Alexander McQueen clutches, Barbour Jackets and Launer handbags.

Reiss have tastefully made no reference or discounts in relation to the Jubilee- so they definitely wont be seen to be cashing in on their Royal association.

Jaeger has actually created a limited edition collection, based on an abstracted print of a Diamond which is really pretty and makes for an interesting play on the flower prints which have dominated collections the past couple of seasons

Jaeger takes the Diamond theme and runs with it

Abstract diamond print for Jaeger’s Ltd Editon Jubilee collection

Jaeger Diamond Jubilee Ltd ed scarf

…and where would the Jubilee collection be without a covetable headscarf?!

Burberry’s Art of the Trench shares the love in India

Celebs do street style

Burberry is styled as the quintessential British heritage brand, globally recognised and a phenomenal success in Asian markets such as Japan and China. It is also something of a phoenix, having risen from what many saw as the smouldering ashes of its appropriation by a British youth subculture in the nineties, and its latter association with WAGS. A recent article in The Economist claimed that none of this would have much cultural meaning for Asian consumers. I think that depends on how strong links are through networks of family in the UK or whether someone is a returned NRI from Britain, or how extensively someone might keep up with fashion history and the sartorial preferences of British soap stars. However, Burberry’s creative director Christopher Bailey has done such an incredible job of revamping Burberry from its checkered past (the Economist’s pun not mine), that that’s all besides the point anyway. What Burberry just excels at these days is reinventing the classic trench in a myriad of covetable ways, and doing inventive things with raffia and plaited leather. I still feel something like amazement when I look at the sophisticated mix of textures, beautiful materials and colours to be found in Burberry stores today.

The other thing that Burberry excels at these days is brand building through social media. In this vein, last Friday at the Oberoi hotel in Gurgaon, Burberry hosted a party as part of its ongoing Art of the Trench project. Large interactive screens allowed for party goers to like (as in Facebook) whilst sweeping hands (as in touch-phone mode), across the medley of individuals posing in a rainbow of Burberry trenches for Mumbai-based street fashion photographer Manou. The Hindustan times plug of the launch which included the line “street style Indian celeb images” perfectly captured the way in which Burberry has harnessed the do it yourself media aesthetic of street style photogrpahy to a celebrity fuelled advertising campaign.

It was all very fun, and through the haze of glam and champagne, there was prime celeb spotting opportunity in the form of the even-more-beautiful-in-real-life Neha Dhupia and the wonderfully pouty Jacqueline Fernandez, Dino Morea, Suneet Verma, Feroze Gujral who wore Burberry, and Subodh Gupta and a whole host of other famous people, sufficient to fill endless column inches on the page 3’s. The invite said curated by Christopher Bailey, although he wasn’t actually there, which was a little disappointing. However, Sanjay Kapoor, ED of Genesis Luxury who has the JV with Burberry India, was hosting the party, and looking the part to a tee in his Burberry Prorsum trench was the perfect host assuring his guests were replenished with copious quantities of champagne.

Sushma Reddy and Sanjay Kapoor

The idea of the Art of the Trench is grounded in personalization and experience two of the buzz words of today’s luxury industry.  It’s just one way in which Burberry has harnessed the interactive and community building propensities of new social media to promote its brand.

Having just opened its seventh store in India, Burberry is one of the most prominent luxury brands to expand across this as yet nascent market.

The Asia Pacific region represented 36% of Burberry’s market as a whole in 2011/12. China, of course, forms the bulk of that; but investing in underpenetrated markets is one of Burberry’s key long term strategies, and India is seen as a market with great untapped potential.

 At the Oberoi party Neha Dhupia wore a mustard green trench, which looked as though the cape had been customised with large crystal beads. This is an unusual style of embellishment for a Burberry trench, and sparkling beads are a familiar staple of many designers here. However, the trench is actually from a recent Burberry Prorsum collection. There’s the obvious point to be made that global brands are increasingly keen to woo ever-lucrative Asian markets, and the issue of customization, or limited edition products made especially for Indian consumers, has been one of the “hot topics” in debates on luxury in India. 

To what extent Burberry was influenced by the idea of targeting the Indian market in making the embellished trench worn by Dhupia, well it’s fun to speculate. In reality, what consumers of Burberry in India seem most attracted to is the aura of heritage surrounding its classic trenches as well as the status laden associations of its bags.

Burberry sees India as an “exciting market” and although  start up is costly in the near term (seven stores and counting), it confidently expects India to be one of the emerging markets which will contribute significantly to future profit growth.

Neha Dhupia in Burberry

Manish Arora- 1 in a million

Little attention has been paid to the reasons behind Manish Arora’s appointment as creative director of Paco Rabanne, a story that reveals, perhaps, the growing importance of India as a luxury market in its own right.

Manish Arora for Paco Rabanne SS/12

Indian by Manish Arora SS/12

 Almost a year ago Indian designer Manish Arora was appointed as creative director of Paco Rabanne. Where hitherto India has been internationally perceived as a sourcing hub for Western design, the appointment by a European luxury brand of an Indian designer attracted much attention, since this was considered a significant first. Little attention however, has been paid to the reasons behind this appointment, a story that reveals, perhaps, the growing importance of India as a luxury market in its own right.

 To recap, Paco Rabanne is the famous French design house, started by its eponymous Spanish designer in 1966. It produces a fragrance for men called 1 million, plus a version for women-Lady Million. The bottles these fragrances  come in, are simple statements of decadence, no added diamonds, crystals, elaborate stoppers or other such conspicuous markers. Instead, the packaging pays homage to the diverse and often difficult materials Rabanne became famous for using in his haute couture.

