Monday, August 21, 2006

5 Steps to Fashion Whorism

It is not every day that the opportunity to be flippant, shallow and snarkalicious lands on my platter oh so casually. But then, I don't really read Indian newspapers every day. Especially the lifestyle sections. But when I do, goldmine dahlings! May I present Seema Goswami, whose bio from the Hindustan Times website reads:

A published novelist, a familiar face on television, a senior journalist, Ms Seema Goswami is best known for her popular weekly column, Spectator, in Brunch, the Hindustan Times Sunday magazine.

So far so good. Apparently Ms. Goswami's novel is entitled "Designer Passion" and unfortunately no reviews of the work could be found, and to cut all unnecessary evil from this post, I'll refrain from the severe itch to judge a book by its title.

Ms. Goswami's column focuses on society, fashion and other such fuzzy logic categories. It is rambling at worst, and doesn't even benefit from the guilty pleasure of bitching and name-dropping. Anyway, on to the column that appeared this Sunday (August 20) which was all about how to tell a true fashionista from a fake one (the HT website requires a free registration to view content, but here's a Yahoo India link to the piece). Anyway, according to Ms. Goswami, here are the characteristics of a true fashionista:

#1 "The Gay Walker: Even if she has a husband/boyfriend/lover, no fashionista worth her Fendi baguette is ever above cheating on the side with a Gay Best Friend."

Congratulations gay men, one more strike for gay civil rights. You've officially acquired the privilege to be the lifestyle accessory to a bored rich housewife. And Seema honey, when you're done hanging your gay accessory back in his closet, read the fashion press. The Fendi baguette went out of fashion since, like, when the second season of "Sex and the City" ended in 1999 (an episode in the show had initially popularized the bag).

#2 "The Pet Designer: The true fashionista always has her ‘favourite’ designer – well, okay, maybe one for every city – though the person in question may change from time to time."

Pet Designer? Ok, besides the obvious silliness of the expression, the concept is utterly and hopelessly redundant. You buy clothes that match your personal style. In the process you have a few favourite brands and designers who seem to design with your colour, style and silhouette preferences and body type in mind. This is not the prerogative of a "fashionista" (whatever the fuck that means), and simply sticking to one brand or designer does not make you automatically stylish.

#3 "The Limited Edition Hand bag: It doesn’t matter what the label or how long the waiting list, she takes pride in nabbing the handbag of the moment even before it has hit the stores."

I'm sure fashion houses and designers secretly have their own cruel terms for describing the women who spend every waking hour filling up waiting lists for handbags. But let me try. victims? Fashion magazine brainwashed sheep? Cash cows for high-end brands? Women with zero confidence in their own taste who would rather be validated by celebrities and their handbags? Women with far more money than style? Ok I need to stop, but you get the idea.

#4 "The No-Repeat Policy: To be seen twice in the same outfit is a social solecism in her book. And to be actually photographed in the same outfit more than once – frock! horror! – spells social death itself."

To be photographed in the same outfit twice is a breach of good manners and social etiquette? And I suppose no savoir vivre and etiquette is being violated in shamelessly pestering designers to borrow their clothes for such social soirees. What about the Page 3 sort who seem to unfailingly appear in every social event in town every single day? Do they have a new outfit for every day of their lives?

#5 "The Bastien pedicure: ......Needless to say, this procedure is impossible to schedule unless you’re Very Very Important Indeed, like our true-blue fashionista."

Fucking insane. So now we have pedicure pissing contests? Ok wrong metaphor, women technically don't have pissing contests. But equivalent thereof. I bow to the utterly superior marketing genius of the French. Really, scraping off dead skin from the foot elevated to the ultimate in style. Who would have thunk?

So ultimately, I think what Seema Goswami seems to be telling us obliquely, but is perhaps afraid of identifying the elephant in the room directly for fear of being labelled classist is:

Style = Money.

To a certain extent, I agree. Let me explain. The best craftsmanship costs money. A beautifully crafted dress with expert cutting, complex details and superb tailoring from a brand with a reputation for excellence like Lanvin, Dries van Noten, Alexander Mcqueen, Rochas, etc., will not be dirt cheap. A Savile Row suit is worth every penny you pay for it, given the numerous fitting sessions, superior fabric, and cutting and stitching techniques that are unique to tailors in that tradition.

