The Post Colonial Hangover: The Epic Battle of Fair VS Dark

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(Lakshmi Menon)
"It's schizophrenia on a very large scale"- Lakshmi Menon in this video.
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(An ad for fairness creams)
This post is a rant, so if you're not in the mood to read a long-winded, semi angsty, poorly written post of the pathetic state of Asian cosmetic industries/European catwalks being whitewashed (yeah, I know, I'm too original to be real), go read some Fashionista and gawk at the genius of Carine Rotfield.

This post was inspired by a personal encounter, much the same as this post. I'm Indian, as most of you know. I'm from the north, and basically, all my life I've been told that I look nice because I'm "fair" by Indian standards. This irks the hell out of me because a) I've always wanted to be gorgeously bronzy and b) I have cousins who are darker and absolutely stunning, but they're never given as much attention because of just that.

Watch this video for an in-depth look at what Indian girls/women themselves have to say about the issue.

It just goes to show the sad state of the Indian (and Asian in general, I am told) peoples' mind to generalize the idea of beauty, equating it to fair skin. A post colonial hangover, it is. After years of being convinced that the white race is superior in every way, it's hard for the masses to adjust to the fact that beauty is subjective and largely relative.

Racism, seemingly is worse in India than in Europe because it's prejudice against people of your own country! I had a friend who was told her whole life that she was ugly because she was dark skinned and when she went to Europe, to a university in Italy, she found admirers and was shocked. She told me later that she was saddened and enraged at the thought that a thing as trivial as complexion has been made out to be such an important factor in everyday life here.

There's a million dollar cosmetics industry thriving on peoples' insecurities because of color. They sell "whitening' or "fairness" creams and the ads show women scoring job interviews, cars, guys and their families' approval because of their new and improved light skin.

It's also kind of comical how most of my friends in the States and Europe spend hours and hours trying to tan themselves, using tanning oils and whatnot. Here, however, people spend countless hours just scrubbing the "tan" off their faces.

Let's take a look at history, shall we? India has been invaded time and again- by Persians, Moghuls and Brits, all with fairer skin than ours. They were lead to believe that being dark was being uncivilized and inferior. This, for some absurd and unidentifiable reason has carried on till date and people still prefer to hang onto that tired notion. And they are, ultimately, being subconsciously and unknowingly driven by racial prejudices.

"Why are our runways so white?"- Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn
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This problem trickles down to the fashion industry, as well. Lakshmi Menon, Diana Penty and

"It's all about what sells clothes, and people aspire to be white, blonde and thin, so there we go. We're being naive if we say that's not racist."- a stylist who prefers to stay anon to

I don't know about this. I personally do not want to be white, or blonde for that matter. But maybe there are lots who do. The fact that Naomi Campbell is the only massively successful British model speaks volumes. The fact that Chanel Iman is (close to) one of the only contemporary American ones does too. Jourdan's career was given a big boost because of the Topshop deal but would she have got it had it been someone else but Kate Moss deciding? Kate, best friend of Naomi?
And we live in an age when Marina Peres and Raquel Zimmerman are considered "ethnic". The idiocy of that statement is overwhelming. Arlenis Sosa and Indian Lakshmi Menon are, though widely used in the States, mostly missing on European catwalks in favor of their eastern european counterparts. And I'm sorry, but whatever happened to Alek Wek? It's silly and outright disrespectful to not consider ethnic models because, at the end of the day, they're part of their customer base. Even the ever political Miuccia Prada whitewashes her catwalks several times over! Milan just doesn't get it.

Up until the civil rights movement, "flesh colors were the color of white people". Invisible make-up and nude pantyhose were made to suit Caucasian skin. Manufacturers and designers decided to forget about people without chalk white skin; large populations of other continents and even their own!
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But these days, with the most powerful man in the world being black (Obama), and ethnic people being heavy hitters in all arenas of society, fashion continues to inch out. The US is probably the most tolerant. In India, the wheel is reversed. While darker skinned people are looked down upon in all other areas of life (I'm generalizing here. The educated class tends to be a bit smarter about such things), the runways are noticeably dusky.
In the US, although black women spend $20 billion on apparel, they are on the whole unrepresented.

“Modeling is probably the one industry where you have the freedom to refer to people by their color and reject them in their work”- Bethann Hardison, owner of the agency that promoted Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford

Ivan Bart, of IMG Models who's represented Liya Kebede and Alek Wek says that they have quite a few ethnic models like Honorine Uwera, Mimi Roche, etc. and that they're given the same amount of exposure but they tend to get the same reply from designers' booking agents:She’s lovely, but she’s not right for the show.’”

