Culture

An Indian Designer Draws Flak For Calling "Overdressed" Women "Wounded"

The backlash shows an increasingly vocal resistance to India’s patriarchal norms.

by Meera Navlakha
11 July 2019, 6:50am

Image courtesy of Sabyasachi via Instagram.

Sabyasachi Mukherjee, an Indian fashion designer, has been described as the “king of India’s bridal market”. Now, the designer is under the stern gaze of Indian consumers and media for his latest campaign’s comments on women.

“Some women find jewellery filling in the gaps and echoing the silences in their lives, hoping their everlasting sparkle rubs off a little magic on to their restless souls,” reads a caption in the photo series for Sabyasachi Jewellery.

“If you see a woman ‘overdressed’, caked with makeup, armored with jewellery, it is most likely that she is wounded. Bleeding inside, silently,” another post claims.

Many have taken umbrage at how this campaign positions women. Some critiqued the need to explain why women choose to dress up. Some condemned the romanticizing of a woman’s emotional state in order to sell an image and jewelry. Others believed the sentiment behind the campaign was purely commercial.

There are over 3,500 comments on that particular post. Most people seem to scrutinize, above all, the attempt to “mansplain” a woman’s sartorial choices.

The images accompanying these words feature the designer’s signature opulence, which has secured Sabyasachi’s status at the top of India’s fashion market. The New York Times once referred to his clothes as a “melting pot of fashion.” The designs balance traditional modes of dressing with a more modern interpretation of a 21st-century Indian woman.

The designer’s accolades are impossible to ignore. Sabyasachi was the first Indian designer to show at Milan Fashion Week in 2004. The commonly used phrase “Sabyasachi bride” is used to describe the 50,000 brides in India he has dressed over his twenty-year career. In 2019, his company is expected to make about $35 million.

Sabyasachi’s global success may explain why his Indian base now find themselves disillusioned. The backlash also indicates a growing resistance to the double standards and stereotypes Indian women find themselves facing in various ways, on a daily basis. Social media, in particular, is amplifying India’s efforts to fight back against many of its patriarchal norms.

The campaign’s blowback compelled Sabyasachi to release his own statement, which attempted to explain the true intent of his campaign.

“We, as a society, often get extremely judgemental about peoples’ clothing choices. We fail to understand that maybe some are using these as coping mechanisms to put on a brave front to make up for the lack of a support system,” he wrote.

The lengthy statement incorporated the designer’s own struggles with mental health – and how he used “radical clothing choices” as a mechanism to withstand said struggles. He also cited the inspiration behind his latest flamboyant collection: a Bengali poet, Tagore, “who wrote about these issues.” The poem in question revolves around a married woman cloaking her inner angst with a jewelry obsession.

“I invite everyone to democratically join this debate,” he wrote, concluding the post.

Even still, the expansive Instagram community he has acquired was not impressed with the explanation. In response to Sabyasachi, some users wrote that they deny his apology. Others maintained that a woman’s choice is entirely hers: to be overdressed, underdressed, or neither.

Find Meera on Twitter and Instagram.