Real Jamawar shawls are painstakingly brocaded on handlooms, which is why so few of them are in existence and the market is flooded with cheap imitations. An excellent Lucknawi chikankari garment would have countless motifs using very fine versions of the murri and jaali stitches and the finest work is usally reserved for tone on tone embroidery, mostly white on white. Most of the cheap chikankari that is available in India is made with the coarse bakhiya stitch or very poorly executed murri. High-end Banarsi and Kanjeevaram sarees are always made with real gold thread and 100% silk, driving up the price of the finished product significantly.

However, Ms. Goswami's article was not so much about high-end fashion and style that is distinguished by finesse, but more about what involves the maximum waste of cash. It is obvious that her ideal fashionista is a woman with a good chunk of money to splurge, but very little cultivation of taste and understatement. And then there is that offensive fetishizing of gay men right at the top.

If this is about humouring and validating rich, desperate Page 3 camera-hogs that the world at large thinks that they are faaaabulous dahling, absolutely fabulous, and oh so chic and stylish, then fine, go ahead. I can read it as an amusing parody and be done with it. However, if this is meant to be some sort of normative guideline for all things chic, then I'm sorry to say, but what this would produce is a caricature, the sort of woman who befriends gay men solely to appear cool, slavishly follows everything fashion magazines tell her and name drop obnoxiously at every opportunity. In short, just because your subject is shallow, doesn't mean you have to plumb the same depths.


Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

potting at low hanging fruit again. tsk tsk.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Jabberwock said...

I can read it as an amusing parody and be done with it

Swati, this definitely is intended as parody, not as a normative guideline of any sort. Admittedly it's not a very good parody (Seema's sense of humour is usually too strained and earnest for my taste), but you seem to have taken it at face value.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Bonatellis said...

T_M: most impressed with your understanding of fashion
... i somehow thought you're the ultra-academic kind ... my bad :)

to most journalists of the previous generation (i.e journalists who are no longer in their 20s) Seema Goaswami is more famous as Vir Sanghvi's ... ummmm ... u know what ... than actually her literary skills ...

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

too much i short, seema you are fucked.:-)

9:57 PM  
Blogger Rahul Ghosh said...

We all love busting Page 3. But I wonder if it would be a good idea to take anymore potshots at it.

Page 3 is a strange creature that is validated by every criticism thrown at it.

It survives on innuendo, hearsay, parodies and a mutated sense of humor and the less said the sooner it dies.

Thalassa Mikra. You are brilliant writer. You posts are original, interesting and humorous. Something that cannot be said about most of the Indian journalists. While what you post is a very personal thing and trying to put a gag on topics is something I abhor, I would request you stay away from topics like that. Your are capable of better.

10:03 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Tabula Rasa, what to do, I'm too cheap to invest in better ammunition. Blunt instruments demand blunt targets :)!

Jai, I wish I could believe this. But I've read Seema's Brunch column for months now, and within that context, this does not seem like a parody. It's more of a nudge nudge wink wink, we are so in the know kind of thing. If she intended parody, she was being uncharacteristically subtle!

Bonatellis, I see myself as more of a clinical observer of fashion than a participant. My wardrobe remains boringly academic.

By the way, I thought it was another Bongo-lolona who was Vir Sanghvi's know what. Or does Vir have one too many know whats :)?

Totally agree about her writing skills. At lease Vir can write well, even though he seems to see no conflict of interest in taking an all-expenses paid PR trip to French vineyards and then writing a 4 page article about it.

Sagar, one aims to delicately chide, not to invoke unsavoury metaphors.

Rahul, thank you for your praise. My point in writing these posts is what I indicated in my last line.

Fashion, food, parties, social climbing, celebrity are often perceived as shallow subjects. But there is absolutely no reason why a journalist cannot bring a nuanced, rigorous and meticulous analytical lens to examine them.

One only has to read journalists like Suzy Menekes, Lynn Yaeger, and Robin Givhan to know the potential of fashion journalism. Ditto for food writing, once considered shallow and trite and now a respectable field with writers like Clifford Wright, Jeffrey Steingarten, etc.

