More and more familiar faces from the city’s social circuit can now be spotted on the ramp. T. KRITHIKA REDDY reports from the sidelines

The smokescreen clears revealing a flawless white ramp and about a dozen women in body-skimming kurtas and floor-grazing lehengas. As I make a mental note of the opaque-to-luminous colour story that unfolds, the crowd claps and cheers endlessly. A swarm of shutterbugs jostles for elbow space and happily clicks away as the women try to pout and pirouette with a hint of self-consciousness.

It shows. They are not professional models who can carry off a heavy crystal-encrusted sari with the same flair as they would flaunt a pared-down tunic. Or walk on skyscraper stilettos and swirl to display a voluminous, tiered skirt. Or fake a pout while keeping a poker face! These are women from the city’s social circuit who usually fill the front rows at fashion dos. They have now jumped onto the ramp, what with the concept of fashion favours catching on in the city.

“The trend has picked up steam of late. To store owners and designers, it’s a way of giving back to their regular clients. It’s mutually beneficial,” says ace fashion choreographer Sunil Menon. “Usually, the client decides the line-up. As a choreographer, I suggest some Page 3 people who can increase visibility, add brand value or attract media attention.”

But not all women from the party circles are catwalk bona fides. Talking about the practical side, choreographer-designer Karun Raman says, “It is a challenge to get them to follow my moves, walk and pose right. But I think people are tired of watching size-zero models. They have a mental block about the clothes they showcase. So when we introduce regular women on the ramp, people relate to them better and can visualise themselves in the outfits.”

Ajit Menon, who is familiar with Chennai’s swish set, is of a different view. “There’s no point in throwing in familiar faces just to be cheered on by the crowd. ‘Brand fit’ matters. The concept cannot be abused to quote less for a show. I don’t have a problem with socialites doing one sequence in a show. But sadly, these days we have more ramp events with Page 3 women than models. With the result, professionals lose out.”

Model Sahitya, who has showcased a range of looks — from casual Boho to bejewelled bridal on the ramp, sounds confident though. “As a model I don’t feel threatened by the trend. The minute you put a famous face on the ramp, you are taking away from the designer who probably spent days to create an outfit! It’s no longer about the garment, but about the wearer. It defeats the purpose. But this is done mostly for friendship’s sake and, of course, for the budget.” Style houses and socialites undoubtedly share a symbiotic relationship. To Sneha Nair, a fixture in Chennai’s Page 3 circuit, “They are friends; it’s wonderful to support them. They want me to feel good and it’s a great opportunity for me to show off the clothes. It’s a nice feeling to be dressed up by professionals. From the outfit and accessory to make-up and hair, you are made to look like a professional model. I’m nervous of the actual walk though because I don’t want to make any wrong move.”

Vidya Singh, a favourite with all choreographers in the city for her fit frame and ability to carry off Western garments and ethnic ensembles, feels that when people from the social circuit grace the ramp there is an instant connect with the audience. “The whistles and cheering get really loud. It’s a lot of fun to be on the ramp. We are not real models so there is no pressure on us. When I admire a designer, I enjoy the chance to wear his clothes. But I’m always worried about falling off the edge of the ramp!”

Call them unwelcome distractions or a welcome relief, brand muses or pals of designers/store owners, the city’s fashion elite can continue to perfect tousled-hair glamour and statuesque poses for more rounds of photo frenzy. “After all, they have the home crowd rooting for them,” proclaims Sunil.