Behind the catwalk, the sweat and labour

Three veterans in the field, who may not walk the ramp holding hands with a showstopper, give an account of the painstaking behind-the-scene action.

WrittenBy:Harkirat Kaur
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For those who walk into a fashion week venue for the first time, the environment can be as intimidating as joining a new school. This can possibly be because of the snobbish indifference of people they walk past, almost as if one is invisible.


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As they absorb the unfamiliarity of the space and find a reason not to have a panic attack, their naivety and ignorance plays its own part. An offhand vibe that lurks around the premises is that you will be cut out if you are not seen minding your own business.

A fashion week in India, over the years in its history, has seen many kinds of visitors flooding the venue with their aura, be it fashion enthusiasts, bloggers, media and commentators, aspiring designers and models, rich ladies from the poshest areas of the country, prospective buyers and retailers.

Many are there only to get that perfect picture to post on social media and to watch the most sought-after show of the week. Then there are those for whom the five days are pure hard work. As perfectly described by fashion stylist Rishi Raj in his own words, “We are not glamour, we create glamour.”

To set the mood for the ongoing Amazon India Fashion Week, we put together insiders’ view on Indian fashion, mind-mapping insights from three veterans in the field, who may not walk down the ramp holding hands with a showstopper, but are equally painstakingly involved in the process of making a fashion show in India.

I always thought martial arts was the most modern choreography we could have right now, and I always wanted to put it to music – Lou Reed

With thorough confidence in her voice, the first on the list, Anu Ahuja, introduces herself as a model-turned-fashion-choreographer for the last 15 years with prior experience of 12 years in fashion modelling. “Back in 1989 when I was still studying in college, I ran into this photographer who insisted for a photo-shoot that bagged me the honour of being the ‘Raymond Girl’. Imagine being on huge billboards around the country,” says Anu, She has been living in Mumbai ever since she decided to visit the city to complete three months of modelling assignments that came her way post the Raymond stint.

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Anu Ahuja shows the models what the set will look like for Manish Malhotra’s finale show.

She describes the energy during a fashion week as a “tornado” with no time for boredom. “There are many facets to choreographing a show, from stage design to choosing the right talent and their movement. Each of these aspects helps us in our job, i.e. to translate a designer’s vision to reality,” she adds.

Her career graph has only gone upwards, with her instinct of moving to another profession after modelling which often offers only a short-lived career. The shift came with a certain change in approach, where she started hunting for work apart from modelling, that was eventually going to give her a line of work, a good new makeover. “I am hardworking and determined, and I have learnt to not take it easy. The rewarding feeling after a successful show is worth all the struggle.”

We asked Anu how fashion adds to the society at large, and she recounts an analogy that her dear friend, Bandana Tiwari (fashion director of Vogue India) told her. That goes like – observe any street in the world today and compare it with its possible version 20 years later. The general learning is the unchanged architecture of the buildings, the street lights, even cars but then see people’s clothes. That is her answer to our question.

Styling becomes a scaffolding of fashion, it’s making things much more interesting than they really are – Lidewij Edelkoort

One of the key responsibilities in the making of a fashion show is that of a stylist. As Rishi Raj likes to put it, “A stylist’s job is like that of a midwife who takes care of the baby once he/she is born”: a garment collection in this case. A fashion designer may have created the collection, but it takes a stylist to put together a complete look for an actual person to wear it. Raj has a degree in psychology; he went to NIFT, only to drop out within a semester to actually start working and learn on the job.

His vision for fashion in general is an uncommon one, i.e. of bringing it (fashion) closer to people, something he tries doing when he is styling real people off the ramp. “I prefer compiling a look that is true to my client’s personality. Clothing can truly boost one’s morale, so if my client wants to look a certain way, I work on it as per my understanding of what will work better.”

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Rishi Raj poses for the camera.

From a visual narrative, to the concept note of a show, it is a long list of things that needs to be taken care of by a stylist. “It takes a master of all traits to get it right,” adds Raj. Neeta Lulla, Anand Bhushan and Gauri & Nainika are a few designers that Rishi finds a delight to work with, for the sheer ease of communication that takes place with them.

He deplores the fact that fashion is taken at face value, a shallow view. “I am not the socialite kind, you would not see me at every party,” says Rishi about his commitment to work, as someone whose job is about “making” fashion than engaging with the glamour part of it.

“Fashion is about preferences; it is like wanting to have a cupcake of a particular flavour. It is these little things that make us happy. Fashion makes us happy!” says Rishi when asked how fashion adds to the larger picture. He also thinks that fashion has been an enormous industry in the country that is able to give employment to a large number of people, something that cannot be overlooked.

Apart from his established image consultation, Rishi is an involved educator where he has headed the styling department of Pearl Academy in the past, other than being a guest lecturer at various Indian institutes like Delhi’s Hindu College, the IITs or the Indian School of Business. There he trains students with image-building, dressing right for interviews and proper conduct.

Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake – Richard Sennett

Mohammad Irshad Idrishee, who is also known as Irshad Master by many of his colleagues, is the creator of a range of elaborate couture ensembles one has seen at shows by designers like Amit Aggarwal, Gaurav Gupta and Samant Chauhan. With these designers comes a technical adeptness in the make and fall of their designs that are handcrafted to fit a woman’s body flawlessly.

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Irshad develops a new pattern.

He started his career as a tailor, and evolved due to his natural willingness to take on tougher roles in garment construction. “I was fascinated by the idea of developing a flat pattern, to eventually fit a complex human body,” says Irshad on his love for his work. “It is fulfilling to see your work on the ramp after having worked tirelessly on it for months,” he adds.

He tells us about how he sees fashion changing in India. “Women nowadays are willing to wear complex couture outfits, especially the ones that accentuate their figure, which wasn’t the case earlier. We used to make dresses close to traditional attire but now there are no rules. In such cases, pattern development becomes an important aspect other than the fabric or the embroidery in an outfit.”

We asked Irshad if he sees his young kids working in the same industry in the future, to which he point outs the status of being “unskilled labour” for a craftsman which he doesn’t want the next generation in his family to deal with. “I would prefer a respectable job that may not pay a lot, but it is obviously their call to make.”

This story was first published in the Patriot.


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