Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Have we Become?

I have chosen to create a set of 12 photographs that represent the womenswear collection from the Indian brand Label by Ritu Kumar. The brand is a diffusion line targeted at the 18-25 year old Western woman. The brand has a bright and light aesthetic. The dresses combine traditional Indian prints and tessellating patterns with revealing cuts and sheer fabrics. This unification of cultural identities led me to choosing the theme 'remix/re-imagine' to create 12 photographs.

The photographs are three sets of four photographs, with each set expressing the overcoming of a culture clashing emotion. The sets of photographs show the awkward culture combination that many young British Indian women have today; they feel they must try to embrace the cultural identity associated with being of Indian heritage. The story in each set of photographs all express a defiance or overcoming of a controlled emotion. The final photograph in each set particularly captures this feeling through the action of throwing away the floral broach, blowing out the candle and eating the apple.






Initially, I researched the various pathways of ‘remix/re-imagine’ such as juxtaposition and the idea of developing a short story through each set of photographs.

Whilst researching Indian social culture, I found that it is extremely taboo to steer away from representing the Hindu religion and way of life as it has been through history. There is an emphasis on idol worship and offerings of exotic fruits and flowers to the Gods. I explored the theme of fruits through my final set of photographs, where I used them to symbolise greed. The woman is surrounded by all the worldly desires expressed by the fruit. Religion teaches her to detach herself from these desires. However, by the final picture, she has defied this belief and taken a bite from the forbidden fruit.





More importantly however, the use of colour and print during various religious ceremonies, festivals and rites of passage led me to progress by deciding to take this soft, feminine brand into a harsh, sharp environment. Through this juxtaposition, I aim to invoke a feeling in the photographs of 'What have we become?' - a reflection of the changes in social identity through the eyes of a British Indian and ultimately, question whether brands like Label by Ritu Kumar will become the only way of keeping a tradition in the Western World.

I chose to explore sharpness and death in my research. Indian funerals are traditionally vibrant and bright, masking the overwhelming sadness of the event itself. This led to the exploration of veiling and unveiling as a sub theme. I have cropped photographs and layered the print of the dresses to capture this emotion. I aimed to convey the masking of emotions at funerals in the first set of photographs, where we see the woman veiled and finally throwing away her broach.

Indian prints in fashion are inspired by traditional architecture, flora and fauna. Tessellations and the use of symmetry are an integral part of the Indian style. My research shows the experimentation with zoom techniques when photographing the garment and the symmetric floral patterns from the temple carvings. As the prints on the dresses were traditional Indian prints, I chose to explore the idea of close up photography.






The viewer feels like they are in the darkness missing out on the traditional and vibrant light of the Indian cultures. To capture this mood in the photographs, I have emulated the techniques used by Nan Goldin when she took pictures of her subjects in intimate positions, making the viewer feel like they were looking into a personal, powerful moment. The similar techniques used by Lucian Perkins create a new frame to his work, making the viewer question whether or not there is growth beyond the frame.

Another technique used to represent Label by Ritu Kumar is over exposure in the photographs. The overexposed shots make the viewer feel like they were taken on a very hot day, thus emulating the climate in India. The overexposure picks up the brightest colours and prints and layers them with the harsh 'sunlight', thus juxtaposing as well as complementing the roots of the brand. I have also researched using colour filters and similar techniques learnt from studying the work of Ryan McGinley. I have used filters to add another dimension to the photographs, thus reflected the theme.

I created these photographs as part of a project at LCF. I also received a little mention by Amelia's Magazine about my work. You can read more about the exhibition and fashion show here! Let me know what you think too.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

“Fashion provides one of the most ready means through which individuals can make expressive visual statements about their identities.” Bennett, A. (2005). Culture and Everyday Life. London: Sage p. 96.

