Friday, May 24, 2013

Convocation Address at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Kannur
May 24, 2013

Distinguished Director Rajeev Pant,
Dr. Chinmay Mehta,
NIFT Graduates of 2013,
Faculty and students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to be invited to speak at the Convocation 2013 of NIFT Kannur. In fact, I was quite surprised about the invitation, because, even though I am responsible for advising the Government on all aspects of higher education, I was never called upon to pay any attention to NIFT Kannur. Having come here and seen the institution, its ambience, its faculty and its students, I know why it requires no attention from the Government. It is an institution of excellence that any other college in Kerala will be envious of. This is an institution that dreams are made of.

I said I was surprised to be invited to NIFT, but more than me, a young relative, passionate about fashion, was not only surprised, but immensely amused that I should be speaking of fashion and design in clothes. In her eyes, I am the least fashionable, despite my using designer brands and expensive attire. She even believes that I am color blind, because of the way I choose shirts and ties. Now you know why I chose to wear a kurta today.

I told her, however, that being fashion less is also a fashion. Nobody would associate Mahatma Gandhi with fashion, but he made the greatest fashion statement in history by graduating to the loincloth after donning western suits for several years. It was a statement of identification with the masses of India and of revolt against western ways. He went to the round table conference in London in 1931 in a loincloth. Asked whether he was wearing enough clothes to go before the king, he remarked, “ The King had enough on for both of us.” “Truly fashionable is beyond fashion”, said Celil Bacon.

Speaking to the graduates of NIFT, who are about to enter the fashion industry to make it richer, more imaginative and more innovative, I should be speaking of the relevance and indispensability of the best minds devoting attention to what we wear. As Shakespeare said, “apparel oft proclaims the man.” Each person may make his or her own fashion statement, but your task is to offer a wide range of options to choose from. Your skills must be deployed to lead the fashion industry by using indigenous materials and world-class techniques to create your own fashions. The power of fashion in today’s world is incredible. As you fly out of this campus into the world to leave your own footprint across the globe, I hope you will become the torchbearers of responsible fashion. Kannur is already famous for its traditional weaving and your creations will bring style and vibrancy to the Kannur School of fashion.

History shows, strangely, that the first purpose of clothing was not protection of the body or modesty, but ornament. People of the Stone Age wore no clothes, but tattooed their bodies and used twigs and other materials to adorn themselves. I have seen a cartoon of Adam and Eve standing under a tree with leaves aplenty. Eve says: “I have nothing good to wear today”. Pharaohs used clothes to display wealth even in death, as we can see in the mummies of Egypt. Today, a dress or an accessory not only satisfies social and emotional needs, but also becomes part of our well-being. Clothes accentuate the body rather than conceal it. Even the most conservative clothes, designed to cover the entire body are decorated with diamonds today.

Fashion is a medium of expression. It is poetry in fabric. The expressions of fashion and design are as delectable an art form as poetry is, mysterious and creative. Fashion incites emotions, evokes memories and excites aspirations. It is imperative that you send the right message across to your followers.  Remember that by creating a piece of fashion product, you are not just expressing your own creativity, but you are enabling millions to express themselves through the clothes they choose to wear.  They say that the most alluring curve of a woman’s body is her smile. So, create clothes that enable her to wear her smile while she adorns your clothes.

Fashion is also the script of history. Fashion and style are not merely the hot trends of the day. The apparels that a population is clothed in, and the accessories that a populace is adorned in, tells the story of their lives and etches it in the history of their glorious past leaving indelible impressions. In any archeological excavation, the depiction of the clothing, jewelry and accessories of a community are the most important clues for us to help rediscover the past and weave history of their lifestyle and even economic conditions. No time capsule will be buried without NIFT creations. Thus fashion is enduring. A piece of your creation today sets the youth of today in the fashion groove and starts to write the history of tomorrow. Someone said that the moment a fashion trend becomes universal, it is out of date. Fashion trends hold on to its grip only when it is still tantalizing. So, the moment your idea has received universal acceptance it is part of history; and it is time for you to move ahead and churn your brains. Thus, unlike other professions, you are constantly living in creating history of a culture. So ensure that you create fashion that narrates a beautiful story of our lives today depicting it in all its glory and simplicity to the coming generations.

Fashion is also a tool for empowerment. In a world where throes of affliction and exploitation hits the vulnerable constantly, where cries for emancipation of women continues to echo across the globe, fashion seems to have a role to play as a tool for empowerment. Fashion not only serves as an instrument to bring a person into the limelight, but also protects her from the dangers around.  It is like a barbed wire fence around a house. I am not suggesting that you build an impenetrable fortress. I agree with Sophia Loren’s comment that "A woman's dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view” You are the originators of trends and styles of tomorrow. Keep in mind the safety and security of all men and women in the society while you do that. Bring out the heritage and culture of our nation through your designs and weave an adorable tapestry to be displayed in front of the world. Thus you empower not just individuals, but also communities and nations.

Being a medium of expression, armed with the power to carve history and empower communities, fashion definitely stands in good stead as a tool for transformation. Fashion for change, for positive change, is the best contribution you can make to the society. Through your creative process, render voices to the voiceless and power to the powerless. A great advantage that you have bred in your technology is that innovation and creativity are your bread and butter, unlike other professions where they have a set norm and standard to follow. That gives you endless opportunities to spin changes in the society. There is also a hidden danger in that, because nothing is wrong in fashion. So your freedom to make grave errors is also limitless. Stories of transformation enabled by creative and innovative designs are aplenty today.  From electronics to architecture, from jewelry to footwear, from perfume to pharmaceuticals—design is the key to change. In the USA, mind-boggling statistical figures show that fashion industry does more business than music, movies and books combined. That is to tell you that you are entering a world filled with temptations and lucrative offers, which gleam at you. It is for you to decide whether to embrace responsible fashion in an industry blinded by glitz and glamour.  The ongoing Cannes Film Festival which is touted as the world’s most popular fashion park where cultures intermingle seamlessly in the form of celebrities from the film world and fashion houses hits the top news in the country every minute. What Aiswarya Rai,Vidya Balan wears or Mr.Bacchan wears becomes more important and interesting to us than the gnawing problems of our country. Thus is the power of fashion to overpower everything else. So use your power diligently and responsibly in collaboration with your friends from other disciplines and create responsible fashion for tomorrow.

Finally, I would also like you to pay heed to the alarming deterioration of the environment around us. For the fashion industry to be sustainable economically, it must be sustainable socially and environmentally. Fashion should follow the trends of nature and not the other way round. Make sure that you create environment friendly, sustainable fashion products in which the current generation can delight in, and the future generations can be proud of. Aping of the west has been a style in itself, probably as an adverse effect of globalization and foray of foreign industries into our markets. We in India need to create our own niche in the world of fashion, which the rest of the world shall be eager to emulate. I am aware that we have many a great name in the fashion industry from India, of whom we can be proud. I would like to see many more of you join that elite club, while remaining rooted to our Indian identity and creating fashion that is environment friendly and embraces nature.

I wish the graduates of 2013 of NIFT the very best. As you will say in the Convocation Pledge I am about to administer to you, may you utilize your knowledge of design, management and technology for the glory of the Institute, the progress of the country and mankind at large.

Thank you.


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