Point is, no reason why fashion, food and celebrity writers in India shouldn't be pushed to produce better journalism.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Rahul Ghosh said...

TM. Completely buy your point. But do these Page 3 hacks write about real fashion or food?

Who was seen in which fashion disaster, which designer got which starlet to walk the ramp or which restaurant tycoon got the walls of his joint painted? I doubt if these qualify as fashion/food journalism or rather that ubiquitous word called 'lifestyle' (probably dubbed by a lazy deskhead).

Fashion journalism, as you rightly pointed out, should be nuanced, rigorous and meticulous about fashion. Ditto for food.

But hovering around the periphery of these pursuits, trying to nibble at the leftovers of a sub-culture and serving them up as journalism, does not qualify.

If one is writing about fashion, write about fashion. What's in, what’s out, what's hot, what's inspiring. Not who slept with whom, who was seen at who's do. Food journos (in India) usually are busy gushing about 'where I got invited to and guess who else was invited too and who was not?' rather than the food itself.

I am closet food-journalism follower. I love reading Vir Sanghvi's article in the Sunday Brunch with HT. I love reading about the history of the dish, the origin, the way to cook it and little anecdotes about it. But at times, even he crosses over into what you might call 'food review-whorism' territory. (Okay that was a bad one. You probably would never say that).

As for pushing fashion and food writers into better journalism, I am all for it. But putting the Page 3 types into this category, they don't effin belong in the same ballpark. Even if they would effin beg to differ!

You keep writing though. And if you have the time or inclination, do visit It's a blog of no particular consequence. But then so are these Page 3 hacks!

11:51 PM  
Blogger Rahul Ghosh said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Bonatellis said...

T_M: Vir has (at least used to have) u-know-whats in every town ... I don't know whether age has finally taken a toll on his u-know-what prowess.

When I first joined journalism, he was the Editor of Sunday ... and the stories about his u-know-whats in the ABP group were legendary to say the least ... we grew up on them ... and all us trainees used to dream the one day we too shall grow up to have a lot of u-know-whats :)

fate, i tell you, is the biggest bitch ;)

2:51 AM  
Blogger Vijayeta said...

Thanks a tonne for writing this post about Ms. Seema Goswami! :)
She has been the cause of much doubt and wonder for me since the time I started reading her columns to the time I stopped reading them.
Frankly, I really enjoy reading HT's Brunch and while most other columnists seem to have specific topics to write about, I'm yet to figure out what's hers?
And I seriously doubt if HT would really be paying someone to rant about how she has weight issues, and how bitter she is 'cos she's still single, how she's even more bitter when she sees other single women who manage to remain thin while eating French Fries for lunch everyday, and how resentful she is of her married friends, and how she's even more resentful of her married friends with kids to whom she generously doles out parenting tips... And when she's done with all this, she'd try make fun of the rich and famous and their lifestyles...yawn...for some inexplicable reason!
Initially i thought the problem was mine, that I was too much of a stupid dimwit to grasp the deep profundity of her columns. Then, when I had a panic attack in front of my intelligent, well-read, well-informed journo friends, I was assured that nothing was wrong with me. And she was indeed writing in mysterious ways.
I'm still unsure if I should laugh at her column, agree with it, disagree with it, sympathise with it...yawn...or feel moved by it.
Now, after much experience, I know the best thing is to ignore it! And that silly little mug shot of hers that accompanies it is enough reason to do so too!

3:57 AM  
Blogger Sudha said...

to me it seems to have derived too much inspiration from Sex and The City (excuse my lack of knowledge of the world of jorunalism) - the gay best friends, the fendi bags, the limited edition hand-bag, and that pedicure could just have been the brazilian wax from the LA episode.

and cheat with a gay best friend? she is clearly aiming at the lowest common denominator.

4:19 AM  
Blogger K said...

Oh, Ah, Ouch... Beetchy! But why are even taking Brunch at face value, it only adds to raddi in my book.
And VS didn't even marry her... sobs.
Long time, no see.