 Rabanne made dresses made of metal pieces joined together, uncompromising and visionary. His debut collection was called “12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials” and has become a reference point for a golden era of modernist haute couture which saw designers such as Rabanne and Pierre Cardin create futuristic uniforms from unusual materials for a fantasy sci fi future. The Paco Rabanne fragrance packaging represents a small slice of this materials-oriented design heritage with packaging that looks like a gold bar, the simple tactile smoothness of the hard, smooth surface, weighty shape making a statement all of its own.

 Along with solid packaging come solid financial results: Paco Rabanne is owned by Spanish luxury group Puig, which also includes brands such as Carolina Herrera and Nina Ricci in its brand portfolio. In 2011, Puig reported that its net revenues for 2010 were in excess of 1.2 Billion Euros. Operating profit had increased by 89%.

 Puig is especially well known for its ranges of fragrances and these are driving the enormous profitability of Puig. In 2010, Puig increased its market share to 7%, making it number seven within the global perfumery market. The phenomenal success of Paco Rabanne fragrances is significant to this growth pattern, especially its men’s fragrance 1 Million, which has remained in luxury fragrance bestseller lists since 2008. Lady Million is also a constant on best seller lists.

 And then into this mix comes Manish Arora, an Indian designer who has most successfully bridged the divide between the rarified nature of the catwalk and the hard commerce of branding.

 Arora has produced collaborations with brands such as Reebok, Swatch, Swarovski and Nespresso; these have given him wide exposure and provided the sponsorship necessary for the highly costly business of brand development and showing regularly at international events such as Paris Fashion week. He is especially known for his vivid reinterpretations of Indian craft skills such as embroidery and beading.

 In the business of fashion, creative genius needs to be matched with sound business sense, and Arora has the combination down to a tee. Despite his commercial successes, Arora has retained his reputation as a designer whose catwalk designs make forays into the more avant garde, experimental and challenging spectrum of haute couture. However, having made his name through hyperbolic representations of India in his couture, including a circus themed catwalk show in Paris, where monkeys swung off models with fun fair carousels forming skirts (Britney Spears later wore one of these creations for her “Circus”-themed tour), Arora has shown greater depth and a certain reserve in his most recent collections. In his own label Manish Arora Paris AW/11 collection (the first under his own name after having been appointed creative director of Paco Rabanne), his chromatic pop art sensibility was complimented by more sophisticated use of metallic leather, demonstrating the coming of age of a designer comfortable with the mastery of his craft.

Indian by Manish Arora AW/10

Indian by Manish Arora AW/11

It’s not surprising then, that Manish Arora, an Indian designer, should have been appointed by a famous French fashion house to design a prêt line. Firstly he is well known to Paris catwalks, having shown in Paris regularly since his debut there in 2007. Secondly, Manish Arora’s use of surface ornamentation in excessive and avant garde ways which create challenging silhouettes and textures has enormous continuity with the design heritage of Paco Rabanne whose design signature rests upon the use of unusual materials, which produced iconic products such as the L 69 chain-linked bag made from stainless steel pieces linked together, which retails for around R 80, 000.

L 69 Metallic chain link in "oil slick" finish

But lets cut to the chase. A luxury fashion brand without haute couture is in danger of losing its cachet (Paco Rabanne retired from the brand in 1999 in order to pursue other creative interests). Hence Puig has appointed Arora under the banner that this signifies the “rebirth” of the Paco Rabanne brand as a fashion label. Arora strikes the right balance between the artistic heights of haute couture and the ability to translate his esoteric creative vision into covetable ready to wear and accessories. Puig were unable to comment at this point in time, but speculation can be made as to the benefits to Puig of hiring a designer who is not only well-received on Paris catwalks, but who is also something of a national treasure on the Indian sub-continent. Here it can be noted that of Puig’s hefty net revenues, 75% come from International markets.

 If Arora is now a regular fixture at Paris fashion week, with his Indian line, its not unlikely that in time Manish Arora’s prêt line for Paco Rabanne might appear at Lakme or Wills fashion weeks, providing massive exposure for the Paco Rabanne brand in India. The potential for crossovers between French ateliers and Indian craft traditions is also an interesting one.

 One thing may be sure, these are turbulent economic times in Europe. Asian markets increasingly dominate the annual sales figures of luxury conglomerates. So, like a guruji leading his eager firangi disciples to Nirvana, Manish Arora is a one in a million designer who will no doubt help to sell more of a 1 million fragance line.

Sartorial reflection on London riots

Kevin Braddock (a contributing editor to GQ Magazine) provided a thoughtful sartorial angle on the looting and violence in London over the past few days in yesterday’s Guardian. His piece touches upon the multiple meanings of the hoodie’s role in creating masks and social identity amongst sub cultures, linking this to the hoodie’s demonisation in the public eye, and even in some cases its role in the institutionalised criminialisation of people.

Its not flip to talk about the sartorial choices of young people in relation to riots. What Braddock’s piece points to more broadly, are the ways in which clothing can act as criminal mask or urban shield for disenfranchised youth. The hoodie and its multiple meanings as discussed by Braddock, also points to the enormous role that particular kinds of clothing can play in everyday prejudice, helping to fuel divisions both intentional or more complexly rooted in the need to fit in- even if that means fitting into a stereotype. One thing is for sure, after this weeks shocking images which flooded the media the hoodie will continue to serve as a short hand for urban disenfranchisment  and public fear for a while to come.

“Feared, derided, misunderstood and still resolutely un-hugged, the utilitarian, hugely popular sportswear garment, the hoodie, has staged a comeback against a backdrop of pyromania and rioting. Worn by millions every day: a generation’s default wardrobe choice was transformed into an instant criminal cloak for London’s looting youth. It may be more newsworthy now, but the hoodie and the folk devil it represents have been with us for a long time”.