Fashion consultant Ramesh Menon observes how fashion made inroads into Kerala where young people are now open to experimenting
Kerala has a fascinating tale – it has led from the front, breaking all the barriers, glass ceilings, and conventional paradigms. Scurry the Internet and you would find enough and more instances where Kerala has the unique distinction of being the first – the Malayali has done it before anyone else. Fashion is an interesting space and one that is ever-changing. Trend spotting as a science fails to derive a national consensus when it comes to a vast country like India, which comes with the heavy armour of a rich heritage that has defined its culture strongly.
Kerala’s ever-changing dynamic landscape that constantly adapts and sets trends has however struggled in context to fashion over the decades in seeking its own identity. Kerala over centuries due its geographical ecosphere and humid weather, had simple clothing – the traditional mundum neriyathum in various forms – that has restricted itself to traditional outings now. Fashion has reluctantly made inroads into the state, which still borders social strictures when it comes to clothing. The past decade has seen its transition and more so in the past five years, with the new gen breaking in to look fashionable and in sync with their counterparts elsewhere, social acceptance or not. The media has played its role but the fascination to simply ape what works elsewhere seems to be fashion’s doing. So not surprisingly, you will find news anchors in their ill-fitted suits or actors walking down the red carpets in heavy gowns.
Aiding the growth in adapting fashion trends and a growing market are Kerala-based designer brands. Five years ago, there were hardly any labels that stood out for its distinctive fashion ideology. Sreejith Jeevan, Shalini James, Jebin Johny, Alexander Aleekal, to celebrity labels like that of Poornima Indrajith, Kavya Madhavan, and homegrown labels like Saritha Jayasurya, Hari Anand, Label M etc. are pushing the envelope further in every direction the fashion arrow can go. There are many more initiatives in the custom design space across the state, new age malls, fashion stores and boutiques and also the advent of fashion schools reflect the growing awareness and willingness to experiment, and adopt trends. Emergence of curated fashion retail spaces is also telling the new story.
Glitter and accessories
The land of gold and all that glitters will not let any other trend top it sooner. Conventionally, much attention was never given to jewelry or accessories, but the young are writing their own rules, and it's a welcome change. Modern brides have been following trends to cut down on the kilos of gold weighing them down in traditional styles and patterns. Fashion trends for the young are to go for minimalistic pieces that are not essentially pure gold. Trends like chokers, mismatched earrings, layered and long neck pieces, broad bracelets, chunky chain links, logo and transparent jewellery are finding their way to the modern Malayali. They resort to unconventional pieces for regular wear and push the boundaries with the formal and wedding attires, beyond pure gold.
World of weddings
Kerala’s changing styleometer is largely reflected in its wedding attires. From the conventional ‘blink and you miss’ wedding affairs, the celebrations have spanned to multiple occasions and functions, allowing for experiments. Brides and grooms are shunning the traditional finery and adopting trends from all over. Designers like Sabyasachi, Rahul Mishra, Gaurav Gupta, Manish Malhotra and their likes interpreting wedding couture in newer forms have led to greater demand today, besides the conventional bridal outfits, you have seasonal wedding couture ranging from spring couture to resort couture. And, men do wear sherwanis in Kerala now!
Sphere of influence
Cinema is a great influencer and the actors are the brand ambassadors of a new fashion lexicon. Social media and its reach have ensured that the young are influenced by sartorial choices from all over the world. Be it Deepika Padukone or Gigi Hadid, the generation next in Kerala follow global fashion icons. Malayalam cinema has not paid much heed to herald a fashion revolution yet. Though smaller experiments in films like Charlie have had its impact. Dulquer Salmaan, who breaks into the national best dressed list with great ease for his individual style, is surely a homemade fashion icon. Rima Kallingal is one actor who has stood out for her own distinct fashion identity. An early adopter, she brought in her own style and has helped push many a young fashion design talent with her sense of quirky dressing and endorsements.
Very, very saree
The young have found a new love for the saree. And that is a big trend. Saree, not in its conventional avatars. Pre-draped sarees, short sarees, dhoti-style sarees, bikini sarees, sarees with crop tops, cocktail sarees, to saree gowns and what not, the six yard wonder has seen enough and more designer interventions and interpretations. It will continue to remain in vogue. And Kerala’s humble off-white saree with kasavu border in all its elegance and simplicity became a national classic with Bollywood divas endorsing it big time.
Clothing in Kerala is seeped with social strictures. Strict dress codes in temples and religious places and the over zealous moral policing has for a long time not let people experiment with their way of dressing or expression. The barriers and stigmas attached to word fashion are slowly easing. The assertion of an individual identity with their way of dressing and appearance is the new wave that will emerge and establish new order and normal in fashion. Social media apps like Instagram are large contributors in creating that unique voice and it will reflect in the rapidly changing fashion landscape of Kerala.