Powder Room made me wait. Powder Room made me read (and review) many other books. I wanted to lay my hands on it the moment I saw it in the list of books Random House India wanted me to review. It came to me after a while, and was worth the wait. Shefalee Vasudev's debut book held this special attraction for me because I am closely allied to the industry and wish to crossover sometime in the near future. The glamour of this world, as Vasudev testifies, is undeniable, and I am drawn to it like thousands in this country.
Powder Room, however, makes people like me think twice about charting this murky territory, and therefore succeeds as a book. It means to tell the inside story of the glittery, dog-eat-dog world of fashion, and it does so without mincing words. Although non-fiction, the book reads like a story, with a generous sprinkling of anecdotes that render the near-legendary fashion personalities, real. She also, often, speaks of her own experiences as the 'misfitting' fashion journalist, offering the reader fairly intimate views of what goes on in the wings.
The book is divided into 10 chapters, each offering insights into different aspects of the fashion industry. Fashion, explains Vasudev, has many faces: a sales girl at a luxury brand's kiosk in a city mall, struggling female and male models by the dozen, powerful and experienced models, rich industrialist wives, young designers, old designers, fashion journalists, luxury brands, tailors and masterjis, retail chains, fashion weeks, Page 3, Bollywood, fashion magazines and artisans to name a few pegs in this complex tapestry. The author tells the story and struggle of each of these players to help the reader understand the rather large, and often ugly, underbelly of this industry.
As the ex-editor of Marie Claire, Vasudev has an insider's perspective on fashion. That she has written this book after leaving the fashion world has served her well, and helped keep the book objective. When she narrates the life stories of, say, Nagma - the B grade model, or Rohit Bal - the King of Indian fashion, Imcha Imchen - the young and depressed designer, or the Salvis of Patan - the last standing family of Patola weavers, it is all believable. The author claims to have interviewed about 300 people as part of her research for the book, and it shows in the extensiveness and conviction with which she writes about fashion. Whether it is the politics of the designer lobby, the marketing tactics of international brands, the poor conditions of weavers, the lack of a code of ethics, the gigantic egos of designers, she knows what she is talking about.
The book concludes with the author's disenchantment with the world of fashion and her eventual exit from it. Fashion journalism, Vasudev states, is really a sham in this country, where brands with clout and money run the real show. Powder Room shows how in this world of excesses, any person with half a conscience soon begins to squirm with discomfort. Yet the lure of its arclights is so powerful that it draws people like moths. Those equipped with the author's clinical detachment, swim, and those without, sink.
Read this book for many such truths.