“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Several eyebrows shot up when Fashion101.in launched as India’s first and only multi-lingual fashion website, available in English, Hindi and Gujarati. “Is the Hindi- or Gujarati-speaking mass market interested in fashion?” was the question on several skeptical minds.
Despite the naysayers, we of course went ahead with our vision of making India fashionable. It hasn’t been easy. Much is lost in translation – how do you describe an outfit’s ‘silhouette’ in Hindi? How do you translate ‘cleavage’ or ‘trousseau’ in Hindi while still being politically correct? How do you explain ‘androgyny’ or ‘couture sari-gowns’ to a new audience that may not be familiar with such terms? The challenge flummoxes us. But then, if something doesn’t shake you out of your comfort zone, it’s not worth doing.
Language is a strange beast. It not only affects our brains neurologically speaking, it also opens up entire worlds to us culturally and emotionally. Those who are bilingual – and almost all Indians are – know the complete inadequacy of trying to translate into English the romance of Urdu poetry, or the pun of a Hindi joke. Certain words can only be felt not heard, and certain ideas can only be understood, not explained.
So we were rather kicked to see Diesel’s new advertisement just a short walk away from our office in Delhi, on a billboard close to NSIC grounds where Amazon India Fashion Week had just taken place. Perhaps the first upmarket brand to address the Hindi audience, the Italian fashion label’s advertisement used the same graphics and visuals as their international campaign, but the message was pretty clear: we aren’t just for those who know English.
The statement is timely. Urban Indians have greater purchasing power and more swanky malls than ever before, but not necessarily the fluency in English – which is after all still a second language for most – nor the confidence to walk into a luxury showroom and strike up a conversation in English with the store staff. Diesel’s ad puts exactly these kinds of customers at ease: if you’re looking for luxury, then we speak your language.
Marketing to Indian audiences has always been a challenge for foreign brands entering the country, most of whom do so in collaboration with Indian distribution companies. While some of them do modify their strategies to suit local audiences – such as invitations in local Indian languages by the marketers at Montblanc – most of them stick to their global marketing strategy for the Indian audience as well. Interestingly, they all use English for communication in India. The assumption is, if you are rich, you would have gone to private schools and would know English.
“But the luxury audience is not necessarily the English-speaking, stiletto-clad fashionista,” remarks Nidhi Seth
, managing director of Luxury Solutions, who has watched the luxury industry evolve in India over the past two decades. Typically, the nouveau riche spend their sparkling new 1000-rupee notes on land, and then fancy cars, she says. “They then move to the retail space. For them, the brands available at fancy urban malls are the entry level to luxury retail. What Diesel is doing is making its presence felt amongst this growing, affluent new population that has just begun aspiring to branded luxury.”
Over the past few language-manic months since our launch, we at Fashion101.in
have not only evolved as a team but also as human beings. Our writers – all from an English-centric fashion media background – have, to use the title of Katherine Russell Rich’s brilliant book, begun to dream in Hindi. Our Hindi and Gujarati editors have gone through even more drastic personal changes – they have progressed from cotton kurtis, jeans and jholas to asymmetrical hemlines
, tote bags
. Everyone attends fashion week
. Everyone has a shopping app
on their phone. Everyone has an opinion on Kangana Ranaut’s Bibhu Mohapatra dress
. Language is no bar when it comes to fashion.
We’re glad the creators of fashion agree.
This article was first published on Fashion101.in.