Playing ‘the fool’ with fashion

Fashion is for all, says fashion designer and content creator Ishita Mangal as she discusses her Instagram series #IshtatesofIndia, which showcases local attire from each state with fun on the side.
Ishita Mangal in a
traditional dress from
Andaman and Nicobar
islands. Wearing ‘Hila’
(lungi), ‘Inyut’ (blouse),
headgear ‘Sapiov’, and
traditional accessaries
made of banana leaf
 (R), In a Madhubani saree from Bihar(L)
Ishita Mangal in a traditional dress from Andaman and Nicobar islands. Wearing ‘Hila’ (lungi), ‘Inyut’ (blouse), headgear ‘Sapiov’, and traditional accessaries made of banana leaf (R), In a Madhubani saree from Bihar(L)

Thanks to Instagram Reels, mastering the art of draping a saree has become effortless. While numerous fashion influencers have shared their techniques, Delhi-based fashion designer and content creator Ishita Mangal, 33, offers a distinctive twist. Her Instagram series, #IshtatesofIndia, on her handle id: @ishitamangal, showcases the rich diversity of sarees from various corners of India with a funny aside.

Mangal launched this series on Independence Day last year with an episode featuring Madhya Pradesh. In this debut, she donned a saree with Gond art, a traditional Adivasi art form from the state. “What better day than August 15 to launch a series that celebrates Indian fashion?” she reflects. The video received over 364k views on Instagram; she has 451K followers.

What gets her the audience is the blend of humour with fashion in her videos. Mangal often incorporates funny walks or poses accompanied by comical voice-overs. It may seem she is playing the fool, but it is aimed at widening discussions beyond fashion. For example, when she wears a red saree, there are witty comments about ‘red flags’.

When she dons a heavily embellished Dogri suit, she quips: “This will make you look beautiful, even if your life is painful.” In addition to the entertainment factor, she uses regional languages in her videos, and colloquial terms and phrases to describe her attire. This not only entertains but also resonates with people from those regions.

“I had a women’s clothing brand named Quo, which even made it to Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2017. But when the pandemic hit, I had to shut it down and switched to social-media content creation. To stand out, I added humour, which came naturally to me,” she says.

BTS of IshtatesofIndia

Mangal says the hard work that goes into #IshtatesofIndia comprise, for her, her learnings, and one of the many outcomes of such work is the love she receives. Planning one video can take two to three weeks, sometimes even longer. “There’s a lot of madness behind the scenes. But it all comes together,” she says.

The behind-the-scenes reality is far from perfect. Mangal reveals that the biggest challenge is connecting with local vendors or artisans, as was the case for her latest video about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. “It took us months just to find a contact,” she says. The people there are “unbothered with what’s happening beyond their world”. Language was also a barrier. “But we finally found someone willing to send us the local wear,” she adds.

Additionally, there is the research—learning about the attire, writing the script, understanding the language, and choosing the shoot location. “You can do 10 things right, but one mistake can become the highlight of your video. So, we must be very careful with the script,” she explains.

The learnings

When Mangal selects a particular state, she tries to portray the various cultures within it. For instance, in Bihar, different regions have different attire. However, in a single video, it is impossible to represent every community, so Mangal tries to mix it all up. If she features the Madhubani saree of the Maithili-speaking people of Bihar, she uses the Bhojpuri language in her video.

However, this blend does not always resonate with the viewers. “I saw a lot of people saying in their comments that they were unhappy because I used something from the Maithili-speaking people but described it in Bhojpuri. I thought I was going to make both language groups happy, but I ended up upsetting both,” she says. In spite of this, Mangal took it positively, saying: “I took this as one of the learnings. Through these videos, I have learned a lot about local communities and the fine differences among them.”

Untrained fashion

Despite these small upsets, Mangal has been riding the waves of fashion. Her videos have been widely appreciated by audiences for the way she confidently jokes in various languages, even in those not her own. She has received messages from viewers saying they ordered from the local brands she tagged in her videos.

“It’s not that people don’t want to wear local attire. The problem is that the local handloom industry is very unorganised. So, if someone wants a Bengali saree or an Assamese Mekhela Chador, they know where to look because I tag the local brands I got my outfits from,” she says.

Mangal’s videos have shattered the notion that fashion is only for the elite. “Fashion is for everyone. There’s a belief that it’s exclusive to the elite because you must be trained to walk, talk, sit, and behave in a certain way. This is untrue. You don’t have to do any of that and you can still be fashionable, which is why the use of witty comments and funny poses in my videos are intentional,” she says. Her videos have raised awareness about different cultures and the various ways to drape a saree. Her most viewed video, on Odisha, from the series has garnered 1.8 million views on Instagram.

“We’ve covered almost all the states, but now we want to dive deeper into each one of them. One video can’t do justice to an entire state, so we’ve brought in a culturalist to join our team. With this, we hope to expand #IshtatesofIndia and increase awareness about the incredible variety of fashion our country has,” she says.

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The New Indian Express