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India's fashion heritage in pictures

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

PHOTOGRAPHS: 'Vogue' is for the first time putting together an exhibition of pictures taken in the country.
Vogue may have launched in India only six months ago, but the UK-based magazine and its many editions has always enjoyed a love affair with the country. And a forthcoming exhibition will reveal that since 1934, its pages have featured models in some of the most exotic locations in the country, shot by iconic fashion photographers battling the red tape and bureaucracy of India to create memorable pictures.
That these might well be of archival value will become apparent when over 70 such shot by David Bailey, Henry Clarke, Cecil Beaton, Sheila Metzner, and for the magazine's British, French, Italian, American, Japanese and now Indian editions, will be shown collectively for the first time.
The earliest of these by were shot in 1934, with Kapurthala's Princess Karam as muse and model, often in her sumptuous Indian costumes, but just as often in European clothes and jewellery. The lifestyles of the princes also provided a good deal of voyeuristic fodder for the chattering masses, and Britain, in particular, loved the jewel in its own crown.
Constantin Joffe's taken over 1947 and 1948 were less posed, more real, consisting as they did of portraits of (what else?) both maharajas and the Mahatma. Two decades later, used the architecture of the sub-continent to frame models for the American edition of the magazine.
Fascinated by Henri Cartier-Bresson's image of Kashmir, Davil Bailey travelled to the valley for a shoot for British Vogue. And as recently as 1985, as part of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's Festivals of India initiative, Sheila Metzner, again for the American edition, created an impossibly elegant idiom for royal Indian costumes in the magazine.
Even recent photographers have not been able to escape "exotic" India "" with Patrick Demar Chelier shooting (for the first time) in Ladakh, Robert Erdmann in Udaipur, in Jaipur, and Tim Walker, most recently for the Japanese edition, across parts of north India.
"It is a rare first," says Kehkashan Merchant, on behalf of Conde Nast India, publisher of the magazine. It most certainly might have done more to build brand India for travellers than mere advertising at exorbitant rates might have done. But for now, it's the art of these photographs that is the more memorable.

First Published: Wed, March 05 2008. 00:00 IST