Fashion ConscienceBy Lavina Melwani • Dec 26th, 2009 • Category: 24/7 Talk is Cheap - The Blog, The Buzz
You have to hand it to Myna Mukherjee, Director of Engendered, the small but spunky human rights organization dedicated to gender, sexuality and minority rights. She not only talks about these difficult topics in the South Asian diaspora, be it HIV-AIDS or sexual orientation, but also makes them more accessible through music, dance, movies – and now fashion. The Fashion Conscience event at the Asia Society not only pushed these issues center stage but also showed how many people are behind Engendered with their support.
Mukherjee, who has been pushing the envelope with a band of dedicated volunteers working from her one bedroom apartment in Manhattan, says: “We use popular culture and the arts to create awareness around gender and sexuality and so what we really want to do is take fashion back to its creative roots and use that as a mode of social change – and the designers we’ve chosen all speak to social change in their own ways, along with their work which speaks for itself.”
Celebrities who walked the ramp to show their solidarity were director Mira Nair, actors Manu Narayan, Ami Sheth, and comic Vidur Kapur. Kapur, the first openly gay South Asian comic, has brought issues of sexuality out on the floor, and defused them with humor.
A diverse trio of designers showcased their collections, with jewelry by NY designer Amrita Singh. ‘Positive’ by Manish Arora, who is one of the biggest names in fashion, was a tribute to the resilience of AIDS victims: “I chose color to signify ‘positive’ because that is a sign of happiness for me – and I took ‘positive’ to mean happiness – I love happiness! It doesn’t take much to make yourself happy.”
A fresh new voice was that of Asher Jay, a young designer who has graduated from Parsons and has worked with big names like Ralph Lauren, Anna Sui and Anne Klein. ‘One’ is her striking, androgynous line which wipes out the differences between genders.
‘Love’ by Zolayakha Sherzad presents the possibilities of Afghanistan, the bombed, chaotic land. Sherzad went back to her native land to organize the women and showcase their skills to the world. Her company Zarif, which means precious in Dari, organized the first fashion show in Kabul in 30 years. Every one of the wonderful jackets and outfits in the collection use fabric created by women dislocated by the war, giving them a voice and a livelihood.
Director Mira Nair, a big supporter of Engendered, said, “For many, many years I have always been inspired by the marginal myself but mostly by who decides what is the marginal, and to challenge that decision has always been the fuel for my own inspiration and my own little efforts.”
Each fashion collection was preceded by dance interludes including an arresting Bharat Natyam performance by Boston-based Mesma Belsare which celebrates gender and sexuality and leaves you slightly off-kilter, on edge. It’s hard to take your eyes off the performer of whom Dance Magazine wrote ‘as mesmerizing as staring into the heart of a fire.”
There were strong performances by Rajiv Purohit and Chilalares, and by Japanese dancer Maho Udo. Mira Nair rightly exclaimed, ‘What intoxication on stage! Finally the marginal is no longer the marginal – we are going to be heard and we have completely the right to exist, to celebrate.”
This was the day of New York’s big blizzard, yet it was a packed house. When people come together for a cause which moves them, they do form a community, a first shield of defense. Fashion may be whimsical and fleeting but when harnessed, it can make a difference and raise awareness about the many human rights which are being transgressed around the world.