The Indians are coming
Age-old traditions collide with Western trends for an explosion of colours and craftsmanship at Delhi's anarchic fashion week.
Published on September 19, 2007
Back in India, where Delhi's fashion week has just wrapped up, designers are looking to the West, yet keeping one foot firmly in traditional techniques.
"Indian fashion is anarchic, everyone does their own thing and designs for their own market. You can't look for trends because there is no overall theme holding it together," Harmeet Bajaj from Marie Claire says with a hint of exasperation.
However, this "anarchy" is part of the lifeblood of Indian fashion. It's what brings you Ritu Kumar's highly embroidered, bright-coloured saris just a few stalls away from chic black-and-white cocktail dresses by Rocky S.
Fashion is still a fast-shifting terrain, having existed formally for just seven years since the Fashion Design Council of India launched the first India Fashion Week in 2000.
Compare that with 65 years of shows in New York and 25 in Paris and what is surprising is not that some designers don't have a narrative in their work, but that so many have such mature collections.
Seven years has witnessed a massive shift in sensibilities, reflected in what young men and women are wearing on the streets. "We have changed the landscape of Indian fashion," says Suneet Nair, fashion council executive director.
"Before, Indian fashion was traditional Indian couture - bridal and festive wear. There was no pr๊t เ porter. We needed to reach out to other markets, to bring down prices and to create ready-to-wear."
However, Nair regrets the totality of this change." We've achieved this," he says, "but we've also lost out in a huge way. You don't see Indian silhouettes any more. Fashion has moved away from the traditional and gone international or Western. I don't want us to lose our heritage."
In five days only a handful of saris are seen on the runways, with most designers opting for Western silhouettes - bubble dresses, bottom-skimming micro minis, short shorts and full-length gowns.
In the audience, apart from a small group of older women clutching Louis Vuitton handbags close to their saris, fashionistas don the latest Western designs.
Thankfully, however, the Western penchant for monochrome has not hit India - in pinks, oranges, yellows and greens the women watching the shows are as colourful as a Manish Arora outfit.
While shirt-dresses may replace saris for now, scratch the surface of many collections and you'll find them rooted in Indian craftsmanship and a strong sense of Indian identity.
The label Fightercock, by husband-and-wife duo.
Abhishek Gupta and Nandita Basu,
is an explosion of energy.
Drawing from the India they see around them, the couple produce one of the most exciting collections of the week with its fingers firmly on the pulse of modern India.
"It is inspired by and symbolises India," Nandita explains. "The present generation may sport Western clothes but they're true Indians at heart."
Another highlight is Tarun Tahiliani's collection inspired by tribal traditions and the humble dhoti - India's equivalent of the sarong.
Long established as India's king of couture and drape, Tahiliani offers jodhpurs matched with immaculately tailored safari jackets; wide-legged pants worn with kurtas and skinny pants with tunics.
One designer who personifies the blend of East and West is Raghavendra Rathore, a Jodhpuri prince who graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York and worked for Donna Karan.
His label, Rathore Jodhpur, reflects the successful marriage of Indian heritage with Western forms.
Pointing to a simple, white, full-length skirt he says: "This was the sort of thing I was doing for DKNY. I'm comfortable doing that but I have to stay close to my heritage. We manage to achieve a good balance. I have to keep close to the constantly changing landscape of Indian retail."
While Rathore replaces heavy embroidery with prints for a lighter finish, he believes it's craftsmanship that gives Indian fashion its edge. "With the foreign invasion, anything that keeps us apart is important. Otherwise we'll suffer the same fate as Hong Kong where local designers were squeezed out by foreign brands.
"They were doing the same things and the foreign designers had the better finish. Heritage will return. The market will be
ripe and ready when the foreign invasion occurs."
Nair is planning a couture week. "This will be predominantly Indian wear," says Nair. "It's a chance to show off the arts, crafts and talent that exists in India."
Designers are increasingly looking to [ the markets in] Thailand.Malaysia,Singapore and Indonesia" says Nair.
"Thailand is somewhere we haven't explored as a market and I'd love to.The culture is Asian countries is much closer to us than the west.There's definitely an affinity".
Special to The Nation