Indian designers get a fashion fund

Those international Vogues are fast becoming the action heroes of the fashion world.

Only last week they banded together to declare war on underage models, and now Vogue India has now announced it is following in the footsteps of American Vogue, British Vogue, and Italian Vogue and creating its own Fashion Fund initiative to promote the businesses of young Indian designers. Go team!

The idea is to help create a local stable of designers that will shape Indian fashion both inside and outside the country. Even though India has only had a Vogue since 2007, you can see the urgency: As Western fashion brands look to India as a possible Great New Market, shouldn’t local designers get a foothold too, lest they get swamped under logo-roiled seas?

Still, having seen the results of some of the other funds, I wonder who benefits most in the end: the designers, or the glossy magazine that is positioned as the judge and nurturer of talent?

See, the Fashion Funds, which are created in conjunction with local industry bodies, give young designers a chunk of money, meaningful coverage in Vogue, and a year’s worth of executive mentorship and a retail link; the original model was developed in New York in response to the 9/11 attacks, which occurred during NY fashion week and almost swamped many new designer businesses.

It was, and is, a laudable initiative — at least as far as helping get a new business off the ground, or vault from launch stage to corporate adolescence. The problem, it has become increasingly clear since the US launch in 2002, lies with the external marketing.

As Vogue begins its drumroll of promotion of finalists (there are five) and subsequent winner, all of whom are celebrated in the magazine, these young designers are thrust into the limelight — often far earlier than they should be; before they have really had a chance to figure out what, exactly, they are contributing to the larger conversation.

Their shows are ballyhooed, foreign press is encouraged to attend (even if the young designers barely have enough critical mass to sell globally, making their clothes wildly expensive), and, in my experience, many come away frustrated. The list of touted finalists who have sunk back into relative global obscurity is long — but by then, Vogue and the fund has usually moved on to the next group of bright young things.

It’s tough to take on Gucci, Vuitton, et al, and Vogue is a powerful ally. I can’t help thinking, though, that it might be better for everyone if the magazine brand worked behind the scenes for the would-be brands, instead of actually creating and promoting the scenes as well. Free publicity may be, literally, a treasure — but it still can exact a price.