Clothes that don't take sides
It's never been more fashionable to wear the feminist tag on your sleeve, but Masaba Gupta and Rhea Kapoor say it takes more than a slogan to make a change
Women's fashion is precarious business. Masaba Gupta's new collection created in collaboration with best friend and entrepreneur Rhea Kapoor sets out to enquire about the traditional definition of femininity and the role of clothing, but specifically, the norms governing how women dress. Somewhere between an entrée of a teaser post showing a middle finger to convention and the main course of soufflé-light sarees and lehengas in nostalgic rose prints and gentlemanly checks, it also serves an amuse-bouche of the androgynous menswear jacket and tailored dhoti trousers.
"There's more to come," Gupta assures, alluding to the soon-to-release looks that include easy jackets, overlays and stoles in her brand's signature checks. "When I started my career in 2009, I had no commercial obligations. So, my designs were fearless. In between, I relied more on customer feedback and sales data, and less on creative instinct. I designed for others. But this collection is purely about me, these are pieces I want to wear."
If there was such a thing as sartorial soul mates, Gupta and Kapoor would qualify. Both chose to wear black, oversized jackets to this interview. Their faces were natural with a gentle dab of a lip gloss, and they finished each other's sentences. And they made quite a twosome when they modelled for their collection's photo-shoot.
The Chronicles of Femininity asks important and pleasurable questions about the body, fantasy, desire and identity. "There is a perception," Kapoor, says, "that if you are overtly conscious about your appearance, you are not to be taken seriously. People have judged us [sister Sonam Kapoor Ahuja] because we love fashion. Even our love for pink was dissected—we must be stupid. It was a constant struggle until I realised that perceptions are other people's problem."
Edited excerpts from the interview.
You are calling for inclusive fashion for every body type. Was the political slant a conscious decision?
RK: I don't think inclusiveness is political; it's about being empathetic. This collection is meant to feel like a warm embrace to all the girls. There are silhouettes for every kind of woman. It's a smart business model. And it's considerate to create a silhouette for each one of your friends.
MG: Feminism is more than just putting up slogans on Instagram. We have to understand that there's a bigger world out there that's not on social media. The way I put myself out there, even in interviews...I am an honest, bare person, and that for me, is a bigger shout-out. Five years ago, the idea that a dark-skinned girl—half Punjabi, half black—would go on to become the face of a beauty line that endorses inclusivity was unthinkable. But I am doing it.
How have you reclaimed femininity through fashion?
RK: One of the looks in the collection is our take on the menswear blazer worn with a tailored dhoti crafted from a suiting fabric. With the use of delicate prints and colours, we wanted to make sure that the silhouette felt sexy, and communicative. Convention says you can either be pretty, delicate and feminine or the sexy bombshell. Or then, you are the androgynous one. It slots women in boxes. Breaking convention means that you can be all of these at once. But society can't accept nor understand this. It was only recently that I decided to get comfortable with myself, put on a little makeup, post my pictures online. But my intentions were immediately questioned: who are you trying to be? Are you making an onscreen debut? I am not! This is simply another side to who I am.
MG: Why do women have to be apologetic about the way they dress? Love them or hate them, but it's the Kardarshians who made the trend of the curvy woman with the cinched waist and big backside, a hit. Now, the skinny woman, who until now was used to being the conventional beauty, is also being shamed. Whether to wear a ton of makeup or go fresh-faced, should be a woman's personal jam. We wanted to showcase a collection that did not pick sides.
At what age did you take ownership of your body, discover your sense of self?
RK: It was fairly recently when I turned 29. When you are in your twenties, you feel fabulous and confident all the time. While I was studying at NYU, I would eat whatever I wanted, and I never gained weight! I looked at turning 30 as adulthood, marking the finality of what my life is going to be. And then when I got to my thirties, I realised: Oh wait, there is more to life, and things calmed down a little bit. Turning 30 has been the best thing to happen to me. I noticed that my body had begun to change, and things I used to wear didn't feel right. I felt that the universe hadn't prepared me for it. I didn't know how to dress this new body, so I hid it. It's only recently that I understood the difference between self-improvement and criticism.
MG: The last two years have been a bit up and down for me personally. I don't think I was much of a foodie but I started to develop a relationship with food. I also started to understand what kind of workout suits my body. I am big-boned girl. I look in the mirror every morning and I know my body is changing. As women, we understand that feeling. I am anxious and cover it one day. The next day, I am okay and dress for it. This self-scrutiny was putting pressure on my mind. It was only this year that I said to myself, look, this is how it's going to be. But it's an ongoing challenge. I don't think I will truly be comfortable with anything, whether my hair, skin, the way I look, the work I do… It takes a lot of talking to yourself and blocking the noise from outside to be in the place I am right now.
Who decides how much skin show is good?
MG: I like showing my cleavage; it's a rather fetching one. Sometimes, I show more of the midriff or leg. And there are times when I cover up. It depends on how I am feeling. Fashion today, thanks to social media, has become about explaining yourself, and that's troubling me. A digital agency told me: we've noticed that your followers are dropping, put up at least six pictures in a swimsuit every week.
In the forthcoming looks of our 30-piece trousseau collection, you'll see blouses that are cut super-low, and corsets that accentuate the cleavage. It is a celebration of whatever version of a woman you want to be.
RK: As a stylist, I think it is, in fact, flattering for curvaceous women to show a little bit of neck and cleavage. It makes your frame look longer. For the more athletic, or modest, there are halter blouses, tube and off-shoulder ones. You needn't show skin, but there is no shame in doing it if you want to.
Feminism has had a complicated relationship with the idea of femininity.
RK: Yes. We are both feminists, we believe that men and women should be entitled to equal opportunities and rights. If I wear a pink saree, put on makeup one day, and a business attire the next, it's my choice. The first doesn't make me less of an entrepreneur. There is way too much pressure to be either this or that, wear a pant or a skirt, and then decide what kind of girl you are.
MG: We wanted to explore the idea of femininity with come-as-you-are diversity. We are not endorsing a particular notion of dressing, but allowing women to choose. Feminism has turned into propaganda. It claims women are superior. For me, femininity and feminism are about one woman helping another one up.
The collection's price range
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