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April 13, 2016

#TheHybridLife: The Ever-Changing Rules of Lifestyle and Decor

Text by Milika Hariani. Illustration by Farzana Cooper

Lifestyles, fashion and decorating have gone through a huge sea change, somehow encompassing past trends as well as reflecting the multilayered climate of our times

Recently, I threw caution to the winds and went to a stellar shopping event on the city’s calendar as it opened, at its most frenzied, instead of going to the relatively relaxed preview. There, I had a eureka moment, an epiphany of the fashion kind.  It hit me that our ways of dressing, accessorising and even furnishing our homes have altered perceptibly and interestingly in the past two decades. The evidence is there for all to see — at parties, weddings, restaurants, coffee and tea bars, at shopping malls, on the streets, on the net and in the profusion of fashion and design magazines. I had noticed the signs but had failed to register a full-blown trend.

The definite shift was glaringly obvious at the huge, well-lit space transformed into a shopping arena. Eager beavers spanning several generations and dressed to the nines, as if for a ritzy social event, swarmed in, greeting each other and determinedly checking out the wares. What stood out were the clothes they had on, an interesting melange of Indian and Western wear of every conceivable kind, accessorised to perfection.

I noticed that women, who wore only saris before, have switched to salwar kameezes except when it is absolutely necessary, while those who favoured Indian-style garments have switched to pants and shirts. The younger set has embraced dresses wholeheartedly. In some circles, saris have been abandoned while in others, women are turning their backs on the run-of-the mill and opting for the unusual by specialists like Anavila or brands like Raw Mango.

Jewellery smorgasbord
This holds true for jewellery as well. Although several ultra-luxe jewellers offer one-of-a-kind, arresting ornaments to satisfy the new maharanis, there are a host of others selling affordable, everyday pieces like pearls of all kinds. Jewellery these days is a hodgepodge of different influences. India can boast of an unbroken heritage of jewellery that spans at least 5,000 years and extends back into antiquity. Less has never been more in India. That is one of the reasons why so many Western jewellery designers looked to India and especially to the jewels worn by royalty for inspiration in the ’20s and ’30s. The new aristocracy is choosing to wear multilayered, regal, rather ceremonial designs set with giant stones and fringed with precious stones or pearl drops, at ritzy functions.

Old forms are being reinterpreted in ingenious ways, mixing, for example, traditional enamel, repoussé and filigree work, setting them with uncut diamonds (polki) and semi-precious stones in startling non-traditional colour combinations. Many uncomfortable-to-wear traditional pieces have been modified and are being made in lighter versions. Besides, there is a smorgasbord of precious jewellery to choose from, thanks to India’s varied heritage. Each region has such a barrage of traditional designs that aficionados are spoilt for choice. Recently, designs from different parts of the country have been fused and mixed to create eye-catching hybrid pieces.

The stigma attached to fake jewellery has vanished. In fact, everyone is faking it with aplomb at destination weddings in particular, especially the younger set. Since long necklaces became the rage, fashion jewellery has risen to another level. People are teaming these trendy pieces with gobstopper solitaires or those Chanel studs that define the lobe. Gold-plated silver set with large semi-precious stones and bold statement-making chunky pieces are in style. People are mixing their jewellery instead of playing safe with matching sets or wearing just one statement-making piece. They are choosing to wear ethnic pieces with Western clothes or vice versa.

Watches and handbags, not jewellery, are the new status symbols especially among the millennials or Generation Y who prefer owning the latest hi-tech gizmo to sporting large rocks. A bewildered husband confided that he had gifted his wife a diamond-studded designer watch from a renowned store. Instead of being thrilled, she had been reduced to tears. She had been lusting after a designer bag. This is a five-year-old story. A college student told me a different one yesterday. “If we carry high-status bags people will think we are carrying fakes. We stick to middle-of-the-road brands while in college and go in for higher brands only when partying with close pals.”

Interiors anew
Today, people are globetrotting avidly and are bolder and more innovative when revamping their homes. They are incorporating artifacts and paintings bought abroad into their decor and are mixing and blending different styles and influences, using all the new materials flooding the market to great advantage. It is no longer unusual to have rooms or spaces influenced by diverse cultures in one home. Distressed walls in one area and gilded niches in another are admired, not scoffed at, now.

Homemakers are turning their backs on old-style preferences and going in for radical changes. This was very evident at several house-warming parties I attended recently. People are living out their fantasies and creating their dream homes that range from the eccentric to the sublime. “Life is too short to take things too seriously. I wanted to inject some humour into my home,” commented a friend who had adorned her powder-room walls with quotations by T. S. Eliot. She had revamped her three-level flat completely, storing all her huge antique Tanjore paintings and heavy, carved furniture, replacing them with contemporary pieces while adding striking dashes of colour to the walls. A key trend today is to have unmatched furniture. Even dining table chairs can be of different designs or be upholstered in complementary fabric.

The way we are
Fashion is a mobile, constantly changing reflection of the way we are and the times that we live in. When the economy opened up two decades ago, we gained access to all kinds of foreign goods and brands. That‘s when designer culture hit our shores in earnest. If something is fashionable, it is current, the latest trend. Ironically, no sooner does something become fashionable than it begins its downward cycle and fades into oblivion, to be superseded by the next trend. In the past, this scenario was cut and dried but in recent decades, the residue of one movement has stuck on and been incorporated into the next. Besides, contemporary designers are adept at delving into history and reincarnating key elements of past fashions. The results accurately reflect the hybrid climate of our times.

More than two decades ago, I had to interview couturier Tarun Tahiliani. I went straight from the airport, wearing a printed skirt and top from Cotton World with a lot of South Indian gold that I had worn to a function the previous evening in another city. I did look like a Christmas tree but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to risk leaving my precious hoard in the car. He commented that it was most uncool to mix different styles and to wear so much jewellery in the day. Now, everyone is doing it intentionally. Bill Blass made a lot of sense when he said, ‘Fashion is easy: it can be bought. But style is mysterious and impossible to attain if it isn’t genuine.’ It seems to me that more and more people have their own inimitable sense of style. It may reflect a medley of influences or flaunt a hybrid flourish but it’s definitely bold, defiant and genuine.

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