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10 months ago
How this 60-year-old began an ageless fashion revolution

Kanchan Chander

Artist Kanchan Chander lives a full and exciting life, and turning 60 hasn’t changed that. We knew she’d inspire millennial designer Kriti Tula of Doodlage to look past dated concepts of style and start an ageless fashion revolution.
In 2016, hundreds of 40-plus women in the US united on social media to stand up against mutton shaming. The term derives from an old-school sexist phrase—mutton dressed as lamb—that is used today to ridicule women who do not conform to arbitrary norms of age-appropriate dressing, that is, showing less skin, avoiding brighter colours and so on. To protest this idiotic form of fashion policing, older women posted pictures of themselves in customised T-shirts that declared ‘Old Is The New Black’. They reclaimed their personal sense of style and defied the notion that age should dictate your wardrobe choices.

Jersey sweatshirt, quilted bomber with patchwork, all Doodlage; metal sunglasses, Marc Jacobs; denim trousers, leather tie-ups, both stylist’s own


Kanchan Chander

Change is coming, even if slowly. According to online lifestyle media portal, theFashionSpot’s latest diversity report that tracked statistics of size, race, age and gender for 7,035 models cast in 241 Fall 2017 shows, 21 models over the age of 50 walked the runways of New York, Paris, London and Milan—a 160 per cent increase from Spring 2016. Off the runway we have icons like Iris Apfel, Maye Musk, Daphne Selfe, China Machado and Leslie Winer, who frequently grace magazine covers and fronted ad campaigns.
India is still eyeing the trend from afar, but 60-year-old artist Kanchan Chander believes it’s time we got with the programme. In her own way, she’s fighting ageism. Born in 1957 in New Delhi, Chander has been an artist for 42 years. She was a lecturer at College of Art, Delhi, for about 20 years and is the founding member of the Indian Printmakers Guild. She has worked across mediums like oil canvas, print, mixed media (combining waste material, laces, sequins and found objects), video art and installations. Most, however, of her themes centre on women waging lone battles in a patriarchal society. Her finely honed aesthetic sense rebels against society’s ageist diktats. “Style or fashion is not about adhering to rules but wearing an extension of your personality. As long as we are comfortable in our own skin, why should we shy away from brighter colours, shorter hems or quirkier details? Any kind of rule calls for rebellion or resistance. And we aren’t too tired to put up a fight!”
Given her love for art and fashion, we decided to rope in Chander as the muse for a unique shoot, where we
had millennial designer Kriti Tula, founder of the brand Doodlage, dress the artist in a way that’s fun, comfortable and elegant.

Denim, cotton and khadi jumpsuit, Doodlage; metal sunglasses, Fendi; suede mules, Christian Louboutin; blouse, jewellery and bag, stylist’s own


Kanchan Chander

Fighter all the way

With her silver hair cut in a fashionable bob and standing at about 5-feet-3-inches tall, Chander comes across as a no-nonsense person, one who has been weathered by time and experience. A student of Delhi College of Art, her first break came in when her painting was selected for a national exhibition while she was still in college. “That was a different kind of high. I started off with oil painting, but later on moved on to different mediums,” she says. Chander has held over 13 solo shows in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Nepal and Japan and has exhibited at group shows across India and abroad. But fame and recognition didn’t come easy.
Twenty-one years ago, she decided to walk out of a bad marriage, with her son. “Back then, society wasn’t kind to single mothers. Divorce especially was considered taboo. But I didn’t want to be bogged down by archaic rules.” Chander’s work too is a reflection of her free, defiant spirit. “I draw from my personal experiences in life. There’s so much more to a woman than what meets the eye. She is a fighter all along, determined to get whatever she sets her eyes on. When my marriage disintegrated, I was working as a faculty member in a government art college. I was, however, constantly harassed in the male-dominated set-up. Though I had to look after my son, I couldn’t take it anymore and quit the job,” says Chander, who took up freelance work and taught art to support her family. “It was tough, but I was determined
to survive, and I did.”

Khadi trench, Doodlage; leather sandals, stylist’s own


Kanchan Chander

Ever classic
Chander also teaches and helps students put together their art portfolios. Being surrounded by Gen Y infuses her with their effervescence and joie de vivre. “You need to keep yourself updated and evolve over time. I have done that with my work. From oil paintings I forayed into video art and installation, pivoting to upcycling waste material to create something that’s quirky, young and sustainable,” says Chander, whose fashion philosophy is not very different. “Don’t dress to prove a point. Be open to contemporary trends, but wear what suits your body type and personality. It’s important to me to look graceful.”

Cotton dress, Doodlage; metal glasses, Marc Jacobs; leather heels, Christian Louboutin; cover-up, socks, jewellery, bag and watch, all stylist’s own


Kanchan Chander

Fashion collision

Chander’s life and work ideology finds an instant resonance with Tula and Doodlage. The young designer says, “I could relate to her work, which is extremely bold yet feminine. A lot of the material that she uses in her work is upcycled from the streets. She is extremely kitsch in her approach towards art and the same aesthetic underlies Doodlage creations too. We upcycle fabrics and industrial materials to create wearable and sustainable pieces. Since our clothes are organic, breathable and comfortable, they appeal to Chander, who almost always puts comfort before everything else.”
For the Femina shoot, the sexagenarian was given patched shirts, slogan tees, jumpsuits, denims, long dresses, Christian Louboutin footwear, larger-than-life sunglasses and quirky accessories. Tula says, “We wanted her to flaunt a fun, sporty look and Chander completely played along. We did quite a bit of layering to add depth to her looks and to create drama and she was comfortable and open to experimentation. It was clear that she was having fun. She totally owned the stage.”
Talking about what she kept in mind while designing for an older muse, Tula says, “Older women never compromise on comfort and they don’t want anything too fitted that restricts movement. I took all of this into consideration and also the fact that our bodies change as we age—shoulders droop, legs shrink and the middle stretches by 2-3 sizes. In Chander’s case, the idea was to work with comfortable garment lengths and layers. Statement jackets, print-on-print layering and straight-fitted silhouettes worked well for her.”

Cotton shirtdress, denim trench, both Doodlage; acetate sunglasses, Carrera; denim trousers, bag, leather mules, jewellery and watch, all stylist’s own


Kanchan Chander

Silver streak
According to the 2011 Census of India, roughly 9 per cent of the country’s population is aged 60 years or more.
By 2050, the 60-plus age group is expected to form 19 per cent of the total population. Many seniors are working till an older age and have the money to spend, yet clothing brands and designers haven’t seriously considered this demographic. Tula, however, says the demand simply isn’t sizeable yet. “Women in our country are still not willing to experiment. They prefer sticking to traditional wear or the tried-and-tested classics. More women like Chander can bring about a revolution or at least force more designers to join in. When demand goes up, designers will focus on creating an entire range for the elderly; till then, most people in my fraternity are just happy customising their clothes for the occasional older buyer.”

Cotton parka, Doodlage, metal sunglasses, price on request, Carrera; T-shirt, scarf and jewellery, all stylist’s own


Kanchan Chander

Chander reasons that as women get older, they are subtly encouraged to adopt restraint in what they wear. “Criticism takes the joy out of personal style. So the trick is to ignore all rules and be adaptable to change. Believe in yourself and your choices, and no one can dull your sparkle.”


Photographs: Aman Makkar; Hair and makeup: Anuj Dogra; Fashion stylist: Shweta Sharma; Fashion intern: Chaaru Roy; Senior photo shoot coordinator: Shradda Kharpude

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