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Fashion mishaps and the media

In LIFW this year, clothes kept falling off, tearing, slipping - and the media had a field day.

April 3, 2006

During the Lakme Indian Fashion Week 2006, it seemed it was all about wardrobe malfunctions. Neither the media nor the readers/viewers cared much about the clothes - the masala was in who lost what clothes. And the fashion industry insiders, choreographers, society columnists all insisted that such occasional mishaps do occur, and that it was part of ramp shows. The insiders looked at media's treatment of the incidents with contempt, while media splashed frame by frame photographs of the mishaps all the while commenting on the grace and confidence of the models involved.

So what was it all about really? Did the media behave in an insensitive manner, or did publicity hungry designers and organisers get what they bargained for? Are the models to blame?

Media coverage of wardrobe malfunctions

TV channels showed blurred clips again and again of Carol Gracias losing her top and exposing her breasts and covering up in a hurry, and except for a moment's wince, was poise personified. DNA After Hours printed frame by frame shots with a black patch over the offending boobs, while making sure that a bit of the breast was left clearly visible. Prurience and titillation went hand in hand. Television channels showed it again and again, but while the English channels tried to sound casual and cool, the Hindi media assumed a slightly admonishing tone. But offended or whatever, they all showed the clippings again and again. And within 24 hours, short uncensored clips of the malfunction were available as MMSs and videos on the Web, the angles making it perfectly clear that they originated with the men with the video cameras covering the show.

So on the one hand, media exploits the titillation, tries to look cool and casual about it, and commends the models and explains to the reader that it is all normal. While mediamen send unedited uncensored versions of the clips to friends and websites. Talking about having your cake, eating your cake, and crapping at the same time!

Has the media been sensitive? Isn't it being exploitative to the models to display the pictures the way they did? Come on. Media is only sensitive when it thinks that it may be trying to bite more than it can chew. Fear is what it cares about, not sensitivity. Let's be very clear on this and hope that this question will never be asked again. Media has nothing to do with sensitivity.

Now, we come to the other interested parties in this - the models and the designers and Shobhaa De and other columnists.

Shobhaa de's column in Mumbai Mirror is a perfect example of what happens to someone who straddles two different cultures. On the one hand, she is offended by the exploitation - typical middle class sensibilities, and on the other, she thinks wardrobe malfunctions are normal and we should look at the fashion business, and not such silliness.

The models

First, the models. "The models have emerged from the mess smelling of roses. But the journalists? ... ghatiya," says Shobhaa De.

Where / What? How? Who gave them the roses? That the models did not show much more than a wince on their faces - that makes them smell of roses? That makes them barely being able to hang on to their dignity, best case. 

"...who was merely trying to hang on to her gown and dignity." Right. Trying to hang on to one's dignity and covering up exposed breasts is normal? If what happens in everyday lives is what is normal, it is not. People do not lose their clothes suddenly in everyday life. Models represent a very small percentage of the women in India - so what happens to an even more minuscule minority of them is not normal. If a regular guy or girl on the street suddenly loses their tops, they will cover up too - and not squealing like a rat doesn't make a model any more smelling of roses. 

"Media should applaud her grace under pressure..."

Why? Losing clothes in a public place, and managing not to run wildly squealing, may elicit a snicker. Good for you. The media doesn't, and its audience doesn't usually lose parts of their clothing in everyday work, and they can hardly be expected to understand the beautiful naked people's idea of what should be applauded and what shouldn't be. Anyway, why should one applaud people who have, out of their own free will, have chosen a profession where they are rendered naked most of the time? Their choice. They have to take the good and the bad. 'Normal' people do not choose professions where their job description is to wear revealing clothes. 'Normal' people do not have assistants and make-up artists powdering your butt crack or underarms. The glamour, money are the positives of modelling - occasionally losing clothes in public is an occupational hazard. Media displaying your embarrassing moments is an occupational hazard. Learn to live with it, or come back on the ramp in another 15 years when the country and audience is immune to it.

Going by what we read in the media about the reaction of the choreographers, designers and models, the wardrobe malfunctions are entirely normal and 'it happens'. It is also very 'embarassing'. Something cannot be entirely normal and embarrassing at the same time, unless one is talking quantum physics. So what is it? There are no answers. We are dealing with a new phenomenon, and there will be immaturity till the Indian audience and media get used to what fashion, ramp shows and modelling truly are. Till they become everyday professions, and till India gets comfortable with nudity in fashion. Model and actress tania Zaetta asked a pertinent question, "Abroad, TV shows are made by stitching together such mishaps, what is the big deal?" Truly. Media, whats the big deal in showing it again and again? Models and designers, what is the big deal if the media shows it again and again?

Just in case many of us are not clear on exactly what goes on in the world of fashion let us explain. It is serious business. Of selling bodies and beauty. Of clothes and art. Nudity is part and parcel of it. There is no ramp show without nudity, there is no changing room without nudity. Whether you want it or not, your daughters are someday going to be models, and going to be comfortable with semi-nudity and nudity today or tomorrow. People, accept it and move on.

What is a fashion week for?

In essence, it is a matter between the buyer (the designer boutiques or nternational buyers) and the designers. The general public, or the media, truly has nothing to do with it. It is business. However, the media is invited, who in turn creates the hype, and gets the average guy and girl on the street interested. Because, it is not just business, but an opportunity for publicity too. Everyone concerned know it. The Page 3 types, the designers, the models - everyone wants the media to be there, and the media wants to be there too. But the agendas of everyone hardly match.

What is the media doing at a Fashion Week?

They are invited. Or, at least, they are tolerated for the good PR and photos. The media is there for a different reason though. It is a two-edged monster, and if it can get a few extra copies sold by splashing if a few titillating pictures across its pages, it will do it. Same for TV. Accept it, fashionistas. Film stars have long seen this, and found ways around it. If you don't want them, or think that they are behaving cheaply - throw them out. If you dare. The media knows you won't - you crave the good publicity, and will take the bad with a grimace.

What happens at a Fashion Week is of no great news value - but fashion is glamorous, it offers a lot of beautiful people assembled in one spot, and there will be the occasional malfunction. As people who belong to a different social class and catering to yet another class, (both less sophisticated, by the criteria of the fashion professionals) it is essentially doing a peephole, voyeur job. Sometimes it gets more than a normal morsel, and it goes bonkers. So?

Fashion was a world where only an elite used to the demands of the profession were present. Now, that world demands publicity, and there is a media which will provide it - and occasionally more than that. The fashion fraternity will get used, contemptuously, to the low-brow behaviour of the media and journalists. The journalists, slowly, will get used to the beautiful people and their lives. The Indian audience of TV channels and newspapers - as their own children take to fashion and the ramp and face an occasional malfunction, shall get less and less titillated by the over-the-top coverage, leading to less of such coverage in mainstream media and more of such in fashion channels on TV. And we shall all be happy and naked. Take what is going on now as a living history lesson, and you will have a lot of fun, I promise.


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