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Split wide open

As the fashion fraternity bickers once again in public, Anuj Kumartries to figure it out

Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Not all black and white The fashion brigade has reduced itself to a laughing stock

It is not just the government which is looking for numbers, the Fashion Design Council of India is also seeking support from the fashion fraternity to prevent another division in its ranks.

After months of bickering, allegations, counter allegations and unsubstantiated reports in a section of the media a picture is finally emerging and it doesn’t seem rosy. Sumeet Nair, the Executive Director of FDCI, who resigned amidst charges of misappropriation of funds and favouritism, which he calls as the creation of a ‘vocal minority’, is on course to form a parallel body and has already announced another fashion week whose dates clash with the FDCI-mandated Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in October.

“It is not an act of vengeance. Had it been we would not have scheduled it on the same dates. The idea is to give the buyers and designers more options at the same time. Internationally this is the trend. There is a big event and then there are side events. I have been associated with FDCI from its inception and won’t like to harm it. However, there were certain things which I could not do within the Council. I would like to implement them here.” It is not absolutely clear, but the “certain things” include emphasis on luxury brands, Bollywood presence and a focused approach. “The jury has short-listed 25-30 elite designers and it is not going to be Week–centric, we will work with them round the year. We want a balance between Bollywood and fashion.”

For now biggies like Ashish Soni (who resigned as the President of FDCI after Sumeet’s ouster), Rohit Bal, Tarun Tahiliani and Raghavendra Rathore have lent him support. None of them have given up their FDCI membership yet. Rathore hints at showing his creations at both the events. “One can show men’s wear at one event and women’s wear at the other.” Simple!

Mending fences

Meanwhile, to keep the herd together, FDCI has made board member Karuna Khaitan, who was leading the pack of Sumeet baiters, resign from the post. Voices of sanity like Payal Jain and Paras have also quit. The council has appointed a non-designer, merchandiser Sunil Sethi as the president, apparently to avoid ego clashes. The all-pervasive Director General Rathi Vinay Jha’s term gets over by the end of this month. And the buzz is Vinod Kaul, who has served as Executive Director in the past, will replace her. FDCI still has JJ Valaya, Manish Arora and Rajesh Pratap Singh to keep the media excited. “The last thing the industry needs is another division. There is some public accountability of designers as well,” says Jha.

Payal, who tried her best to keep the flock together, feels disgusted. “The industry is not big enough to require even two weeks. The world will laugh at us. Here designers get tired of creating collections for two seasons, how will they create for two events in one week?” She hopes Sethi will be able to bring some of the designers back to the fold because of his proximity to them. He is known to be flexible. Sethi, who runs a sourcing and buying agency and has represented elite designers and stores, echoes Payal’s sentiment. He is in touch with some disgruntled designers and has got positive feedback but refrained from naming them. “Many of them have written to me that they want to forget the past,” says Sethi. Carrot-dangling and arm-twisting are not just the monopoly of perversepoliticians, fashion fraternity is also adept at it. While Sumeet’s camp is offering a couture week in Mumbai to attract the trousseau kings and queens, sources say fence sitters like Rohit Gandhi, Rahul Khanna and Varun Bahl who appeared to be tilting towards Sumeet, have been reminded that they are in contract with Wills Lifestyle.

However, it might be too late. Over the years FDCI could not introduce non-designer industry people to the board. The body failed to realise that designers can’t be event managers. There are charges of autocratic behaviour on Sumeet but a 16-member board is also too big to arrive at a decision. The body couldn’t even make member designers show their season’s collection first at the Week. Last season, Shantanu and Nikhil showcased their collection two days before the Week at a Delhi hotel and then put the same collection at a stall in Pragati Maidan. FDCI doesn’t consider it as an unfair practice. It is not ready to see when 80-odd designers were sharing the media hype (one must remember that in a by-invitation event it is only the media which takes the designers’ work to public) under one roof, a designer duo was allowed to hog it without any competition. “We didn’t take note of this. But it is true that when there were designers who were not concerned with the day-to-day functioning of the Council, things went on smoothly. This time we have had members who questioned almost each and everything. This led to an impasse,” says Payal.

Amidst the fracas, Rathore manages his philosophical best. “This is the great manthan of Indian fashion. Let’s see what comes out of it.”

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