The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cover-up code

Two international stylists, 28 dos and don’ts, dozens of silicone bras and nipple tapes — tools that put paid to all those waiting for a peekaboo at the recently-concluded Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) in Mumbai.

With the moral police glued to the models’ contours for the first hint of a slip, the fashion week organisers had a tough task on their hands — of ensuring more than 25 shows went without a wardrobe malfunction.

And the LFW organisers did manage to do that quite successfully. All that oglers could catch was a fleeting glimpse of model Sucheta Sharma’s silicone bra as her dress shifted during designer Seema Khan’s show.

The rebel fashion week in Mumbai had created quite a stir — from ramp to Assembly House — during its debut edition in March-April, when the nation was riveted to recorded glimpses of model Carol Gracias’s halter blouse slipping off to reveal her breasts at designer Bennu Sehgall’s showing (picture by Pabitra Das).

The very next day, Gauhar Khan’s skirt zip gave way to reveal her bare bottom, at a Lascelles Symons show. Wardrobe malfunction had shown it all — well, almost — and became the password for fashion shows in India.

For weeks, images of Carol’s flash of flesh was everywhere — in print, on TV, on mobile phones and the Internet. So this time, LFW, drawing more curious eyeballs for the repeat of a malfunction drama than for the designer showings themselves, was determined not to let a slip spoil the show.

Behind the scenes

For a start, the two protagonists of last time’s malfunction — designer Bennu and model Carol — were nowhere to be seen.

The LFW advisory board then drew up a 28-point guideline for models, designers and choreographers. While the thrust of the rules was on stricter fittings schedules, it was also mandatory for all models to wear nipple tapes and bikini bras or silicone bras (as the outfit would demand) for every show.

“We were made to sign a contract that, among other rules, stated that we have to wear nipple tapes and proper undergarments at all shows, irrespective of whether the clothes were revealing, sheer or not,” reveals model Shonal Rawat.

The fittings sessions spread over four days preceding the fashion week were held under the strict supervision of stylists Philip Scurrah and Kelvin Harries, specially flown in from Australia to ensure international standards. “After the mishaps at the last fashion week, the LFW advisory board took into consideration the possible stages where things can go wrong. We found that the backstage proceedings are so rushed that it is not possible to impose any checks there. So the strictures needed to be implemented at the fittings sessions,” says Anil Chopra, vice-president, Lakme Lever.

The “strict sessions” required each garment to be checked by the stylists for finish and fasteners and two-three rounds of fittings. The model who would be sporting it at the show was made to walk in the outfit and this was photographed to rule out last-minute changes. “We had mini shows at every fittings session,” adds Chopra.

Everybody says it’s fine

No one’s complaining about the cover-up. Not about the stern pre-show rules, not against the on-ramp safety measures made mandatory here for the first time ever. For models the precautions ensured safeguards against nasty stares and frenzied fallout, while designers got away with minor slips (think Seema Khan’s show).

“The fashion week went off without any slips on the ramp because the organisers had ensured enough precautions,” says model Tupur Chatterjee. The silicone bras and nipple tapes were not uncomfortable, she stresses. “I would never walk the ramp in something I am not comfortable in. Whatever we were made to wear did not cause any discomfort. In fact, I felt more confident and comfortable with such measures that can help avoid embarrassing situations on the ramp.”

City girl Shonal echoes: “In the beginning it did feel a little awkward to wear stuff like nipple tapes, but then we got used to it. And when the girls realised that it was done to safeguard their interests, no one complained.”

The designer brigade, too, has welcomed the moves, measure for prudish measure. Says designer Narendra Kumar: “In India, we are not in the business of selling nipples and skin. The fashion week atmosphere was very clean; the stylists did a commendable job and none of the designers or models had any problems.”

Adds designer Payal Singhal: “Though the outfits in my collection had proper lining and hence didn’t demand nipple tapes, I would still welcome the move. Like in the case of Sucheta Sharma, a malfunction was averted just because of the undergarment. Also, silicone bras don’t affect the shape or structure of the outfits and hence there’s no reason why any designer should object to them.”

Officialspeak sums it up. “Many designers and models are saying that this should be a standard at all fashion shows across the country,” smiles Chopra, the Lakme man.

Dream global, act local

While our designers and models have readily agreed to the no-show diktat, are such tools common at international fashion weeks, too' No with a capital N. “I have never come across models using nipple tapes and silicone bras anywhere else in the world,” says Philip, who has been associated with fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan, Paris, Australia and New Zealand for over a decade now.

Says Shonal: “I have walked the ramp abroad and seen girls walking about wearing next to nothing. So, silicone bras and nipple tapes are out of the question there.”

So while India is taking giant strides in the world fashion arena, aren’t these orthodox measures a setback for the global image of our desi design industry' With our designers wowing the West and our models walking the international ramp, isn’t this a case of taking one step forward and three steps back'

The industry does not seem to think so. Reasons Philip: “The culture in India is very different from anywhere else in the world. On the international catwalk, it is not considered outrageous or embarrassing if a mistake or malfunction happens. But here people react very strongly. So, such measures are necessary here.”

Kelvin elaborates: “How much skin can be shown on the ramp differs from country to country. India being a conservative society, one has to be respectful of audience sensitivity. Hence we advised the girls to wear the required undergarments and they were very supportive. After all, they are more concerned about protecting themselves than anyone else.”

The contradiction of such a “audience sensitivity” in the land of Khajuraho and Kamasutra is, of course, quite another matter.

Shonal points out how, stripped of everything else, it boils down to the people and their perception of fashion. “Abroad, the audience sees a model as a mannequin for a garment; the model’s body is not important. But here, people ogle at a model’s body, often more than the garment.”

Calcutta call

Anyone sitting through a fashion show in Calcutta knows precisely what Shonal is talking about. At the recent Manish Malhotra show, his entire collection was overshadowed by the (s)excitement generated by the swimwear — that too through sheers — round, thanks to the army of salivating men.

But chances of Calcutta borrowing the Mumbai norms are remote. “Primarily because western wear shows in Calcutta are rare and then too designers make it a point not to show more than cleavage,” says event manager Sanchita Kushary Bose.

Adds city model Sanjukta Das: “No organiser or designer in Calcutta has asked me to wear a silicone bra or nipple tape. But I prefer wearing silicones, since a malfunction can happen anytime, anywhere.”

Maybe not, if the cover-up code stays in place.

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