J Alexander (yep of ANTM) says " Years ago, runways were almost dominated by black girls like the gorgeous mosaic runway shows staged by Hubert de Givenchy or Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s. Now some people are not interested in the vision of the black girl unless they’re doing a jungle theme and they can put her in a grass skirt and diamonds and hand her a spear.”
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DVF is probably the only label, apart from Baby Phat (which barely counts) and Heatherette that hire tons of ethnic models and Diane has always maintained that "someone has to mark the beginning."

With Oprah being the most powerful woman in media and Obama being the president of the biggest superpower of the world, we continue to differentiate and dissect and be prejudiced. "When did we start going backwards?"- DVF

James Scully, a former agent for Tom Ford says that this is owing to the fact that the current look needed is that of the android. A blank faced girl who gives no competition to the clothes because she's the same as every other girl on every other page of every other fashion magazine in every other country.

You'd think we've come a long way from when whiteness was associated with royalty because it meant not having to go outside to work. But apparently not.

PS- I love how this post started out being about the cosmetic industry in India and went on to become a rant about the fashion industry in general.


The Sring 2010 Haute Couture collections are blasting all over the net (Grazia even posted on twitter "Dior from under Tavi's pesky hat :P), and I'm mostly happy. Except for Dior which seemed like a slightly more masculine version of their last collection. Even the make-up and hair was blandly the same. GALLIANO, YOU LISTENING? Where's the fabulosity, eh?
Chanel was stunning as usual (oh, the hair. I'm teasing mine like crazy right now and looking like a total tool) and the block colors at Alexis Mabille were absolutely inspired. My favorite apart from Chanel was probably Christophe Josse. A classier, more high fashion version of J Mendel meets Elie Saab. Very feminine and ... pretty, is all I can say. I mean, THIS is what celebrities should've worn to the Golden Globes instead of that chintzy mess (Sandra Bullock). Armani Prive was, true to form, fabulously tailored and had one overriding accent; this time: the crescent button. I have a feeling it's going to be popping up on in editorials v. soon (ahem, W, ahem).

Valentino=Rodarte much?

Anja looks like a friggin Egyptian goddess.

PPPS- Thanks to Jasmine for featuring me on her blog and sorry for posting this up so late! You can check out my mini interview here.

That's all.


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Why I Hate People Who Ostracize Fashion

Yesterday, while slowly scanning the 2010 men's collections (Rick Owens, OH yeah) , I came across an article in The Guardian by Tania Gold titled "Why I Hate Fashion".

"If you don't like fashion magazines, don't buy them. Don't buy them and then bitch about them."- Cindy Crawford

The article outlines why the writer has been forever plagued by the ridiculously high expectations of the fashion industry and it's ever changing trends. It ostracizes fashion wholly as an industry and waxes eloquent about the uselessness of fashion media and the talentless-ness of designers.
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Everything about that article is what I detest about people who know nothing of fashion and choose to believe that what Hayden Penetierre wore to the Golden Globes or what Jenifer Lopez stocks her closet with is the crux of the idea of style. Never mind that the people who spend hours at nondescript thrift or vintage stores, trying to find something unique, something that screams their name when worn. Fashion, as a way to express your individuality may not be what you see translated into the consumerism of Topshop and Selfridges but for many of us, it's an art form that we swear by. That inspires us and makes us want to spend hours dissecting Rodarte's inspiration of Japanese horror movies in making cardigans and Balenciaga's novel idea of lego shoes!

Yes, admittedly, there is a shallow, superficial side to fashion but as Robin Givhan once said, fashion isn't innately superficial, the way it is portrayed is.

And why just fashion? Doesn't Vodafone tell you to snag the latest phone minutes contract, LG urges you to buy a new flatscreen, Peugot wants you to purchase a new car, Fox tells you that this particular movie is a must watch, Penguin wants you to read the work of a best seller and you're obligated to do so, just to sound relevant and informed, The Pussycat Dolls want you to buy their new album, food critics want you to buy some kind of lettuce and another kind of grapes and the list is endless! The fact remains that the fashion industry has always been an easy target because, at the end of the day, the overriding fact remains that fashion is what you make of it.
If YOU choose to be influenced so deeply by advertisements of Coco Rocha in Chanel sequined hot pants and then brood that you don't have endless giraffe legs or such a captivating face, then that just goes to show your weakness of character and hidden insecurities.Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Go to Paris and Madrid and Tokyo and New Delhi, even and see the men and women who take out time from their busy schedules to put together a creative outfit! Who's accesssorizing is so individualistic, you know them slightly just by seeing what they wear! They're real people; people with jobs, school, colleges, parents, children, siblings, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, grandparents, pets, hopes, wishes and dreams. To say that fashion is only for the frivolous is outright disrespecting people who take it as a true art form and to those who's bread and butter comes from it.