Fashion enables people from a variety of backgrounds to express their culture through the way they dress. When migrating to a new country, fashion acts as a way to protect and maintain one’s cultural identity. As many people travel from one country to another, they gain access to information about the world beyond their home communities, places that are often seen from the outside as ethnic communities (Appadurai 1991). This essay aims to discuss the extent of the influences of ethnic Indian womenswear on British Indian women, and also how far it has acted as a representation of their cultural identity. Ethnic dress is best understood as those items, ensembles and modifications of the body that capture the past of the members of a group, the items of tradition that are worn and displayed to signify cultural heritage (Shils 1981). Thus, ethnic Indian womenswear refers to iconic items worn by Indian women such as saris. This essay will use the term ‘British Indian’ to describe those women who immigrated to the United Kingdom that have an Indian heritage, as well as the generations that followed who remained within the country. The essay will begin with a focus on the Indian flow of migration from East Africa. This essay will highlight three key influences that have had peaks and troughs in recent history: the climate, the working woman and the wearing of ethnic Indian womenswear for religious and cultural rites of passage.


Nevertheless, before these influences came into practices, a number of historical experiences existed that must be analysed and understood. During the nineteenth century, a vast number of Indians from Gujarat and the Punjab regions of northern India settled in the British colonies of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in East Africa. They had prospered there, and came to form the administrative and entrepreneurial middle class between the local Africans and the British ruling class. The Indian settlers were forced out of East Africa in the 1960s because of post-colonial Africanisation policies, (Bachu 1985) particularly in Uganda where the regime of Idi Amin discriminated against and expropriated Indian assets. The Indian migration flow to the UK was greatly increased by the migration of East African Asians after Idi Amin’s expulsion of the community in 1972, (Twaddle 1990). These instances were much less prevalent in Kenya and Tanzania, where the Indian diaspora continues to be a prominent part of the economy.

World fashion is ordinary dress or cosmopolitan fashion. (J.B. Eicher 1995). This includes basic outerwear such as trench coats and duffle coats, both of which have been staple items in the average ‘Western’ woman’s wardrobe. A key influence in the change of dress was the climate difference. Women of East Africa did not generally own or wear outerwear garments. The colder climate in Britain however meant that it was necessary to reform this idea. Therefore, on arrival to Britain, women began to purchase world fashion, thus making minor adjustments to their wardrobes for a purely functional purpose. In the present day, the elder generations of British Asian women chose to wear saris under their outerwear layers as Fig. 1 below shows. This personal photograph was taken in March 2012 of Sulochana Patel on a visit to Brighton; a woman who migrated from Kenya to the United Kingdom in the 1970s.

Fig. 1. My grandmother wears a traditional sari underneath her black cardigan.

The wearing of Western dress was associated with a society moving from a state of “primitivism” to one of “civilisation” (Darwin 1872; Dunlap 1928). With the wearing of world fashion being affiliated with urban living and the City working culture, British Indian women entered the world of professional work. Women started purchasing ‘Western’ formalwear and tailoring for the strict dress codes in the office environment. Figure 1 shows Sangita Myska in her work environment as a news presenter. The photograph shows her in western formalwear. It is assumed that Myska has been through ‘styling and wardrobe’ in order to present herself in this manner for broadcast journalism. However, it is unclear just from the photograph whether she is content with her choice of clothing.

Fig. 2 Sangita Myska

The generations of British born and educated women had an aspirational desire to be as ‘Western’ as possible, in line with history dictating the success of the prospering Western World. As a result, British Indian women of this new generation desired to have a complete disassociation with their ethnic culture and background. Traditional ethnic Indian womenswear almost disappeared in this working generation, along with other cultural identities such as vegetarianism, religions of India, (Hinduism and Sikhism), and abstinence. Ultimately, this showed how British Indian women attempted to maintain their traditional identity, whilst trying to conform to and adopt newer ones.

At present, the younger generations of British Asian women wear traditional Indian womenswear solely for special occasions and religious festivals in temples and gurudwaras. Marriage is central to the values of these societies, and still broadly arranged rather than individually contracted (Peach 2006). As a result, many Indian designer brands have begun to prosper on the relatively wealthy British Asian customer. An example of a designer that has thrived on this market is Manish Malhotra.
Fig 3. Manish Malhotra at Indian Couture Week 2009

The designer originally had a background in costume design; however he has successfully launched and produced collections under his independent namesake label Manish Malhotra. The brand is one of the few from India that have showcased during London Fashion Week, thus generating much interest in the United Kingdom since then.

