Fashion the new face of getting ahead

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 August, 2004, 12:00am

AFTER OLD DELHI'S spice market, the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, comes a different face of India.

As passing visitors to New Delhi, it was our first brush with contemporary India, where the young and fashionable congregate. At New Delhi's F-Bar - that's F for Fashion TV - pretty teenage models and pouting boys packed the place for the first of the monthly new face searches, instigated by the Elite Modelling Agency.

When Rohit Bal, arguably the country's most provocative dress designer, arrived, the girls began to edge in his direction, trying their best to catch the attention of those in charge.

In India, the media rules, and to be discovered takes you up the ladder. The fashion trade is one way to get there.

Since the early 1990s, Bal has been making ripples in the fashion industry. One of the best-known designers in India, as a teenager in Kashmir his first endeavour involved restyling of a pair of corduroy bell-bottom trousers with some fancy tassels.

Now the media love him, but there are fashion writers who are often not enamoured with his creative output.

'Indian men have no sense of fashion. However, teenagers are incredible with their dress sense. Guys in their 20s to 30s are appalling dressers or, if they can afford to, they are into the very expensive mainstream European brands,' Bal said.

He deplored the dress style influenced by the Bollywood film industry. 'They are loud, kitsch and disgusting,' he said.

India's fashion business has many similarities to Hong Kong. The government puts on the annual India Fashion Week and takes designers overseas. The shows are praised, but that does not necessarily translate into orders. Bal has his couture line and pret-a-porter range Balance, while this year his growing empire will launch a line of lingerie, perfume and accessories, including shoes and watches.

A large part of his couture business is directed at clients seeking attire for traditional Indian weddings, where entire clans are decked out to the nines for the big day. His Balance line, sold in shops in New Delhi and Mumbai, primarily targets younger men who dare to have fun and be adventurous.

Bal's designs are modern and sophisticated, combining motifs from traditional Indian and other Asian folk art through contemporary silhouettes. They often feature hand-painting and are embellished with buttons, seashells, mirrors, embroidery and tassels.

On the future of Indian fashion Bal said: 'There are almost too many young people trying to get into the [National Institute of Fashion Design] now. It is very difficult to have a place there. The many young designers are often not given proper attention.'

Fast-forward to the party at F-Bar, where it was approaching midnight. There was a broadcast about certain individuals being told they would be getting calls from the powers that be.

The crowd dissipated and the casting call announcement vaporised. Perhaps, none of the aspiring young wannabes were good enough.