Fashion, much like everything else, really is up to YOU. Indulge or don't, love it or hate it, ignore it or don't, enjoy it or don't. But don't generalize and say that everybody who believes in fashion as a cause, is heading towards their own execution and is thoroughly unhappy inside. I'm a US size 2 and only 5 feet 4 inches. I am, by no means, the "ideal" height or even size to an extent that a multitude of digitally modified fashion magazines depict. But it doesn't bother me. I will still obsessively worship Lacroix and McQueen and I will still wear tartan with plaid and look like an idiot but you can't change that. And you can't influence it and you can't make me feel any less capable of having a smart conversation.
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It's sad that Tania, who is a good writer but is completely misguiding the hundreds who read her column, is continuing to reiterate the tired old myth that fashion is for the stupid and intellectually devoid. I have friends who are physics majors and still love Haider Ackerman! I am interested in art history and love Tolstoy (R.I.P Daul Kim) but fashion is, and will remain, a passion. I want to work in the industry someday. I have hopes and dreams and wishes. Something the Tanias of the world cannot take away from me.

"Fashion is, perhaps by necessity, in a world of its own – one that only rarely overlaps with anything resembling real life. This fantasy and exoticism is part of its appeal, of course."- Vince Aletti

To people such as her, I say: Go read some Robin Givhan, some Suzy Menkes, some Cathy Horyn and more recently, even some Tavi Gevinson. Watch a Gareth Pugh and Rad Hourani show. Read Pigeons and Peacocks and i-D and V and Pop. See the work Avedon did not solely for the fashion industry, but for photography as an art. How he introduced movement into still life! Buy a pair of Louboutins. Read about Coco Chanel's feminist advent of breaking into an otherwise male dominated industry. Read about the Mulleavy sisters' completely unglamorous background. And if you still think that fashion is for the brainless, then you are just that and more.

And since when did style and feeling good about yourselves and fashion become about appealing to a guy or a girl? If that's what you think fashion is all about, then I suggest you don't judge the book by it's cover. This may seem a bit simplistic but it's the glaring truth.

"Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn."- Gore Vidal

I read a comment somewhere that said-

I think every industry does exactly the same. I think people are more vicious about mobile phones than how people dress. Every mobile advert shows some arch indie type with an ironic afro walking along an idealised landscape with a plinky-plonky retro guitar ballad behind it - I don't believe having a contract with Orange will make me whimsical, cool nor my friends good-looking.

Every advert for a car shows a chiselled-jawed chap in a European suit with no tie casually slinging his jacket over his shoulder as he remote-locks his car, having sped around a city on one wheel with suspension like bungee ropes. I do not believe owning the car will make me that.

Amen, to whoever said that. The problem here is that Tania and countless others believe that fashion will automatically give you a feeling of self worth and your esteem will sky rocket. That buying a Gucci clutch will make you more confident. That means they're buying fashionable items but for the wrong reasons!

"Fashion is teated too much as news, rather than what it is, what it does and how it performs."- Geoffrey Beene

I find it pretty silly that the very same people who talk about fashion being a consumerist evil, designed to bring people to their knees, broke and insecure are the ones who refuse to understand fashion in it's more alternative forms. To invalidate the work of Proenza Schouler, Thakoon, Rei K, Yohji Y, and suchlike is to insult their undeniable artistic talent.

I was born into the century in which novels lost their stories, poems their rhymes, paintings their form, and music its beauty, but that does not mean I have to like that trend or go along with it. - Pat Conroy

Nobody who spent a truckload on a Botticelli or a Monet would be deemed stupid, but someone who does so on a Chanel or YSL piece is undeniably so?
Let's take a more common, everyday example. Lots spend thousands on "season tickets" for sports. But if I spend the same amount on shoes, then I am frivolous and materialistic.
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This ideology that everyone interested in fashion is doing the designers' bidding of the season is exactly the kind of inverse snobbery that pisses the hell out of me. Everyone has some form of fashion incorporated in their lives. Heck, Meryl Streep as the icy editor in chief of Devil Wears Prada (entertaining movie but totally misguiding, again) summed it just about right:

"This...stuff? Oh, so you think this has nothing to do with you?, go to your closet and pick out, let's say that lumpy blue sweater because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know that that blue is not just blue, it's not turquoise or lapis, it is in fact cerulean. You are also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent, wasn't it, who did cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry, when, in fact you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you from the people in this very room. From a pile of...stuff."

