#ELLEexclusive: Sanjana Sanghi writes about having fun with fashion during a challenging time
"I felt like a kid inside a dark cloud, desperately yearning and searching for silver linings and rainbows"
The word ‘fashion’ of course takes my mind first to clothes, but more to the activity of buying clothes which instantly ignites every memory from childhood where Ma or Pa buying me a new piece of clothing was either in celebration of an occasion or achievement or sometimes the fact that we were buying new clothes that specific moment became somewhat an occasion or celebration. My point being, it was a rare occurrence, but an incredibly special one.
Years after, when I revisit those very clothes, they’re not just an inanimate piece of cloth. They’re memories, of what day it was, what we as a family felt at that time, and or maybe a milestone we may have been celebrating.
And I suppose, that’s fashion for me even today. Fashion is a means of expression has long been it’s standing definition too, yet I have only come to truly understand it now.
As an artist who depends on characters to give some kind of structure to my own complex thoughts and emotions, and has fun with any form of emotional expression — whether acting or writing — I have slowly begun to realise that I have long had an undiscovered dependence on the clothes that I have worn. A dependence on using them as a means of expression, and thus by extension, as a means of catharsis. That pair of jeans that shrunk after many repeated washes, that shirt which looked different two years later because the colour faded; re-wearing and rematching these wardrobe favourites happened subconsciously and entirely naturally.
The clothes I owned or wore growing up have been a marker of not just a memory, but of something that needed to both earned and re-used. They’ve never come with a sense of entitlement, neither have they been in abundance. Which essentially, is just an extension of the values my parents have always endeavoured to bring my brother and me up with – firstly, of never allowing ourselves to believe that the world owes us anything (read: feel entitled) because everything you have has to be earned and secondly, need to learn to live and thrive within limited means.
As a kid who grew up in the 2000s, I grew up in a newly globalised India that had still not been closely acquainted with fast fashion. Our wardrobe and choices continued to be limited or defined by the range available at our localities’ markets, or the fancier and larger yet local stores of big cities.
You realise what that really means? Technically, I’ve grown up in an India that just by nature both supported and depended on ‘homegrown’ brands, and was ‘Vocal for Local’ – both things we have need to have specifically dedicated advocacy for today. So I’d suppose if anything, this approach should simply very naturally to my entire generation and those preceding us since it’s what we grew up with.
A few months ago, I had to bring my debut film, Dil Bechara to our audiences by myself, amidst a uniquely challenging, overwhelming, exhausting and almost confusing circumstance. I could hardly make sense of much since internally I just wanted to cocoon up and cope with what had happened; yet I also had to fulfil the commitment of releasing our labour of love, in a manner as dignified and befitting as possible.
Long story short, I felt like a kid inside a dark cloud, desperately yearning and searching for silver linings and rainbows to add some colour to the darkness that ensued. I told my dear friend and stylist, Bornali Caldeira, “Can we maybe, have a little bit of fun with clothes?”
Yes, owing to the pandemic the film was no more a theatrical and was going direct to OTT. Yes, I had to execute the entire press run, and my very first, entirely alone amidst grappling with an explicable loss, and yes the interviews were going to be virtual – and I suppose it is all of these unfathomably testing circumstances which motivated me to try, even to the smallest possible degree, to lighten things up and make them a tad bit more colourful, maybe for myself, maybe for our audiences, I don’t know.
But just by trying to have, some fun with fashion.
It took me back to what clothes signified for me as a child, both an embodiment of the values we have grown up with, and being symbolic for making the clothes themselves a celebration, and a temporary escape from reality.
This was coupled with a key discovery I had with the humanitarian work I carry out which largely focussed in the sphere of educational empowerment for children in India. While I was carrying out my on-ground work through the earlier months of lockdown, I became acutely aware of COVID-19 and its impacts across various other socio-economic sectors as well. It is in that process that I become privy to the struggle that the fashion economy was facing. I heard some of my favourite homegrown brands undergoing the need to ask themselves the question: “Are we going to survive this pandemic?”. And that worried me.
I guess, unknowingly, we visualised for this virtual press run as one of the best opportunities to do my bit in helping out and supporting these fine creative businesses of our country, while also attempting to lighten things up for myself from the crumbling heaviness I felt. I’m so grateful it panned out that way, since our journey with fashion through the press run allowed me to both express and discover myself in ways I have not before, and become a small glistening rainbow in an otherwise dark, dark sky that I could really do with. I sincerely hope India’s unique and absolutely wonderful homegrown brands only grow, prosper and co-exist in a world dominated now by fast fashion.