A vast majority of the Indian designers have developed their brands to include a separate of collection of fusionwear – clothing that the new generation of women can wear which still maintain their traditional roots. An example of a brand that has developed in this way is Ritu Kumar.


Fig. 4. Label by Ritu Kumar Advertising Campaign.

I've written about Ritu Kumar before, click here to find out more about the brand. In 2002, the design house took the step of introducing LABEL by Ritu Kumar, a fashion forward sub brand, whilst still being faithful to Ritu Kumar. The LABEL by Ritu Kumar collection uses traditional Indian prints and dying methods on ‘Western’, revealing cuts on dresses and separates.

Having analysed and evaluated various factors, we can see that the emphasis on the above influences of ethnic Indian womenswear were interchangeable through time. Depending on various factors, such as the weather, individuals are malleable in that their fashion is transformed to reflect the implications of these factors. Some changes have been merely due to functionality, others for shifting cultural identity.

It is possible that the future generations will return to embrace their traditions, although, as this essay has demonstrated, a number of factors, both predictable and unforeseeable may hinder this.

However, it is just as likely that these generations will view ethnic Indian womenswear as just another short cycle trend. A growing emergence of designers influenced by ethnic Indian womenswear, e.g. Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel Pre-Fall 2012, can be seen as fuelling the latter theory. The designer used traditional Indian menswear in his womenswear collection for inspiration as well as accessorising the models with religiously inspired jewellery.

Fig. 4. Chanel Pre-Fall 2012


Bibliography

1. Appadurai, A. (1991), “Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for Transnational Anthropology,” in R. Fox (ed.), Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, Santa Fe.

2. Bachu, P. (1985) Twice Migrants: East African Sikh Settlers in Britain. London: Tavistock Publishers.

3. Darwin, G. (1872) Development in Dress Macmillan’s Magazine, Vol. 26, pp. 410-16.

4. Dunlap, K. (1928), “The Development and Function of Clothing,” Journal of General Psychology, Vol. 1, pp. 64-78.

5. J.B. Eicher, B.Sumberg (1995) “World Fashion, Ethnic and National Dress” in J.B. Eicher (ed). Dress and Ethnicity, Oxford, Berg pp 295-306.

6. Peach, C. 'South Asian migration and settlement in Great Britain, 1951 - 2001, Contemporary South Asia, (normal) Vol. 15, No. 2, 2006, p. 133 - 146

7. Shils, E. (1981), Tradition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

8. Twaddle, M. (1996) ‘East African Asians through a hundred years’, in Colin Clarke, Ceri Peach and Steven Vertovec (eds), South Asians Overseas: Migration and Ethnicity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,), p. 54.

9. Manish Malhotra, Indian Couture Week 2009 - http://www.fashionfad.in/fashion/designerDirectory/content/designer.aspx?designerSlno=15&fashionShowSlno=10

10. Ritu Kumar, Advertising Campaign – http://www.ritukumar.com

11. Sangita Myska, Asians In Media Magazine - http://www.asiansinmedia.org/news/article.php/music/700

12. Chanel Pre-Fall 2012, The Wall Street Journal - http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2011/12/07/lagerfelds-india-inspired-looks-for-chanel/

Sunday, March 4, 2012

OMG I love your fur. Is it real?

The great fur debate in the fashion industry has caused controversy and news headlines for decades. More recently, Victor and Rolf portrayed a full on fur based collection for their FW12 collection at Paris Fashion Week. Pictures and video footage caused outrage from animal rights activists. A personal experience on my Twitter account encouraged me to write this post.



Designers have spoken about their choice of fur over faux. Their opinions on the subject are no longer a secret. Karl Lagerfeld famously made his views known in a statement to The Telegraph:
"In a meat-eating world, wearing leather for shoes and clothes and even handbags, the discussion of fur is childish."
The Chanel designer went on to say that the fur industry creates jobs for skilled hunters, who would otherwise have no livlihoods.

According to the British Fur Trade Association, fur is used on the catwalk because of its "beauty, softness and glamour." The appeal for fashion designers stems from the lightness and unique movement of the fur. Fur is a natural and sustainable product unlike many of the faux furs, which use non-renewable products.

