You would have to be a steady inhabitant of underground dwellings to have not noticed the proliferation of Indian fashion magazines. From Vogue India to L’Officiel India, our newsstands are bursting with bright glossies that have become the Bibles of the members of the younger working class. If you have ever spent a moment looking through these magazines, you would be wowed by the vast variety of designer handbags, watches and shoes available in India today. The emphasis is rarely placed on local goods; rather the pages are replete with expensive designer brands from Dolce and Gabanna to Christian Dior, all of which now retail in India from major metros like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.
This excessiveness of representation is a clear example of the large-scale development in our country. Gone are the days when owning a pair of Levis jeans was a sign of prosperity and wealth, now you have to have a collection of limited edition HermÃ©s Birkin bags, Ã la Twinkle Khanna, to stand out in a sea of Fendi, Prada and Louis Vuitton.
The situation is slowly spiralling out of control with people being known for the size of their shoe cupboards rather than any personal skill. I won’t deny the appeal of a well-made pair of shoes but do they really have to cost a lakh for them to be deemed worthy of wear? At this stage of development, we as a country have become an exception to the basic economic law of demand which states that as prices rise, demand will decrease and vice versa. Instead, a higher priced handbag comes with a significant status value that overshadows its wallet-draining ability. The demand for designer prints is so high that some women will even consent to wearing a pair of hideous checked pants simply because they scream out the brand!
Perhaps what’s even more amusing is the establishment of new businesses that offer designer handbags on rental to meet that section of the demand that does have some form of monetary consciousness. Firms like Bagsutra, based in Mumbai, allow a client to choose a designer bag from the collection and keep it for two to three days; after the days have passed, the bag is returned and a new one can be borrowed, if desired. Though these firms are a great example of the growing business acumen of India’s populace, they also suggest the desperation that many in society feel.
Firms like Bagsutra derive their continuous demand from women who attend fancy soirÃ©es where the question is not what you are drinking but what you are wearing. This represents a fascinating change in our societal set-up wherein the notion ‘money talks’ has taken a whole new level. The middle class has become enslaved by images of the upper class in all their finery and so photos of Malaika Arora Khan in her HervÃ© Leger bandage dress are enough to get everyone into a saving mood; the upper class, on the other hand, have lost all concept of saving. Prestige goods are now de rigueur and it is sacrilegious to turn up at an event and not name-drop when describing your outfit!
Of course, such blatant expenditure is a good sign for India’s economy which will only be boosted by the sale of a millionth designer bag. The only worry is our loss of sanity, but apparently that can be quelled with a shopping spree. In the past Indians had an extremely unwavering positive attitude towards thrift and saving for a rainy day was an unquestioned, universal standard. But as times change, the mentality also changes and so here we are, drooling over our Bollywood starlets and their expansive wardrobes. Of course, nobody thinks about how the money spent on one designer handbag could probably fund the education of several impoverished youths. No, that’s for others to worry about. Unfortunately, the proportion of those that ‘worry’ is diminishing as luxury tightens its grasp around middle class desires. Undoubtedly, we are heading for a stage where the gap between the upper class and the poor is so enormous that the poor will receive no recognition as members of Indian society at all.