Watching the Models Go By

Article excerpt

Byline: Sameer Reddy

The tension between globalization and tradition is embodied in the outfits that parade by on the catwalk.

I began with Brazil--Sao Paulo, to be exact. then Mumbai. then back to Brazil--Rio this time. Then Berlin. Belo Horizonte, Lisbon, Brasilia, and on and on. It's been an interesting, and exhausting, 10-month itinerary, and I've spent most of it sitting around waiting for things to begin. I'm part of the mobile fashion press corps, a strange subset of the larger fashion-media machine. While most fashion writers and editors make biannual pilgrimages to New York, Milan andParis for the ready-to-wear shows, I exchanged those chic, if a bit staid, destinations a couple of years ago for a more unexpected roster. These days, I'm more interested in exploring emerging fashion markets. Seeing the world through a sartorial lens is exciting, and as instructional as any guided tour. The surrounding scene reveals distinct cultural truths about each destination, demonstrating how Fashion Weeks can serve as social statements, highlighting the aspects that make a particular locale unique.

Across the planet, countries have come to realize the branding power that a Fashion Week can have. Evidence of the public's affection for the category is obvious in the success of shows like "Project Runway" and the various incarnations of "Next Top Model," and by organizing their own runway events, developing countries hope to tap into this air of sophistication. Brazil alone hosts Fashion Weeks in each of its four largest cities. India has three competing weeks, sponsored by rival companies and organizations; Russia and South Africa, at last count, had three apiece as well. Even though none of these countries has a particularly large international market for their high-end designs, they can't seem to get enough of the glamorous atmosphere generated by a fashion scene.

The formula is simple. Take one large venue. Fill it with 20 or 30 leggy models, 30 or 40 designers of varying ability, 50 rich and/or beautiful women and five local celebs to fill out the front row, a horde of hangers-on and three camera crews, and you've got yourself a Fashion Week. The quality of the show, of course, varies dramatically from city to city. But my interest lies more in the social anthropological aspect of the experience: how do different countries perceive themselves? Brazil's four Fashion Weeks, for instance, follow a strict hierarchy. Sao Paulo's is the biggest, then Rio, then Capital Fashion Week in Brasilia, and lastly the Minas Gerais Trend Preview in Belo Horizonte. Despite their different scales, they share a common view of how to portray women: strong, glamorous and unabashedly sexy. They revel in revealing cuts, feminine fabrics and fun styles.

Berlin, on the other hand, finds itself in the uncomfortable position of playing catch-up to the continent's principal couture capitals. …