Kitsch and tell

A twirled moustache against patches of bright yellow, red and pink; minarets of the Taj Mahal and gopurams of temples in silhouettes of florescent green; a Kathakali mask; graphic motifs of autorickshaws and bullock carts; patterns of jaalis and cartoon prints of elephants and cows — they look like pages from Amar Chitra Katha or Chandamama.

But, guess what we are talking about? It’s the ubiquitous Indian kitsch that has managed to seep through every layer in fashion and lifestyle. Sweeping across clothes, accessories, home décor and lifestyle products, Indian kitsch has heralded a riot of colours and prints, adding that much-needed vibrancy to our daily lives. On coffee mugs, floor rugs, pants, pillows, skirts and seat covers, among others, there’s no escape from the big splash of cheerfully bright colours.

For Sudipta Hoskote of The Elephant Company, kitsch is primarily a conversation starter. “It straddles the line between being provocative and trendy,” she says. “At The Elephant Company, we hold kitsch as an artistic ode to an aesthetic that is bright, slightly tongue-in-cheek, and merges inherent Indian charm with a cosmopolitan sensibility by infusing individuality onto a variety of lifestyle products.”

Kitsch brings a feeling of celebration and exaggerated jubilation, akin to dreaming in technicolour, says Nasreen Singh of Play Clan, a brand that fuses graphics with craft. Hand-drawn and with artisan workmanship, its products transform simple observations and unforgettable experiences into memorable possessions.

“Indian kitsch has carved a name for itself because many youngsters have identified with this particular style and followed it up in their daily wardrobe,” says Nikita Shyam of Urumi.

“Urumi products have a South Indian twist. India and colour are synonymous with each other. So, basically, you can take kitsch out of India, but not the other way around.”

“This variety of kitsch occupies a rather unique space in fashion because it draws more from historical imagery than most other design philosophies,” says Anurita of Pink Jalebi. “I think my design ethic seeks to capture symbols and icons from Indian folk art. It may be a pattern from a famous building, a prominent monarch’s reign or a means of transport.”

As it increasingly invokes nostalgia and sentiment, kitsch products are designed to tell a story. Club the essential Indianness with global aesthetics, infuse panache and contemporary chic, and they make unique statement pieces.

“When I started Pink Jalebi, I thought only college kids and youth would go in for these designs. I was pleasantly surprised in the first few days to see the positive response from different demographics. My oldest customer was a lady in her 80s, who came thrice in one week to pick up stoles. My youngest customer was a four-year-old boy who forced his father to buy him the auto print shot-glass from my stall at an exhibition in Bangalore. My clientele is that varied, and I love that,” says Anurita, whose clutches are extremely popular.

“I keep introducing new designs in the clutch range because many customers like to buy different designs for different occasions. We also have more compact wallets. Our coasters also move quickly off the shelves.”

“Kitsch accessories can be one-off accent pieces, so they don’t have to specifically appeal to one type of customer. We see a diversified group of customers — normally, young millennials looking to decorate their home or office space with a pop of fun. But, you also have college students looking for a one-of-a-kind sling bag, and a young couple searching for wall art to make their house a home — the possibilities are endless,” says Sudipta.

“People who kind of wear their heart on their sleeve are the ones who adore kitsch,” says Nikita. “Kitsch is something one can even wear every day; you can even have your whole house themed around it. But anything too much can be an overkill.”

Kitsch is often known to have little personality, but it can be a great style, says Mumbai-based stylist Kriti Ekka. “Kitsch is something that explodes with fun and colours and need not be restricted to occasions. There are also no hard-and-fast rules to wear it.”

So, what’s the future of kitsch? “As new styles emerge, the colourful generic trend of kitsch is evolving into sub-segments — some inspired by photographs, some by type and others by illustration,” says Nasreen, adding, “The future will see a more refined output, filtering generic designs and compiling a sharper narrative.”

Anurita points out that kitsch is an integral part of Indian fashion already and will stay that way.

“Whether in haute couture or in ready-to-wear apparel, in jewellery or other accessories, or even in lifestyle products, it has come to stay on and is not a passing fad or flavour-of-the-month.”

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 7:12:20 PM |

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