Powder Room: The Untold Story of Indian Fashion by Shefalee Vasudev

Shefalee Vausdev is a well known editor and journalist and her book which tries to map the Indian fashion industry is well written and meticulously researched.

The human interest stories are compelling especially the one of Imcha Imachen, the Naga designer and his struggle with bi -polarity, Sheena Sachdev the ‘Darzi aunty’ in Delhi, the Ludhiana Ladies and their trunk shows, Nagma the young model who wants to be like her goddess Meher Jesia,the author’s chasing of the media shy weavers of the Patan Patola saree

Shefalee is in her element when she writes about their conflicts and their hopes.

But there is a note of mild moral censure that runs through the book. It is almost as if the author is actively seeking stories of exploitation, meltdown, drug and sexual abuse against which to context fashion.

Fashion we get a niggling feeling should not be a celebration, it is the big black hole that may swamp out traditional weaves and values.

Ravs, a young girl from a business family who veers towards Bandra Boho in her style, we are told prefers a Lanvin gown for her reception to a traditional Gharchoda or Patola saree and you can almost hear the author going “tsk tsk”.

But there is an interesting section on revivalism and the textile industry .

To her credit Vasudev does not spare herself when she admits that her own conflict between being a fashionista and a causista makes her paradoxically as she jokes,’a half virgin’.

This conflict runs throughout but her honest self appraisal is one of the most notable features of the book .

When it comes to real fashion- trends, construction, silhouette, retail, business, experimentation -Shefalee seems more in awe of the designers she meets rather than being able to comment and critique their work or set it in a larger global context.

The book for me is crying out for some hard facts and figures.

Consider this : The British fashion industry according to a report in The Guardian generates 21 billion GBP annually and accounts for more employment than the telecom, publishing,real estate and car industry put together.

That makes it a powerful industry that can negotiate for itself. So it is taken seriously.

It would have been interesting to examine the potential of the Indian fashion industry from this perspective as well.

If you don’t have this perspective the tendency is to look for stories that are sensational, to dismiss fashion as being the frivolous pursuit of the rich as the poor look on.

The minute you see an industry as a generator of jobs it gets much more respect.

I have a bit of problem problem with the cover : Why would you use a classic beauty shot ( close up of the face ) of a Caucasian model to talk of the Indian fashion industry?

Surely one of India’s talented fashion photographers or designers could have been asked to part with their stock.

The name ‘Powder Room’ does not suggest Fashion to me and the tangential reference to the powder room ..psst powder equals coke lines nudge nudge wink wink, is very nineties.

But that aside read the book and get a peek for yourself. I enjoyed reading it even though I err on the side of a Lady Dior bag and I do empathize with Ravs and her Lanvin gown.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Reading right now. Will have to come back and read this!

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