People who wear combats when clogs are the "it" shoes and carry pale pink bags when studs are all the rage represent the radical chic, truly interesting side of fashion that these people are sadly, unaware of.

I also noticed, after going through some of Tania's archives for the Guardian, that she has declared a war of sorts on...beautiful people? Don't hate because you're insecure!

And the masses of chick lit books produced everyday may come across as hideous to many, but you don't see people running around screaming "OMG literature is the root of all that is wrong with the world!".

It's insane that people continue to say that consumerist fashion is worse than other commercial capitalist industry.

It's hugely unfeminist to condemn something that has helped women across the world take massive strides in society, as well.

Another interesting comment:
I'm not sure what you want to say with your article. You are putting topics of advertising approaches, curious accidents, nostalgy for childhood times and self-awareness and self-respect issues under one heading : "fashion is evil".

Too true.

And it's so utterly pigheaded that somebody should suggest that some innocent girl died because of wearing heels! You can trip wearing flats! And that when around 5 people have reiterated that it was raining and snowing heavily that day and that the heels were not to blame.
(I swear I automatically started chanting Carrie Bradshaw's "A Girl's Right to Shoes" upon reading that). Imagine how the girl would feel if she were to read this, read that someone is portraying her to be merely a shallow fool who simply made a choice that every woman is entitled to make!

'I don't understand it, therefore it's wrong' + a dollop of self-righteous smugness = fashion is for brainless sheeples and the industry is horrible.

- A comment on the post that just about summed up exactly what I'm trying to say.
I, personally cannot afford an Hermes scarf or a pair of Prada shoes but I'd go to Emporio or Harvey Nichols or Bergdorf's just to hold it up, examine and marvel at the work of the artist!

To say that everybody who isn't a size 0 should embrace Uggs and sweats and eat like a pig, get diabetes and die a painful but "fulfilled" death is so atrocious, I don't even know where to begin. Like all good things in life, looking good is something you have to work towards. There are no two ways about it. You can either accept that and try your best while simultaneously maintaining uniqueness or you can go apeshit, become bitter and rant about how it's completely understandable.

What is is sad that Tania writes from the perspective of a victim, being extremely narcissistic and most of her articles largely center around "I, me and myself".

I could go on about this so I'm going to stop. I want to know if you guys agree with her at some level.

Finally, let's just say that as a columnist, it's Tania's purpose to evoke varied responses and she did so. I mean, the first thing I thought upon laying my eyes on it was " WAIT...WHAT?".

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"OMG, I love your lips!"

