When reading Shantaram by Gregory Davis Roberts, or watching Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, for that matter, it is difficult to escape from the general consensus that India, and Mumbai in particular, is overcrowded, dirty and corrupt.
All of the above is true, but what the film and the book fail to show us are the beautiful and creative sides to the city, most recently fuelled by the intense Indian thirst for up-and-coming fashion.
Over the last few years I have travelled to Delhi and Mumbai on many occasions, and each time I have noticed these cities becoming more cosmopolitan as they reach tentatively into the international fashion world.
In 2007, Vogue India hit the street stalls, the new Indian Grazia followed shortly in 2008, and at Fashion Week I met a group of Indian fashion journalists from Mumbai, eager to learn from the well established scene in London.
“Great”, you may say. The booming Indian economy is supporting the country’s love for fashion. I thought I’d show my support too and picked up copies of Vogue India and Grazia in Mumbai airport to help fill the hours flying back to Blighty. Visually, the magazines were impressive. They were sleek, sophisticated and continued the glossy quality we have come to expect from their European counterparts.
However, expecting revolutionary and exciting new designs from the East, my heart sank when the contents paralleled the western examples far too closely.
Page after page, I was confronted with product spreads filled with Chanel tweed bags at RS 135,362 (£1,994), Anya Hindmarch wallets for RS 22,569 (£332) and iPods, Diesel denim, Juicy Couture and Tod’s sandals. When products like these are featured in British Vogue or Grazia, the majority of us consider them expensive – and this is when the average British wage is somewhere around £22,000 a year.
This western attitude towards fashion journalism alienates many of Mumbai’s middle earners
Compare this to the £700 average Indian salary and the products appear astronomically expensive, and only available to the super rich. This western attitude towards fashion journalism alienates many of Mumbai’s middle earners, who take home around £10,000 a year, curbing their healthy appetite for fashion and shopping.
When Vogue first hit the shops in India it caused controversy: children were being paid RS 25 – about 30 pence – for every copy they managed to flog to ‘rich madams’ caught in the endless traffic jams.
On top of this, Vogue orchestrated a sort of “Third World chic” shoot featuring some of the poorest members of the city wearing Alexander McQueen and Burberry – both expensive British labels. This juxtaposition of rich and poor highlights the vast gap between the fashion featured in India’s glossies and their readers. After devouring both Indian Vogue and Grazia, I wished the volcano had erupted a week earlier and stranded me in Mumbai.
I would have been given the opportunity to really explore the innovation and creativity in the city; to hunt out some of India’s own design talent, of which I’m sure there is so much of. If only Vogue India and Indian Grazia would do the same.