6:10 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Rahul, I really liked what you said here:

"But hovering around the periphery of these pursuits, trying to nibble at the leftovers of a sub-culture and serving them up as journalism, does not qualify."

That pretty much sums up the state of so-called "lifestyle" journalism in India. As for ballpark, honestly I wouldn't bother with a city reporter, but Ms. Goswami happens to be a senior editor at HT and has been covering "lifestyle" all her journalistic career. Surely she deserves to be hauled up for still writing this tripe.

As for Vir, he's the best we have, but he has a serious ethics problem. I was shocked by the fact that he did not even consider conflict of interest issues in writing about the French vineyard trip. In a newspaper like NYT or Guardian, this would be grounds for dismissal. But perhaps Vir thinks "lifestyle" journalism runs on a different set of ethics.

Bonatellis: That I was certainly aware of. It's funny his byline picture looks almost 10 years old :)!

Vij, Ms. Goswami amazes and bores me every week as well :). But this was less about Ms. Goswami and more about the lazy, sloppy, utterly mediocre state of lifestyle journalism in India. Yes, I know people would tell me every field of journalism in India is mediocre.

But I think we have some excellent political, economic, social development, gender issues journalists, and pretty good opinion-makers. But fashion and food are two fields where folks can get away with all sorts of nonsense.

Sudha, I strongly suspect you're right. It's amazing how many women became overnight fashion experts after watching SATC. Oh, that gay best friend bit in her article was obnoxious.

K, sorry about going AWOL. I visited your blog briefly yesterday and realized there's tons to comment on :). BTW congratulations on the move, now I can meet up with you when I visit Delhi.

See now, you think the Brunch is raddi, but it doesn't have to be, if only the quality of journalism in it was better. No one thinks the NYT style section is raddi. But we just do not have journalists of the calibre of Cathy Horyn and Ruth Reichl to sustain that (Viru being the exception, he actually writes very well on fashion too).

VS was supposed to marry her? Awww, is she still waiting for him? Tragic I tell ya.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Vijayeta said...

I DON'T think other journalists in India are bad at all. Except most who do fashion and food, as you said. And films as well, i'd like to add!
If someone has a problem with KANK, they'll nitpick even the little "I love you, Mom" Karan had in the beginning of his film. But since they all loved Omkara, no one minded the 2 page long Thank Yous by Ajay Devgan and the producer in the beginning of that film!
Is this film critique AT ALL?

1:48 PM  
Blogger Sriram said...

*scratches head in disbelief* are you SURE this isn't an attempt at being cynically funny? I mean, sarcasm et al? No? DAMN IT!!!!

*goes back to his old self of treating every fashion article as a comic*

4:55 PM  
Blogger Bonatellis said...

T_M: the point is that to write on something, you actually need to experience it yourself. do journalists in india get paid enough to actually know what fashion is?
similarly, there are auto journalists who don't know how to drive, there are stock market reporters who've never traded in their lives ...

9:39 PM  
Blogger Rimi said...

I'm running so I haven't the time to click on links or read the comments, but a quick aside: that line about the Gay Best Friend was shallow and nasty. I know I'm taking a light jibe too seriously here, but it fucking undermines the authenticity of a homosexual identity, doesn't it, if it's implied that they have flings on the side with straight pals of the opposite sex?

Oh wait, she doesn't say opposite sex. Normative thinking on my part, Swati, or do you think she meant what I think she meant?

8:14 AM  
Blogger cale said...

ach, you know, i don't even read the hindustan times. i've always just been satisfied by the times of india, although its supplements suck major arse.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Rahul Ghosh said...

'Nuff flame about pseudo-columnists! New post demanded!

10:51 PM  
Blogger Essar said...

Every week, the woman surpasses herself. And you're right - she usually has nothing to write about so its just a whole load of gas.
Someone shd tell HT to stop wasting precious space and give us cartoons instead!

3:34 AM  
Blogger Urmea said...

Na na - disappear korini :) Laziness rules, as is usual! I was even planning to drive down for the long weekend ahead but gave up cause my possible co-driver has a punctured eardrum!! (And no, I did not shriek into his ear)

2:47 PM  
Blogger the still dancer said...

and you actually took this seriously?