Fur farming is a controversial industry, with much of the fur on the catwalk coming from unethical farms that are not monitored by law. These inhumane ways of production are the examples animal rights activists use to bring their case to the forefront.

Faux fur has become widely available and many deisgners use the fabric to embrace the texture and character of the animal, sometimes even selling at 'real fur prices'. The majority of us would not be able to tell the difference between a real and faux fur coat. The fur trend has trickled down to the UK high street last winter and is set to stay for the next. The high street furs are all faux, but they still look, feel and move effortlessly like the real thing.

Celebrities who wear fur are heavily criticised when they wear real fur, prompting them to make public apologies in order to recapture their positive image. PETA's 'I'd rather go naked than wear fur' campaign was by far the most prominent campaign drive. High profile celebrities such as Olivia Munn and Eva Mendes have posed naked for the cause.

We at TFW embrace the fur trend. We love the textures, shapes and movement fur adds to a look. However, the use of real fur can be unnecessary and easily switched to faux with no one noticing the difference – the textures, shapes and movement rules still apply!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Love Me. Try Me. Spend On Me.

Whether high end or high street, designers work tirelessly to create something unique and true to their brand. You see a girl in the street with a great pair of heels, so you start hunting for a pair of your own. Keira Knightley is pictured wearing a Mary Katrantzou dress on Vogue.com, so you Google the designer. Media, celebrity, peer pressure and trends are all major contributing factors to our taste and ultimately our purchases. But, there are other forces at work too, one of which is the display in stores.

The most successful brands are firmly in tune with the human psychology of buying and training is provided to staff to ensure the products are captivating. Ted Baker is an English high end high street brand that embraces creativity in their visual displays. The brand has grown from humble roots to a worldwide success story, owing much of the prosperity to embracing the individuality of Ted Baker.


We all know that a creative window attracts customers. Visual merchandisers do their best to design windows that will make walking into a store irresistible. Therefore, the exterior needs to be immediately attractive to your core audience. In general, a simple and striking display is more attractive than one which is busy and cluttered. Displays are changed at least every season, in line with new collections available in store. These seasonal changes ensure that we look at the refreshed display and walk in, instead of walking past and into the store next door. Ted Baker always aim to ensure that no two store windows look alike, with their in store merchandisers making their own personal mark.

Once a customer walks into a store, the priority is to make sure he/she will enjoy their shopping experience. New customers need to feel like they can tell 5 friends about shopping at Ted Baker. The positioning of till points and passageways need to correlate. The customer should be able to pick up a pair of jeans and head straight to the cashier without feeling lost. The stock per square metre is carefully analysed by the merchandising team, ensuring the customer is able to see everything clearly and is offered as much of the range as possible. Items are often placed in prominent places of the store that invite the customer to touch and feel the product. Ted Baker always stock one of each size of the garment, so that the piece is accessible to try on or buy immediately. The rails contain hooks on each end with a garment that represents the story.


In store lighting is surprisingly influential in the purchasing decisions of customers. Brightly lit stores that use focal points on key pieces or displays are more inviting. Womenswear and menswear collections are often displayed with different lighting tones. Lighting is also changed seasonally to make the customer feel at ease. It is common for shops to have cosy, soft lighting in the winter and cool, icy lighting in the summer. Spotlights on key collections and displays attract buyers, helping them understand the brand direction. Ted Baker often purchase light fixtures which are works of art themselves. This quirky touch makes the customer feel like they are in a different world; in the mindset of Ted Baker.

The choice of music in store is very important. The song choices must appeal to the target audience. Popular songs make the customer feel like they belong with the brand. Classical music in a store such as Ted Baker would make a customer feel nervous and out of place. Appealing to taste can also be a useful strategy. During the Christmas period, Ted Baker offer drinks and snacks to customers free of charge. This makes the customer spend more time browsing whilst they finish their treats. Additionally, the customer feels obligated to buy something as a way of saying 'thank you' for the free food!


