On 3 February, the public relations team handling the recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week’s (LFW) Summer Resort 2019 edition sent out an email to accredited “media”. The subject line: Celeb Spotting Day 4. Besides some well-known names like Ranveer Singh, Anil Kapoor, Janhvi Kapoor (well known exactly for what is not yet clear) sportsperson Saina Nehwal and Malaika Arora, the list included “Influencer Farhana Bodi” and Digangana Suryavanshi. Some may need a Google search especially among those of us who have fallen behind in the influencer game. Unfortunately, I also fall into the category of not recognizing Debina Bonnerjee, Ridhi Dogra, Roshni Chopra and a few others. Let’s just say it is hard to figure out why “spotting” them is crucial in our careers as fashion hacks. But it is. Even though not all walked the ramp—some came only special guests.

Such emails would be sent on any or all days of any fashion week if there was enough celeb turnout to list. This information is supposed to be a failsafe hook to net media attention. All fashion week events do this. There is an unchallenged formula at play here. Bollywood attendance enhances the worth of a fashion event in the attention arithmetic of associated sponsors. Because it assures media coverage. This logic mostly sticks because no fashion week body has been able to work out a saleable (to sponsors) fashion week model that is only dependent on storytelling and business without celebrity showstoppers. Even the media would be bored. 

No fashion week body has been able to work out a saleable (to sponsors) fashion week model that is only dependent on storytelling and business without celebrity showstoppers

Sponsors who spend multiple lakhs to bring a particular Bollywood celebrity walk for a particular show-or hold their phone on the head like Nokia did last season with Kangana Ranaut—are only too happy when a Ranveer Singh spontaneously makes fashion week the playground of his shenanigans. That’s what happened on Sunday when Singh broke into a crazy rap. The venue was lit up with fun and fire.

The Sponsor-Designer-Showstopper Carousel

As a quick reiteration, Lakme remains the title sponsor ever since this fashion week was launched in 2000. Whereas Nexa is currently an associate sponsor at LFW. INIFD on the other hand has sponsored the Gen Next show ever since it debuted in 2006 and that relationship still stands. Besides, in this particular edition of LFW, Reebok Sole Fury, Lenzing, Usha Silai, The Woolmark Company, Diamond Producers Association, Raymond, Corcal, Caprese, Grado, Alcis Sports, R Elan were among other sponsors. This carousel changes from one season to another even as some are returning partnerships.

The choice of a Bollywood showstopper usually rests with the designer once a commitment is made to the sponsor. It’s a part of the deliverance package in a sponsor-designer contract. This package necessitates a certain number of social media posts to be flashed out from the celebrity’s handle for the “followers” to be co-opted into the procession.

Lakme’s brand ambassador Kareena Kapoor Khan is out of this race as she is the de rigeur showstopper for every finale. Plus, with Lakme as the title sponsor, none of the L’Oreal girls like Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai and Alia Bhatt can be brought to LFW. They are faces from a competing brand and must be resolutely kept out.

Anil Kapoor and his one-film-old niece Janhvi Kapoor walked the ramp for the Nexa-sponsored show by designer Raghavendra Rathore. But would Nawazuddin Siddiqui or Radhika Apte, perceived as actors from “alternative and diverse” cinema be considered? My guess is not  

Barring those fundamentals, the rest is a bit of jugaad, a bit of strategy, but mostly a frenzied reach out on both sides. It is not just designers who trip over themselves to find a star. Celebrities are equally keen or desperate (given the scale of who is up and who is down) as such outings give them social media likes, publicity in newspapers and opens up possibilities of brand endorsements.

Not all designers succumb to the showstopper clause though. As an outstanding example, Aneeth Arora’s brand pero which presented an enjoyable and meaningful show at LFW last week doesn’t ever define its fashion presence through Bollywood. There are others who think similarly. The sponsor then, in pero’s case The Woolmark Company would rather match step with the designer than clamour for a star.

As a rule, the host organization keeps out of the negotiations between a designer and a celebrity. The choice of a showstopper is completely left to the presenting designer. Unless a major sponsor is involved. Then, every stakeholder gets involved to a certain extent.

Fuzzy Logic of Who’s A list and Who is Not 

Even so, the arithmetic is not simple. In case of hefty sponsors like Nexa, the star on the ramp will always be a well-known name chosen after considerable back and forth between the designer, the hosting organization (IMG Reliance that organizes LFW) and the brand for “suitability and sync” with the celeb. Often, this amounts to how a brand defines its own character—modern, affluent, powerful, sleek, oriented for the globally cultured and well heeled, youthful etc and if the star showstopper proposed reflects these brand qualities. Number of social media followers definitely help.

