Blogs, journals, and the new face of retail
Text : Anusha and Vangmayi
Since when do garment and textile designers talk openly about laundry? Since there's been a ‘shift’, so to speak. On an evening of browsing the internet, a picture of a white, satin t-shirt dress posted by Nimish Shah’s clothing label Shift, caught our attention. It was a dress from the pre Autumn Winter/15 collection from Italian fashion house Moschino, made by designer Jeremy Scott. It was snarky genius: an otherwise plain white t shirt dress came alive with a full-body print of what seemed to be a dry-cleaning receipt!
The two curious-cats in us jumped to what the post linked us to— a journal on Shift’s website that highlights the otherwise-overlooked-as-insignificant topic of laundry through little gems ranging from TV advertisements and posters, to interviews and whimsical short films centred around laundromats. Through his clothing label's journal, Shah not only brings to light laundry and detergent ads that embody an intersection of art, design, and social commentary , but he also importantly starts a conversation on textile care with experts.
A whole host of such indie-designer labels, who’ve so far focussed on clothes made from Indian, homespun fabric with global, everyday-chic appeal, are now also spreading their interest base by storyfying their narratives. There’s a conscious effort at making the buying experience not just a retail one. Brands like The Olio Stories run a blog on their website where they profile their young and interesting clients— some include Abhineet and Emilia, the brains behind Brewhouse, a creative agency (the former is also one half of the sneaker store, VegNonVeg), and Ishrat who makes rugs out of upcycled silk sarees. Thematic travel posts that get you feeling wistful pop up every now and then. The focus though is to shine light on youngsters who are mostly doing what they love and succeeding at it.
There’s this very personalised storytelling thrust— even if we don’t actually buy from these brands as much as we’d like to, there’s a pull. We could spend a part of a day going over stories about people who share a similar (or aspirational) sartorial sense. Not only is it self-affirming in some ways, especially on gloomy days, but it also brings to us stories of people we wouldn’t have heard of otherwise, and especially not on any regular trip to a clothes store.
That all of this is a good, new, and novel way to approach PR and branding is obvious, but there’s a steady and strong shift away from what has become known as product pornography. As a generation, we’ve moved past the bulky fashion magazines (though these labels still get featured on them) with a clutter of photographs crowding a page— sometimes, a secret, exclusive “price on request” to boot.
Nicobar, despite being minimal and muted, still pours in the vibes you’d previously have associated with those kitschy pineapple-and-flower-print shirts. We pin it down to site design and the concept of their photoshoots– from places with lots of bay windows and copious sunlight streaming in, and tiny but lush little desk plants and citrus fruits on beautiful honey-toned wooden tables. But oh, their blog posts: there’s one on Hygge with a deep wine handloom shawl casually thrown over a blue, comfortable settee (yes, the pictures here are still product porn, but we could swear, the sex appeal took a spiritual turn here); and then there's the little dispatch from their party at Fort Kochi (oh, just casual people wearing clothes that represent the Nicobar aesthetic, milling about at a tea party in Kerala while you’re at your gloomy work desk, no big deal; they just casually got your attention for a holiday, as well as their clothes).
What the brand does really well though, (and most importantly for us) is bring out a collaborative sensibility through their blogs. Supporting fellow-indie start ups in a way, they’re talking to the likes of start-up Blue Tokai Coffee. In one blog post, they give readers advice on coffee through an interview with founders Namrata Asthana and Matt Chitaranjan. There’s a lot of art too— this includes conversations with musicians like Ankur Tiwari and artists like Desmond Lazaro on a trip to the Kochi Biennale.
The message is clear: When you buy Nicobar, you’re not just paying to get their summery clothes, you’re wearing (on your sleeve quite literally) a whole lifestyle— you’re interested in indie-homegrown music, you’re interested in contemporary Indian art, and coffee… you obviously love great (artisanal) coffee.
Then, speaking directly to people like us who’ve grown up in sunny south Indian scapes— wet saris hung out to dry from the terrace of our houses and cascading in the summer breeze like accidental capes protecting us from a heat wave— are brands like Mogra Designs. Their site, specifically a tab in it by the grand name, ‘The Movement’ is interspersed with just these type of photos, along with pictures from their travels to India’s hinterland to find artisans to work with.
From them, the two of us could quite comfortably find an everyday, casual outfit made from what we associate with as our roots— south-Indian-silk-sari swing and flare dresses, for instance. As we scrolled through ‘The Movement’ tab, up came two photographs, showing a detail of the hands of the artisans who’ve made these garments. The working hands in the picture pulled us into a story, with the assurance of personal connect with the craftspeople, and we easily fell in. This, we’re made to feel, is no longer just empty consumerism.
Here’s to the face(s) of new retail, and their evolution.