counterfashion 1- indian brands for real people

I have a love hate relationship with glossies. Every month, I splurge on a bunch of thick, colourful, shrink-wrapped magazines with covers so busy they have glamazons competing for space with blurbs competing with quotes competing with nifty little collages of this season’s hottest buys, till the only space left is filled with exclamation marks. (Can’t orgasm? Now you can! )  The glossy is a monthly celebration of hedonism, consumerism and all the other isms that make up that big, unwieldy ism- Capital. I love it because it’s so much fun- there’s much to drool over, gossip about, and tuck away into your imaginary wardrobe. I hate it because it’s formulaic and unimaginative- styling cliches abound, faces blur into sameness, and everything’s photoshopped, even the furniture. Too much dazzle, too little light.

BUT. There are brands and designers going against the grain, choosing real over rarefied, poverty over polish. Below are some words to help explain the difference.


The Usual  Said Brands
sameness/ uniformity difference
artifice honesty
contrived authetic
perfect happily flawed
global  local, even hyperlocal
embarrassment of riches spare, pared to the fundamentals
sensual cerebral
dressing for the male gaze dressing for oneself
bodyconscious anti-fit
apolitical  subversive
glamour anti-glamour
du jour  timeless, countercultural

These are the brands that float my boat-

1. Fabindia

I read at a college where you wore a lot of salwaar kameez and wore so much kohl you could pass for a panda. You sported DTC hair or auto hair (= messy bun) depending on your choice of Deathmobile and invested in silver/ stone/ wire jewellery bought lovingly from your best friend’s stall at Diwali Mela. Your go-to fabric was cotton- the thinner the better. You knew your chanderi from your maheshwari, your kalamkari from your ikat. When feeling particularly rich, you splurged on bangles at Dilli Haat, or scrunchies at GK M Block. You quoted Marx and Derrida and signed endless petitions campaigning for LGBT rights. You were an eco-warrior and a closet crafter, and you were beautiful.

And that is why Fabindia suited you perfectly. It was economical, and complemented your resentment of the Exploitative Capitalist Machinery. There were so many prints to choose from, so many shades of the same billowy Patiala salwaar you could mix and match with your kurtas. So what if it was a little ill-fitting. So were you in annoyingly reductionist company that called you ‘NGO type’ at that inter-college quiz thingy. And so what if it bled. So did your heart, for the oppressed proletariat.

I still wear a lot of Fab. It’s a great brand, and I feel good about wearing fabric that’s sourced locally and gives employment to rural women and craftspeople. Over the years it’s upped its game, including contemporary silhouettes and ‘younger’ tailoring in its repertoire, in addition to a mind-bogglingly beautiful range of silver jewellery (jhumkas as big as oranges, anyone?), footwear, furniture, accessories and organic produce. There are also the saris, all of which I love and buy by the dozen when flush with funds. Fab is staple office-attire, and always will be. I love that their adverts feature real people- people with zits and pimples and runaway hair and nascent potbellies. I’m a fan for life. Also, show me ONE person that doesn’t look good in a Fab garment, and you can have my Fab jewellery. All of it.

Delhi Fab stores I haunt– Vasant Kunj, GK N Block

What I mostly buy– Their saris, salwaar-kameezes, monochrome linen pants (they fit like a dream, don’t pinch your belly and make for great workwear), silver jewellery, wool jackets, dinnerware and organic produce, mostly sundried tomato (great for sandwiches!), dried mango, and ghee.

Similar Delhi based brands I love– Sampada (GK-1), Sabhyata (GK M Block, Lajpat Nagar), Cottons (GK N Block)

2. Anokhi

Anokhi is a cottonista’s dream. They’re all about exquisite prints, great fit and understated elegance. Their cotton is so good it feels like second skin, and their garments feature bells and whistles that Fab largely skips- intricate doris ending in a cluster of creamy conch shells, sewn-in cloth belts for structure and support, and near-invisible threadwork that catches the light beautifully. Their aesthetic is intelligent- a clever melding of traditional and contemporary, Indian and Western. This is not just some slapdash ‘ethnic’ job, this is carefully sourced, beautifully designed stuff that will mould itself nicely to your shape and make you feel like a queen. The downside? Terribly expensive. A top could set you back by 3000 rupees. Has that stopped me? Nossir. Three fourths of my wardrobe is Anokhi.




Delhi Anokhi stores I haunt– Vasant Kunj, GK N Block

What I mostly buy– Their tops (to die for. The fit is practically bespoke-level), palazzos, and night suits (dreamy prints + soft cotton= win!)

Similar Delhi based brands I love– Soma (Meherchand Market), The Shop (Parliament Street)

3. People Tree

I was introduced to People Tree by my friends Medhavi and Tanya (friendly wave, girls!). Tanya had borrowed Medhavi’s watch (because watch borrowing is the basis of a solid friendship), and I was amazed that its strap was essentially a thick, nearly ugly patch-worked strip of cotton. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. So I asked Tanya where Medhavi’d gotten it from, and she said, “People Tree.” I badly wanted it to be a Peepul Tree with craftsy goodies hidden in its gnarly trunk. So that very weekend, I tootled off to Parliament Street, a leafy city road with a row of shops to one side, and kept my eyes peeled for this magical tree that grew amazeballs watch straps. It was hard to find because it’s smushed between two big shops, and its entrance is dim and shadowy, but I did find it, and it was good. At People Tree, there are no rules. Deer prance on shirts. Tiger cubs frolic on tunics. 1 paisa coins dot freesize dresses, and inch tapes spill over t shirts. Many feature vernacular poetry and artwork-for-a-cause. Their clothes are whimsical, political and don’t-care, and mostly feature quirky prints on dull blue, black, brown or maroon backdrops. They’re all endearingly imperfect, and look clumsily painted-on, even scribbled on. Many feature breathtakingly gorgeous watercoloresque art. Some garments, especially the dresses, they can be shockingly expensive, but the others suit a first-jobber budget. No matter what the type, they’re all great conversation starters. I own over twenty. My favourites are a beige tunic with a cat face motif, a scarlet tunic with fish embroidered in gold thread, and a layered dress that features drawings of people’s faces. I wear them all with my trusty black tights and worn-in Oxfords. Downside? Much bleeding, especially the blues.

I wish I could share some photos, but there are no good ones online. I LOVE the giant posters in their shops though- the ones that feature their models wearing their clothes. Their models, just like Fab’s, are people with blotchy skin, and they look so good! Here’s a really good picture of their store on Parliament Street, thanks to It’s a hot mess!


Delhi People Tree stores I haunt– Parliament Street, Hauz Khas Village

What I mostly buy– Their tees (so many hilarious prints!) and tunics (brilliant fit)

Similar Delhi based brands I love– Ha. People Tree has no equal!

There’s more to follow, devis. I’m a little caught up at the mo, but I will get back with more exciting stuff soon. Chius.







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