What the verdict on Section 377 means for fashion & retail

by Anjori Grover Vasesi

06-September-2018  |  8 mins read

Not for nothing, the great German thinker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, had said, ― “I am what I am, so take me as I am”, and similarly, Arthur Schopenhauer had pronounced, ― “No one can escape from their individuality.”

– Excerpt taken from the Section 377 Judgement.

Up until yesterday, loving a person of the same sex in India, could land you into prison and decree you a criminal. Homosexuality was illegal and thousands of gay Indian citizens lived with the fear of being picked up by the police, for an act as free as love.

THE VERDICT

At 12 p.m. IST on the 6th of September 2018, the Supreme Court of India passed a landmark judgement that decriminalizes homosexuality. Rendering the 157 year old colonial law, Section 377 as violative of Article 14, the Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra stated, “Bodily autonomy is individualistic. A matter of choice and is part of dignity.”

And before you know it, the world has changed overnight for these people for whom the act has made possible the equality that has been their due and has been so painstakingly fought for, for years, globally.

“Bodily autonomy is individualistic. A matter of choice and is part of dignity.” – The Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra

Fashion and homosexuality have shared a profound bond throughout history… there is a deep rooted stereotype of the gay designer within our culture which statuses the subconscious belief that gay people are better and more creative designers. Though there are no statistics to support this belief, there is no qualm about the fact that the fashion industry as a whole, has been more embracing of different sexual orientations than any other field.

Fashion celebrates individuality. It stands for freedom.

Freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of creativity… design as a language is free flowing, the same way love is. So love, regardless of gender, should be free.

Gender-bending fashion that defies societal norms, and demands for an equal representation of the LGBTQ+ community has become a regular occurrence on the Indian ramps.

THE BUILD UP

In the wake of a chaotic socio-political backdrop within a country, fashion and design have always come up with escapism as a logical response. Gender-bending fashion that defies societal norms, and demands for an equal representation of the LGBTQ+ community has become a regular occurrence on the Indian ramps.

Christopher Bailey for Burbrerry

A clear indication of this has been in the form of androgynous fashion, wherein masculine cuts and feminine sensibilities go hand-in-hand to generate gender neutral pieces. Not just limited to form, function and silhouettes, Indian designers and artists are taking to cinema, mobile phone apps and performance to support this cause.

Bobo Calcutta

Ayushman Mitra of Bobo Calcutta is one such designer who has long been championing his art over genderless garments by mixing digital artwork prints with embroidered and embellished techniques. His pieces urge a dialogue on perturbed topics such as the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

Internationally, the rainbow stripes came as a sign of the times – the runways of Spring/Summer 2018 and Fall/Winter 2018 were positively awash with the colours of pride. Christopher Bailey marked his last collection for Burberry by incorporating the rainbow seamlessly into the classic Burberry check, whilst Ashish, who is known for his unapologetic use of a vivid burst of colour included a shimmering technicolour pieces.

Dolce & Gabbana also had noticeable multi-coloured striped dresses, whilst Versace decidedly went for a deeper hued rainbow representation within its collection.

Versace SS18

THE OPPORTUNITY AREA

This move opens doors to a whole new category for Indian fashion and retail. Designers and retailers can tap onto this new opportunity area by leveraging on consumer psyche and sentiment.

Today more than ever, people are comfortable addressing sexuality. The clothes we put on are an extension of our individuality speak manifolds about us.

Calvin Klein

Internationally, retail giants such as Reebok, Nike, GAP, Adidas, Zara, etc., who enjoy a stronghold on the domestic market, have dedicated lines targeting and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.

The abdication of Section 377 can now be used as a chance by not only these international players, but also by Indian retailers to introduce similar lines in the Indian market.
Gap Pride collection

It is indeed, all about the consumer. Winds of change shall summon where domestic brands will leap to keep themselves at par with their foreign counterparts and at the same time, conform to the evolving consumer and his changing needs. Established social structures will shift and stereotypes will rapidly become outdated, leading to a more thoughtful consideration during product development. Trends such as gender fluidity, rainbow-isque Pride stripes, and inclusive collections will now be the name of the game, with a keen emphasis on the colour palette.

With the hype surrounding social media and digital, companies and brands can leverage this interest by actively depicting the concept within marketing campaigns and editorials. The most effective design strategies will incorporate palettes and notions that support different genders, ethnicities, skin tones, ages and body shapes.

Lane Bryant

Furthermore, a sense of being supported by the Government would result in the overall happiness index going up, which would in turn encourage consumer spending.

We are at the junction of a new era in the history of fashion and the trend is expected to run well into 2020… with the heat surrounding transparency, individuality and a need to be heard and seen, only escalating by the minute. Being different is not only okay – it is celebrated!

Socially, one would hope that even rumoured gay Indian designers can come out into the open and wear their Pride proudly on their sleeves, following in the footsteps of their international counterparts such as Valentino, Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce of Dolce and Gabbana (D&G), Karl Lagerfeld of Channel, Marc Jacobs of his eponymous label and Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace, and Alexander McQueen among many others.

“Fashion is communication in a way other than speaking,” Steele Director and Chief Curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York stated in an article.

“And when people are silenced, whether in New York in the 1950s or Russia today, fashion can be the only way for them to tell their story.”

What waits to be seen now is India’s unique story and how it stands out on a global level…

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