9:17 AM  
Blogger Sue said...

I read it when it came out, and it was funny you know. Not the way I think she meant it, though! There's another article today about how Preity Zinta is not dressed as a fashion editor ought to be... it's always funny when someone sets out to define high fashion.

5:17 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Vij, true, and Karan Johar's everyone's favourite pinata, all film journalists take a whack at him.

Sriram, there's a fairly delicate tight-rope walk here. Yes, part of the intent is satire - however, it is supposed to be satire by one "in the know", an insider's little chuckle, if you will. My point is, she's not much of an insider to pull this off.

(Ok fuck, that sounds way too obscure)

Let me rephrase - yes she wanted to be funny, but she's lame, and should be hauled up for that.

Bonatellis, but there are political journalists who've never been politicians, and business journalists who haven't even run a paan-ki-dukaan. Some of them are erudite, astute, write well and have a keen sense of zeitgeist. Actual experience may not be so important in this case.

Rimi, I don't think she meant literally having an affair, but she did flippantly refer to gay men as chic accessories, and that's pretty nasty.

Cale, Yeah, there really isn't much to choose between the two in terms of supplements.

Rahul, I'm on the verge of a hiatus. Posts would have to wait a while.

Essar - totally agree, bring back the cartoons!

Urmi, aaaaaah, that's a pity! I hope your friend recovers soon, although hmm....that denial doesn't sound too convincing eh :).

Arka, why not? One approach is to dismiss all this as just so much fluff as a lot of folks seem to do in referring to everything as "page 3 trash". I happen to think that fashion and lifestyle journalism should be taken seriously and held to the same standards as any other branch of writing.

Sue, yes I think she's setting herself up as some sort of overarching fashion critic, a role for which she's eminently unqualified I must say.

3:54 PM  
Blogger The Marauder's Map said...

Very late on this, but I must have my word because I suspect I'm the only one here who actually knows the writer. And I can assure you, this was one hundred percent tongue-in-cheek.

And, uh, she IS somewhat of an insider. Also, these stereotypes do exist (I've been a fashion journalist in Delhi, yes the types attending fashion weeks etc), and of course, like all stereotypes they sometimes offend, but Swati, I'm not very sure what your grouse is here. I completely agree most of Indian fashion journalism is trash, but why this piece? It's only a clever-clever swipe at fashion crowd types, after all.

3:24 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Marauder, glad you raised these points. The reason why it doesn't work as tongue-in-cheek or a clever-clever take is that it doesn't deviate the slightest bit from a fashion-writing format that is explicitly not intended as satire.

Trends, fashions, bag frenzy are by themselves not necessarily ridiculous. What is required for them to be subjects of satire is a slight nudge to indicate exactly where the absurdity lies.

To elaborate - just to say that women covet It bags doesn't mean a thing. That's like saying there's something inherently absurd about stamp-collecting or horse-breeding. But it acquires a different meaning altogether when you also state that designers see the accessory business as less of an artistic statement, and more of a cash flow to keep garment main lines going.

And don't tell me I'm too dense to notice her subtle wit (I mean yeah I'm dense, but that's another story :)), because I seem to manage fine with the ironical fashion writing of folks like Lynn Yaeger and Jes Cartner-Morley of the Guardian.

As for the insider thing, I was referring more to being knowledgeable about fashion rather than if she's invited to the right parties or not.

In her last column this Sunday she argued that Japanese fashion took hold in the West because it had novelty value and Western audiences weren't very familiar with Japanese aesthetics!! Right, no one in the West had heard of nihonga, Japanese woodblocks, porcelain, kimono prints (the genesis of the Hawaiian shirt) etc. before Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo came along.

1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the best thing in HT brunch is Vir Sanghvi's piece. the worst is ms goswami out there. and her picture is indeed a bit of a joke. as to being sanghvi's you know what, that's old story. he's with quite another you know what. so sad.

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Anonymous Virginia C. Anderson said...

I read it when it turned out, and it was entertaining you know. Not the way I think she implied it, however! There's another article today about how Preity Zinta is not dressed as a design supervisor should be... it's constantly interesting when somebody embarks to characterize high design.To get fashion dress in online go to boutiqueken

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