To move forward, the change of guard is necessary. Perhaps that’s what holds Indian fashion back. Besides, there’s an overdose of handwoven textiles, which is also letting a lot of bad design get away under the aegis of sustainability. This needs to be addressed. The lack of critical reviews in fashion is yet another point, which needs attention. Why is everything and everyone good or “not bad”? There is a reason Indian fashion remains largely dictated by commercial concerns and couture becomes “lehenga-choli”. There is a reason why fashion weeks become a drag with only a few shows that are worth the time and the effort.
At the Lakme Fashion Week, with the Craft is Cool and Gen Next shows, there was a definitive shift in fashion vocabulary with young designers like Sumiran Kabir Sharma trying to be political and social with his collection inspired by the women warriors of Sonagachi. The suiting fabric used was a break from the textiles hangover. The 24th batch of five Gen Next designers presented by INIFD was the opening show during Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2017. The Gen Next shows have previously featured Nachiket Barve, Rahul Mishra, Aneeth Arora, Kallol Datta, Ujjawal Dubey among others.
Photo: Chinki Sinha
Sharma’s label Anaam pitches for gender neutral clothing and although the silhouettes reminded one of the kind of androgyny as philosophy of Arjun Saluja, Anaam’s courage is noteworthy in terms of making personal political. The shoes had “hunger, bigotry, homophobia, poverty” written on them and the silhouettes included long capes and coats that were structured to give a very genderless vibe. In a show, staying true to the narrative is important and so is holding together of the story. Many seasoned designers failed to hold their narratives, which spilled over into the realm of tacky looking sets and staid performances on the runway.
But it was nice to see the likes of Kabir Sharma trying to be the disruptor. Fashion always needs those young guns who aren’t afraid of dismantling the status quo.
Yet another commendable feat achieved by Lakme was the Sustainable Fashion initiate where five Master Craftsmen of Paramparik Karigar worked with five young designers for the opening show on the second day called Craft Is Cool.
With Smriti Irani’s takeover of the ministry of textiles in 2016 and the schemes launched including designer collaboration in clusters to “save the weavers” and to “fix the broken looms”, fashion seasons had become a kind of manifestation with everyone trying to promote the cause of handwoven textiles. It isn’t bad but fashion design in India can’t pitch itself globally unless the designers start to focus on cuts and structures and drapes rather than being in the choir. At Lakme, the break was welcome with crafts like Bagh and Azrakh and Bandhej and Shibori getting center stage with the designers showcasing eight garments each that were paired by shoes made by Kurio with the leftover fabrics. A crisply edited show with no spillovers, no unnecessary drama, no attempts at intellectualisation and no Bollywood bonhomie, the show was serious in its vision and storytelling.
Paramparik Karigar, which is based out of Mumbai, is an organization that works with craftsmen of India and the initiative with Lakme was in line with what is expected of such forums when it comes to providing a platform to showcase the crafts and to ensure the participation of the next generation in the crafts.
The story has to be taken forward and the Craft is Cool show was doing just that without any frills. The Bagh Story was in collaboration with Mohammed Yusuf Khatri, master craftsman from Madhya Pradesh along with his sons, Bilal and Kazeem. Vineet Kataria and Rahul Arya of the label Vineet Rahul, called their collection Raag and featured neo-Indian slim line kurtas, wrap trench coats, quilted skirts with pleated hemlines and kimonon sleeves. They worked with Gajee silk, voile, mulberry silk and Chanderi and stayed true to the Bagh Colour palette – maroon, black and beige.
Then, there was the Dabu story with craftsman Bheru Lal Chippa and his two sons Pintu and Vikas from Rajasthan who teamed up with the brand called Poochki by Ishanee Mukherjee and Anirudh Chawla, which was launched at the Gen Next Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2017 show. There were boleros, cropped pants, panelled skirts, blouson and harem pants to give a contemporary and relaxed feel to the floral Dabu designs. Shibori story was a collaboration between Aranya Naturals of Kerala and Shreejith Jeevan’s Rouka’ label where the designer used a mix of naturally dyed Shibori along with resist dyeing techniques like batik and ombre dyeing on fabrics like silk and organza. In the Bandhej story, Shohel Khatri, who is hailed as the Master of Bandhej or Bandhani, worked with ‘The Pot Plant’ label by Resham Karmchandani and Sanya Suri who tried to break the perception of bandhani as feminine, and showcased gender fluid garments.
Photo: Chinki Sinha
Lastly, in the Azrakh Story, Sarfraz Khatri of Pracheen who uses geometrics and astrological motifs, partnered with Anjali Patel Mehta of ‘Verandah’ label who used heavy silk and Dupion to create her characteristic Boho chic collection.
With these collaborations, the textiles story is getting carried forward with crafts also becoming the talking point. This show along with only a couple others showed promise in terms of fresh concepts and new design.
Sunita Shanker’s first show at Lakme was an odd to the crafts and was a visual treat in terms of the mature handling of her color palate that included bright red and black and grey and white. Again, a disruptive show from a designer who has spent years working on what she calls are timeless pieces, the collection was a high note of hope in terms of how such crafts can be used in contemporary fashion design and appeal to the young people, which is what is the ultimate hope in terms of reviving crafts and handwoven textiles. In textiles art, Gaurav Jai Gupta’s, Irreverence, marks the coming of age of a designer, who calls himself an underdog in the fashion world who has largely been ignored but has been working on textile engineering for many years and seems to have finally found his voice. The rugs that he used a throw over jackets were the latest addition to his repertoire of textiles that he weaves in his studio in Delhi. An ambitious show, it again set the markers for textile design. The silhouettes, which aren’t his forte, were simple and easy, which is a smart decision, and included loose pants and skirts and jackets. Relying solely on the power of his engineered textiles, Gupta’s show was almost like a “flexing of muscles” exercise. Well, it was worth watching for the simple reason that he has stayed true to his philosophy and has worked on the identity of his label “akaaro” without digressing. That alone is a feat.
Ritu Kumar’s Label was a show that neither showed any movement forward nor any commitment towards any craft. Show for the sake of a show doesn’t work.
The rest were eminently forgettable because somewhere designers have to learn the art of storytelling and holding together the narrative. Many stalwarts failed in that. Collections started on ambitious notes and fell through in the middle. Some shows were dragged on for too long.
It is high time that designers in India learned editing and became ruthless with it. In our world of letters, it is called “murdering your babies” and maybe we love each and every sentence we write, we also use the delete button often. We have also been taught to use description to fit in the context of the story. Remember, the story can go in a million directions… the grandeur and the drama and the performances are unnecessary and so the Bollywood photo op if the work is strong.
As storytellers, we know that you lose readers in the lede of its doesn’t set the tone right. And the story has to move forward and if you attempt the non-linear, ensure you can hold the attention. We had our Gonzo journalism practitioners and they were damn good. You can break the structure, the novel, the form, even the sentence. But when you break it, give a damn good alternative. Else, stay on the linear path. A canvas doesn’t always mean the painting is good. An opera doesn’t mean the pitch is right.
We are getting away with too much. Let the young ones shine. Take your time and reflect. Find the story and then narrate it to us. We will listen. But first, find a story, move on and experiment. I am not an expert and this is always a disclaimer. But I am a consumer and a reporter. That’s enough.