For some time, while the rest of India was going Zara crazy, I refused to entertain the Spanish fashion house as a place middle-aged people went to shop. When the store’s opening in New Delhi drew record footfalls and a humongous turnover, I sneered at brand-crazy Delhi-ites. Their clothes were about youth, I complained; their fits were only for slender people; and fashion that is seasonal is only about hype, not longevity and elegance.
I should have been a little less smug. No longer is my own wardrobe Zara-free. While I’m not a huge fan yet, I confess to being a changeling if the knits and jackets, the shirts and jeans that have come from Zara stores around the world are any indication. First, the children — a big influence on parents’ shopping, marketers please note — pointed out that fashion is about looking young, not old (okay, I concede that). Second, change is a constant in fashion, so it makes sense to shop at Zara — which is a premium rather than a luxury brand, and so it’s more affordable than a classic Hugo Boss or Ermenegildo Zegna. And, finally, when I saw some rather large Scandinavians shopping for shirts and jackets at a Zara store in Barcelona, I had to admit that their style is slimming rather than restricted to those who are already slim.
If I’m not fully a convert, it’s for three reasons. One, Zara has an inbuilt system of scarcity in at least its stores in India that can be frustrating. I liked a pair of blue moccasins with a red leather cord that I thought would be nice to wear on a holiday, but my son who had taken on the onus of grooming his style-challenged father, decided to do some store hopping before deciding on the pair. I was back at the Zara store within an hour — by when the pair had been bought by someone else, and they didn’t have another pair in my (and probably India’s most popular) shoe size in any of their stores in the city.
It made me laugh when on our vacation (on which I’d wanted to wear the pair in any case), we spotted the same-to-same, as we like to say, shoes in Rome, and 20% cheaper, but because it still rankled that the store in New Delhi had expressed such helplessness, I refused to buy it. Laughably, the shoes were about 30% cheaper at Zara stores in France, and just a little over half the original price in Spain (where, while I was still sulking, my son bought the pair for himself). But the difference in prices is something that is less than amusing — shouldn’t there be at least some similarity in prices, duties be dammed?
My next point is about perception. Zara, for many, is the equivalent of Scandinavian furniture brand Ikea. It is fashion on the run for when you want off-the-rack styling without having to break the bank, in which both succeed rather well. I admire the courage it takes to wear Zara’s powder blue jackets (for men), the power blues (for women), but I’m not so sure I like their choice of fabrics, and how the garments have hardly any longevity built into them.
But most of all, I resent being had. I’m the first to admit that some (not all) Zara clothes make sense, even though the brand can’t really be considered even premium outside India — certainly not at those pocket-friendly prices. But it’s those pockets (and, again, its sourcing of fabrics that seems to be done with the West’s wash-and-wear without ironing culture in mind) that might be its comeuppance. Having acquired Zara’s jackets, I was affronted to find that some of the pockets were mere façade, stitched pocket squares instead of the real thing — so, no slipping loose change into the pocket. Which is all right for keeping up appearances, but if Zara is to appeal to a mid-aged segment, it will have to consider a Zara luxe or bespoke version if it doesn’t want to lose its converts back to the big buck brands.
— The author is a Delhi-based writer and curator