Anil Kapoor and Janhvi Kapoor at the Nexa-sponsored show by designer Raghavendra Rathore.

So once Anil Kapoor and his one-film-old niece Janhvi Kapoor walked the ramp for the Nexa-sponsored show by designer Raghavendra Rathore. But would Nawazuddin Siddiqui or Radhika Apte, perceived as actors from “alternative and diverse” cinema be considered? My guess is not. Perception of the star among the masses is everything in the game of glamour. Siddiqui eludes glamour as a part of his brand image but Rajkummar Rao from the same school of acting did find a ramp to walk on. Last season, he was the unlikely showstopper for a critically acclaimed collection by Rajesh Pratap Singh for a collaborative show with Tencel. Industry grapevine suggested that Rao’s team had been reaching out to Pratap. The “fit” was scanned and wish listed from the actor’s side.

Diversity and inclusivity has its own faces clearly. For instance, Bodice by Ruchika Sachdev that defines itself as a sustainable fashion label had Kalki Koechlin, Jim Sarbh, Tilottama Shome and Sayani Gupta as showstoppers. It was sponsored by Reebok Sole Fury.

Surprisingly, for all her fashion magazine covers in 2018, Apte who looks versatile and sexy in a formula-defying way doesn’t seem to conjure up the right “fit” as a showstopper for A-list sponsors. Not yet at least. She has walked in previous seasons but it is not easy to sell her non-mainstream appeal to companies across the retail universe.

Kangana Ranaut for designer Anushree Reddy at Lakme Fashion Week.

On the other hand, Kangana Ranaut, Ranveer Singh are among the most sought after, followed by Disha Patani, Kriti Sanon, even Kiara Advani, Sushmita Sen and Karisma Kapoor. Never mind if the last two are lapsed celebs.

Last season, I had an argumentative conversation with a brand sales expert about the mashup of A-List and B List celebrities that flooded into fashion week diluting, according to me, it’s influence. There was total disagreement on my B List cribbing. An Excel sheet with numbers, social media followers, and endorsements was then sent to me to explain why a star matters. So well. If Rajkummar Rao has 1.8 M Instagram followers and Ranveer Singh has 19.8 M, Disha Patani has 17.5 M besides endorsements with Ponds, Gionee and Garnier to boot, Kriti Sanon has 17.2 M. All Instagram.

The entire cast of Gully Boy came to launch what was called a GullyGen collection for the brand Lovegen. The film releases on the 14th of this month. Next season, another bunch of stars and wannabes will arrive for another hulabaloo

If this is the playbook, then Karan Johar is certainly not the cat’s whiskers with 7.9 M Instagram followers. Though he has numerous fashion and product endorsements and his image construction as a director-anchor-producer rests on his appearance quirks and clothes. Despite the unflattering conversation around a recent Koffee with Karan episode with cricketers Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul where both made offensive, misogynist remarks, that dilutes KJo’s appeal as a face for any brand at least for six months, he was still sent out by Gaurav Gupta as a showstopper. The designer opened LFW with actor Tabu and Johar. Fashion irony strutted out too: Tabu whose personality and apparent fashion choices don’t really sync with Gupta’s sculptural ball gowns came out looking fabulous in a grey creation while Johar who, given his wardrobe choices appears more of a Gaurav Gupta client, walked out in clothes that should forever stay in a closet. Sync? Well, you decide.

Suitability and Style Sync

Brand suitability and sync are mostly convenient words. Who is to say that Vaani Kapoor suits Shivan & Narresh’s resort wear brand more than the svelte Kriti Sanon or that tennis ace Sania Nehwal is an apt choice for a designer called Vaani Raghupathy Vivek? Both were actualities at LFW. For the sake of argument, won’t Malaika Arora with her glamorous image do the red carpet concoctions of Gauri & Nainika more justice than Yami Gautam?

Star wattage, friendships or relationships between designers and celebs, the incestuous give and take of favours that the industry rests on, the strategic intervention of stylists who depend upon both—celebs and designers- to push their careers, upcoming film releases that demand promotional appearances, and frenzied calls on availability determine what a lot of India views as “fashion”. The entire cast of Gully Boy came to launch what was called a GullyGen collection for the brand Lovegen. The film releases on the 14th of this month. Next season, another bunch of stars and wannabes will arrive for another hulabaloo. What fun. It is more like a merry go round—stars and sponsors get on and off it without precise logic.

So if you are trying to trace the creative trajectory of designers through which celebs wear their clothes, don’t. It’s a misleading trail. And if you are trying to find best dressed celebrities at a fashion week so that you can follow their style, don’t. They will (mostly) wear whatever gives them the showstopper moment—media, social media, paparazzi pursuits and endorsements.

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