Overall, I think Ted Baker are a very strong example of innovation and individuality in store displays. It is sometimes said that the brand is too creative or 'arty' when it comes to window display, thus alienating the majority of the public. Personally, this creativity is what attracts me in the first place. I have found myself looking at every display of every Ted Baker store that I see. Their strong colour scheme and quirkiness sets them apart, and this is especially visible in department stores.

Images taken from www.globe-nomad.com, www.tedbakerblog.com

Monday, November 28, 2011

God Save the Queen

There is a growing realisation by the present UK government as well as open-minded economists that Britain will have to encourage all types of manufacturing if the country is to sustain its standard of living. Despite all previous governments’ lack of interest in the fashion industry, some of the largest British brands are ready to support the UK economy. Head of Brand Development at John Lewis, Christine Kasoulis, has put it simply to the public that ‘businesses should be doing more to support UK manufacturing.’ But it’s not just the established fashion firms setting the example; small fashion businesses are also doing their part in embracing the nation’s patriotism.

One of this year's ‘it’ brands is The Cambridge Satchel Company, currently infamous for their school style satchels.The firm was founded in 2008 by Julie Deane and her daughter Freda Thomas. The pair were motivated by the retro style uniform bags featured in the Harry Potter film series.


The Cambridge Satchels came from humble roots, starting with a mere £600 producing handmade signature leather satchels. This particular example represents the rags to riches story of a fashion company with just a vision. Nether Julie Deane nor Freda Thomas have had any previous design experience, yet this year The Cambridge Satchel Company made £2.2 million in profit with an uplifting £10-15million projected profit for next year. The designers have proven to have a sharp understanding of the industry, making The Cambridge Satchels available in a wide range of colours in over 36 countries worldwide already. The desire for global growth has made the company rapidly successful.

Introducing new collections to an established brand can be difficult. At times loyal customers, who think they understand the direction of the brand, become hesitant when a designer releases a new group. The Cambridge Satchel Company shall release the much awaited collection of clutch bags in 2012. Deane and Thomas have embraced the popularity of their simplistic, vintage style satchels and translated this into their clutch collection. By keeping the key characteristics of The Cambridge Satchels, the clutch bags are sure to create a waiting list in no time.

Having a celebrity carrying a designer handbag has been proven to increase sales on almost every occasion. In the recent decade, the use of celebrities in fashion campaigns has increased dramatically. Celebrities endorse a brand; take as much or as little involvement as they wish in the company, and thus drive the awareness and sales of the handbag. Celebrity clientele, (notably Elle Fanning and Brad Goreski), have driven widespread interest in The Cambridge Satchel Company, helping them feature as the ‘must-have’ bag in a variety of publications from Italian Vogue to the Guardian Gift Guide.




Owning a handbag that is true to the heritage of the brand is becoming increasingly important to customers. In a world where the social focus is on being ethically conscious, we often want to know where our handbag has been made, the quality, the craft work etc. The Cambridge Satchel Company has taken advantage of the internationally recognised symbol of elite education associated with the area of Cambridge, thus marketing the unisex bags to a teen and young adult audience. Despite having problems with their initial manufacturers, the designers still manufacture their bags in Leicester, UK. The founders endeavour to work with local educational establishments in order to build apprenticeships, thus staying true to the authentic English brand identity. Furthermore, the firm have exclusive collections with ASOS and Urban Outfitters, creating unique ties with two of the largest UK fashion companies.

Personally I love The Cambridge Satchel Company, their story and their brand identity. The key to their longevity will be their authenticity. Perhaps releasing a line of small leather goods for cross selling, (particularly at Christmas), will give the company an even bigger push!

Pictures taken from http://www.cambridgesatchel.co.uk/, www.instyle.com

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I know you want me, you know I want cha.

Since Lanvin released that campaign featuring Pitbull and celebrities flocked to be seen in the iconic colour clashing garments, creative director Alber Elbaz has become the man of the moment. But what of the children? Lanvin are due to debut their first Lanvin Petites collection in November. The 25 party girl pieces all complement the aesthetic and trends within the adult ready-to-wear collection, giving the brand a sense of completeness.


There are many reasons for Lanvin and other designer brands entering the children's wear market. Large fashion houses are now realising the full potential of designer children's wear, taking care not to over expand and lose their brand identity. Today's girls want more options and have a desire to be as on trend as their fashion savvy parents/peers.