I don't want to be perfect, I want to be an individual".
- Kelly Osbourne.
A few days ago, while walking to the grocery store in my grand mother's locality to get some cheese and crackers (oh yeah, good stuff), I met an old friend of a friend. We basically chatted for a while and made plans to meet up the next day. And when we met, we somehow got onto the topic of Abbey Lee Kershaw tumbling on the McQueen runway quite a while back. We got onto discussing the industry's extreme expectations of skinniness, thus provoking such cases. Nothing new or unheard of. Then, in all randomness, she pointed at my face and went all "OMG, I love your lips!". I have full lips and this, apparently, excited Alaia (yeah-huh, like Azzedine. I have the coolest freinds) beyond all reason. I got to thinking about conventional beauty standards and the plastic-fantastic syndrome that has undeniably swept the beauty world, affecting women across borders, of all ages, races and incomes.
The recession and the dysfunctional economy of today has obviously, adversely affected fashion. And not in a good way. Revered labels such as Luella, Lacroix, Phi and Gianfranco Ferre lost their financial backings and the industry was set in a state of turmoil. The A/W 09 runways just proved the point. The runways were seas of grey, camel, beige and blah. Of course, I'm not generalizing but the much loved couture spectacle was without a doubt gone. However, with the recession, as Nicholas Seeley rightly said, we are beginning to welcome the age of the Modern Beauty. With a newfound (and somewhat forced) frugality thrust upon us, we are forced to take a step back and appreciate that which is idiosyncratic and individual.
The last decade saw the slow demise of the aforementioned individualistic beauty, what with the onslaught of plastic surgery. Don't get me wrong, I was flattered that Alaia thought I looked nice, but this is a broader topic. I have never held anything against women who opt for cosmetic procedures, because really, it's their choice at the end of the day. I do, object, however, to the fact that Botox and suchlike portray the fact that only one idea of beauty exists. And that, I cannot agree with.
Walking down a street in any urban city these days, and you'll be catapulted into the world of duck lips, tiny butts, seemingly frozen faces and 50 year old women with 25 year old boobs. It's just so dull! Whatever happened to some slight imperfections being the beauty of a person? It would seem strange to me that women pay astronomical amounts to look the same as their friends and sisters and cousins. Money that could have gone into, say, buying a fabulous pair of Louboutins.
Again, don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we pick up anybody who looks completely plain and put them on the runway and in ad campaigns and proclaim them goddesses, because frankly I'm much to shallow for that. And I'm not going to put up a facade and lie and deny it. But I believe that recession, which is making us all reexamine our spending habits, is also making us think about our values.
How does this "standard of beauty" come about? Well, I'm no professional, but I'd suppose it's because when one woman is lauded for her good looks, everybody else wants to look the same. This becomes the mould and it's imitated over and over and over, giving way to a sea of identical faces.A sea of unoriginality, of bleak and somewhat ubiquitous faces. Faces like those of Madonna and Cindy Crawford, which garnered attention in both the fashion and the mainstream world, became such standards and anyone and everyone went on to copy these faces obsessively. But what about women who were "unconventional" but changed the idea of "a beauty" forever? Like Brigit Bardot, Jean Shrimpton and Jane Birkin? Or in more recent times, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kelly Osborne?
It's infuriating when gorgeous people put themselves down simply owing to the fact that they don't look like frozen plastic.
"Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary."
- Cecil Beaton
Take for example, perhaps the most overused example of the unconventional, yet hugely successful and finally accepted, Kate Moss. When she walked Alexander McQueen's runway for the first time, longtime editors and critics wondered and gawked at the 5 feet 6 waif with the scrunched up nose, generous sprinkling of freckles and the alluring yet imperfect smile. The black and white pictures captured by Corinne O'Day for The Face in 1990 probably justify her innate gorgeousness the best.
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And Erin O'Connor who was told time and again to get a nosejob and Abbey Lee Kershaw with her totally imperfect teeth. They both managed to have extremely successful careers. Or even Sarah Jessica Parker, to give a more contemporary example!

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"Maybe men and women aren't from different planets as pop culture would have us believe. Maybe we live closer to each other. Perhaps, dare I even say it, in the same zip code."
- Sarah Jessica Parker

In India, as in most other Asian countries, beauty is closely linked with fairness. The market is flooded with a multitude of "fairness creams" which guarantee everything from a "dark" person getting a job to getting a guy to saving the world. The obsession with fair skin goes back centuries. While most western countries embraced the idea of tanning and nice, browned skin, Asian countries, colonized over and over by the whiter race, became majorly complexed about their skin color. I have "fair" skin for an Indian and so, coming from North India, that's fairly common. People keep claiming that I look nice BECAUSE I'm fair, something I highly hate. I mean, I'd LOVE to have fabulous, golden brown skin and use bronzers and all that shiz. But I have been given pale, colorless, blah skin. It just goes to show how beauty stereotypes can overtake at such a scale, that people forget what was so special about that look in the first place.

"Champion the right to be yourself, dare to be different and to set your own pattern; live your own life and be your own star".
- Wilfred Peterson

Modern beauty promises gorgeousness to girls of all races, hair colors and imperfections. Imperfection, as Nicolas Seeley said, emanates character. And Francis Beaton said, and I quote "there is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion". The uniqueness makes a person HER. Differentiates her from the crowd. Whether it's flaming red hear or a mottling of freckles. Vievienne Westwood, a woman who probably is the culmination of all this is idiosyncratic, said "posture is the first asset. What really touches me is a woman who is chic and knows herself, who takes the time to look good and show off her best assets".
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So maybe we all got a bit carried away with the nip tuck revolution. Maybe we all started wanting to look deflated and plasticized. Maybe we all embraced "the boobs made in the time of boom", but now that we have a chance to resurrect it, let's do it. Modern Beauty is for all.

I'm going to end this with perhaps the most overused quote ever (only second to idiotic 13 year old girls wearing pink and typing in "fashions fade but style is eternal", thinking they're the smartest, most original things around, being the first to discover this gem of truth. Okay, end rant)-
"In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different."
- Coco Chanel

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