As I was shedding my last bunch of rupees at Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi, I quickly snagged a copy of Vogue India to read on the plane. I was curious to see how different it felt from the American version, especially after spending two weeks crisscrossing Northern India.
One thing I’d been warned about before arriving is that women on the street do not – I mean DO NOT – wear the kind of revealing clothing that you see in Bollywood films. Head to toe covering is the standard; even short sleeves are pretty rare. Even when it’s hot. Scorching hot.
Billboards and TV ads in India reflect the bodacious Bollywood ideal, but I can’t recall seeing anybody dress like that in even the glitziest restaurants and hotels in Delhi.
Much of the recommended clothing in the editorial portions of the magazine also defied street conventions, including shorts, short skirts, form-fitting or whisper thin dresses (a big no no, I was told), and long skirts (OK) with equally long slits (absolutely not OK). There was also a gorgeous swim suit spread, but I had to wonder: where in India could they be worn? As far as I could tell, Western-style hotel swimming pools would be the only acceptable place.
Similar to American Vogue, the Indian version featured profiles of successful women, including a comedienne, a radical novelist, and a slough of Indian art collectors in Dubai. The issue had a very global feel – it was, for instance, the first place I glimpsed Adidas’ fresh new World Cup garment collection, which they concocted in collaboration with The Farm Brand, a Brazilian fashion label.
I wasn’t surprised by the insane number of jewelry ads; women in India are often not allowed to have bank accounts or real estate assets, but the jewelry is often all theirs (check out this NPR piece about Indian women’s obsession with gold).
One thing that people inevitably mention after visiting India is the glorious array of saturated colors, often in the most grungy and destitute places. The featured spread “Up, Up & Away” included apparel defined by breathtaking color. I literally gasped as I turned the pages. Why or why do we not see more of this exuberance in Western fashion? For all of you Project Runway watchers, think about how many times the judges have chastised contestants for playing it safe with black. Color is considered risky, even though it’s what we crave.
My favorite piece in this issue, though, was a generous spread in the featured editorial section on the technical innovations underlying garment construction.
What? American Vogue would never devote this kind of real estate to the topic. But in India, there’s an incredible amount of well-deserved pride for their textiles – particularly in Jaipur, one of the cities I visited on my two-week tour. I’m always looking for excellent examples of fashion designs that could be mistaken for “art” (I have a TED.com talk about this) and here I found plenty. The section featured three Indian labels apparently obsessed with combining old couture techniques with ancient Indian tradition. The results are mind-boggling: complex, ornate, masterly.
Here’s an idea: let’s convince Vogue to offer subscription deals that deliver to us an issue from a different country every month. Maybe above all else, my trip to India confirmed my belief that there’s nothing more exhilarating than getting out of your bubble and witnessing the world from new vantage points.
Check out my blog about the talk I gave in India on Indian women and the social impact of social media.