Parents are increasingly choosing to dress their children in junior lines of adult labels, regardless of changes in the economy. This applies to high street brands as well as designer brands. On average, a mother loves the idea of dressing her daughter very much like herself. Lanvin has taken particular note to this behaviour, producing 4 exclusive rag dolls also dressed in the collection.


With children's wear, the key is to capture the child's mind and the parent's wallet. As the buying process involves more than one person, marketing children's wear becomes a totally new concept. It is important to reach out to the girl and her imagination, as well as the mother and her desire to have a durable, unique and beautifully made dress. The Lanvin Petites lookbook does exactly this. Parents are able to see the fit, style, fabric and colours clearly enhanced with the harsh white spotlight on the girls. The stills from the capsule collection are not overly composed, making the girls look natural and more appealing. Particular attention has been taken to make sure that dresses, separates and coats are advertised effectively, showing a wide range of looks.


As the collection is yet to be released, I hope Lanvin will produce a video campaign as well as a child friendly web page to kick-start their new line, whilst still being true to the brand. Every brand tries to create brand identification through its in store arrangement. As for the Lanvin stores, I would think the Petites collection would be limited to specific stores, taking note of the geography and clientèle. Personally, I feel the collection would work well in the iconic department stores such as Harrods, sitting alongside Roberto Cavalli children's wear. It's important to charm the girls as well as the parents, especially those little princesses who have that all important nagging power.


Despite the price, I predict Lanvin's princess pieces will be in high demand with rhinestones and silk organza flying off the shelves within the month. Each garment has its own mix of fun, beauty and luxury, making them just in time for Christmas parties.

Pictures taken from the Lanvin lookbook. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fashion is made to become unfashionable.


Jane Norman, the British womenswear high street retailer, fell into administration this week. Problems started to emerge when figures showed they were £140 million in debt and the brand was left in utter dismay after the exit of their Chief Executive, Saj Shah, at the end of February this year. The firm was quickly part rescued by knitwear company Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Sadly, this resulted in around 1200 job losses across the nation. But what contributed to the collapse of Jane Norman in the first place?


Of course, the nationals have their broad reasons of explanation, the main one being the downturn in the economy. Consumer spending on discretionary items has fallen in line with job security. Adding to that, the 2.5% VAT increase since January has also taken its toll on the high street. With regards to clothing in particular, the price of cotton and other raw materials have soared since last year, pushing up the prices even further on our streets. Although the above were contributing factors, it did not explain why Jane Norman was the only high street fashion firm to suffer. Hence, the answer lies within the fashion and marketing of Jane Norman.

With regards to the clothing, we were seeing similar collections every season. This lack of variety deterred customers; women felt as though they had purchased ‘the same dress, but in blue, three years ago’. For example, the signature chunky knitwear dresses, once a trend around 10 years ago were still being produced last winter.  Offering different colours in the same range can be profitable, only when within the same season or when pieces become iconic. Becoming iconic on the high street is virtually impossible. Jane Norman was also criticised for their ‘market’ style, (with slightly better quality fabrics), year on year, resulting in the tarnished image we have today.


In terms of Jane Norman’s marketing, the lack of innovation was evident. High street stores such as H&M chose designer influences from Lanvin and Stella McCartney to boost their sales. Now more than ever, customers are mixing high street with high end. Jane Norman failed to jump on the bandwagon, resulting in the easy decision for a consumer to walk into Ashish for Topshop just across the road instead. The retailer was known to have a tacky visual layout with too much stock on the shop floor. Their minimal use of mirrors to create the structure of the store felt as though parts were missing when comparing the clean, inviting mirrored front of Karen Millen next door. There seemed to always be a lack of vision or drive for the future development of the brand.
Perhaps the downfall of Jane Norman will teach other retailers the importance of creativity and originality. With some brand re-invention and knowledge of style, the firm could have been a striving success. As for thoughts on Edinburgh Woollen Mill keeping the firm half afloat, we’ll just have to wait and see how they transform poor quality clothing, poor style and a wholly poor brand.

Pictures taken from Jane Norman SS11 and AW10 portfolios.