Saturday, 17 August 2013 00:00
Kumar de Silva recollects an incident way back in October 1990. The occasion was the visit of top-end French couturier Pierre Cardin. The event was the first ever Sri Lanka Apparel Fair Fashion Show. The venue was Lanka Oberoi – presently re-branded as Cinnamon Grand.
Things have not changed. The ‘society ladies’ will still ‘push and pose’ judging from the Hi magazine coverage and newspaper fashion pages today.
Cardin, according to Kumar (writing in his latest publication ‘Bonsoir Diaries’), is ranked among the five best known Frenchmen in the world since 1960. Born in July 1922 and educated in central France, he moved to Paris in 1945, worked in several companies including Christian Dior and founded his own company in 1950, designing masks and costumes for theatre. Three years later, he presented his first ever women’s collection and the rest is history.
Cardin’s was a whistle-stop visit to Colombo. They had to make the best of his presence. “The numerous stallholders (at the Apparel Fair) were honoured by his presence at their stalls. Cameras clicked and a lot of ink flowed as autographs were signed on any available and writable surface,” Kumar writes. O la la, Yvonne Gumalhusein was there and both made headlines in the newspapers – ‘France’s King of Costume meets Sri Lanka Queen of Fashion’, was a typical headline used.
Recalling the exclusive interview he had with Cardin, Kumar writes: “He knew how to perform to the camera. He looked at me, listened to the question intently, turned to the camera, rattled off his answer in impeccable English, turned to me again… and waited for the next question.”
Kumar remembers covering the gala fashion show at the Autumn Lobby in the evening. “Among the top designers showcasing their collections were Kirti Sri Karunaratne with his intricate ‘beeralu’ (pillow lace) collection, Chrysanthi Fernandopulle with her dazzling batiks, Mangala Innocence with his avant-garde designs, Lou Ching Wong and Lilian Perera. Pirouetting and sashaying on the catwalk were Colombo’s supermodels at that time – Otara Gunawardena, Roshanara de Silva, Judy Martin, Nishamani de Silva and Sylvana Nicholas among others. They all did Sri Lanka proud!”
Mind you, that was in 1990!
Many are the outstanding personalities who were featured in Bonsoir during its 25-year history. Kumar remembers how when the Bonsoir team drove into ‘El Patio Yveony’ to interview Yvonne G., she first told them to say ‘Gulam-Hue-Sane’ at all times, with two staccato pauses in between.
When they got an interview with President Chandrika BK, they were told she could spare just half an hour. “Half an hour passed and the clock struck 12 (noon). She disregarded and carried on relating stories about her days in France, studies at the Sorbonne and enjoying her francophone sojourn down memory lane. “
The team went to Mahara to interview Chitrasena and Vajira (in 1991, they were staying at Mahara). Kumar remembers “the terribly shy and tongue-tied granddaughter 16-year-old Heshma”, who refused to face the camera. “Two decades plus later, today, it’s amazing to see Heshma (Mrs. Arjuna Wignarajaa), that tongue-tied teenager, a talented choreographer in her own right, give the lead to the Kalayatanaya with great confidence.
“Then began the performance… an impromptu one at that. What an experience it was to see three generations of the clan perform for Bonsoir to the sound of throbbing drums. They danced, they jumped, they leapt, they catapulted, they froze mid-air, they swirled... blood rising in their veins, joy written on their faces. It was a sight to behold. We were honoured and privileged!”
Many more are Kumar’s vivid descriptions of the people the team met, the events they covered, the camouflages they planned. Kumar, Yasmin and photographer Chintananada formed the team. ‘Bonsoir Diaries’ is pretty good reading.