Young fashion in India clings to tradition

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi

Young mass fashion in India is still rooted in tradition. It refuses to move out of the aesthetic folds of embroidery, billowing organzas, flowing silhouettes, yards and yards of ‘dupattas’, mirrors, knots, tassles – and the nostalgia of the past.

And the younger generation of nattily-dressed Indians is showing a curious ambivalence towards couture despite the winds of contemporary chic from the west that has made inroads into India in the last two decades because of the siege by multinationals, says fashionista and promoter Ramola Bachchan.

“The younger generation may be moving to western wear in keeping with the international trends, but at the same time they tend to stick to their own styles with a certain amount of Indianness,” says Bachchan, whose design and fashion showcase, “Runaway Rising” brought 75 young designers together for a day at The Hyatt  Regency hotel in the national capital on July 13 (2013).

The collections of pret wear, designer dresses and accessories including fragrances and furniture included semi formal, formal, traditional and bridal wear drew the second rung segment of buyers, who cannot bring home a Tarun Tahiliani or JJ Valaya every day. Fashion in India is still a luxury that a handful in the metro cities can afford. The “aam admi” or the common man on the street with a growing sartorial sense – thanks to the glamorous movie industry of Bollywood and television shows – has to settle for chain stores imitations of designer labels.

This is the segment that Bachchan has been trying to get into her fold. “The collection benchmarked the trends of the forthcoming wedding and festival season.” Bachchan said.

The fashion promoter, a discerning dresser herself, observed that there was no dearth of creative and entrepreneurial talent that proliferates in our country. It was exciting to be part of the process that will shape the fashion trends of the future, Bachchan said.

“The Runaway Rising” is an ongoing project aimed to build a dialogue around fashion – facilitating both business and display by lesser-known designers, who often languish on the mainstream of the fashion fraternity. India, which has been waking up to the potential of fashion  post globalization in the 1990s- every year rolls out thousands of young designers from the tier 1 and tier 2 cities. Fashion designing institutes have mushroomed across the urban hubs in the country to allow young college graduates and high school students to pursue designing as a career option, given the exploding demand for ready-to-wear apparel in the country.

Designing as an industry is also backed by a growing tribe of amateur designer – mostly women from families with deep pockets – textile veteran–turned-designers- who learn the cut on the job.

At the Regency Ballroom in Hyatt Regency on July 13, neon shades of fushchias, lime, green, pink and electric blue dominated the colour palette for the glitzy Indian style ensembles that created the mass statement for affordable fashion.

The tops or the “kurtas” with “anarkali” cuts and near-ankle length hemlines were embellished with traditional icons from the pages of history like the “Kishangarh Radha”, the decorated “pichwai” cow, Indian women with headclothes, zardosi flowers, phulkari and lace work from Punjab and the traditional zari and hand-woven gota borders  from Rajasthan.

A liberal amount of copies of the motifs made popular by the top-of-the designers added a new dimension to the eclectic collection.

A fashion analyst, doing the rounds of the exhibition counters, said the designs were a conscious effort to promote Indianness on the global stage – and provide a sense of security of a wide segments young clothes-horses that fashion was not altogether a “alien concept”. It has been in vogue – perpetuated by the icons in history that included the likes of the maharajas, courtiers, queens, courtesans and the common man alike.

While the emphasis was on diaphanous fabric with layers of underlying skirts and glittering bling, one distinct trend was the African influence on the contours of the ensembles that sported ‘kaftan’ cuts and loose drapes- especially in the plus sized sections. In India, like in many other middle-eastern and west Asian nations, large mummy-fashion is a big grosser.

“We have to make more plus size clothes with the arrival of multinational chains coming to India, which make several categories in plus (amply endowed) segments,” Sandip Chanana of the Studio Dream Collection said.

Chanana played on dual concepts like the “Moroccan gown cuts with an Indian look”.  His range kept an eye on the middle class with its Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 price range.

Fusion wear is emerging as one of the tour de force in mid-segment fashion, Ramola Bachchan points out.

”I have an open mind to fusion wear. The Gen Next Indian likes to wear its own clothes and fusion with Indian components fits their cosmopolitan lifestyles,” Bachchan says.

The Indian woman has changed in the last decade. “The mature woman has been influenced by globalsiation and does not turn her back on western cuts,” she said. Experimentation, as a result, has been driving force in the industry. Jaipur-based designer Neeta Saraf is harvesting the fortunes of experimental fashion.

Saraf, who designs saris and formal wear, has been trying to keep the traditional gota work of Rajasthan in new ways like “gota lace”, “gota appliqué” and hand-crocheted “gota borders” in gold thread. “I began with ‘gota potlis’  and gradually moved to ‘saris’,” Saraf says.

The designer who sells her clothes to Punjabi and Marwari buyers says the only way to keep traditions alive is to carry them to the next level. She is known for her “karva chauth” dupatta – a combination of “bandhage (tie-and dye textile) of Jaipur with phulkari and gota work in bright colours”.

Saraf says one of the reasons why new designers cannot market abroad is “paucity of resources”. “I was in UK last year and though I was received warmly by the NRI community, I could not make a lasting impact because I did not have a standalone store.

Designers Parul & Ashie, who work out of Lucknow, prefers the cost-benefits of the tier 2 city for their zardosi ensembles . “It is difficult to find a karigar in the capital, but Lucknow still have plenty of zardosi craftspeople,” the duo pointed out. Rising overhead costs are forcing many young designers to relocate to smaller cities, but showcase in the capital. The focus of young clothiers is on the domestic market, where supply still fails to meet demand for trendy ready-to-wear.

The news is mixed on the display front. While the number of showcases has risen in the metros – designers have become fastidious in their choice of platform. “One has to be careful about the kind of space one wants to show at,” Neeta Saraf says.

Ramola Bachchan’s brand name carries with it a “certain amount of heft”, the designer says.

The “Runway Rising” will make a comeback Oct 10 with a festival wear counter for the average buyer.

–      Madhusree Chatterjee

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