'Fabrication' of Indian fashion

Fabrication of Indian fashion
A symmetrical jacket using Banarsi Brocade by Rohit Gandhi andRahul Khanna

Fashion in India is slowly moving from adornment to rich fabrics.

By Sujata Assomull

Published: Thu 15 Oct 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 15 Oct 2015, 10:31 AM

Indian fashion has always been more decoration than foundation. Zardosi, chikan, badla and other embroidery-based crafts have been the focus points of Indian designers. But now, Indian fashion is slowly moving from ornamentation to fabrication. As much as drape and embellishment are the fortes of Indian fashion, so is cloth; fabric, too, is an important part of India's heritage, which is finally been given the attention it deserves.
During the 18th century, Gujarat was the world's textile hub so the British banned textile export from India as English mills could not compete with the range of textiles that Gujarat produced. From rich silk brocades from Banaras to the pure simple cottons of Kerala, India really is the land of fabrics.
At the start of the year, the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) hosted a fashion show in Gujarat's Ahmedabad, the state of khadi, called "Huts to High Street" showcasing the wonders of this textile. Anamika Khanna, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Rohit Bal were selected to be the designers and walking on the ramp was fashion's favourite leading lady of film, Sonam Kapoor. Pratap gave khadi his signature subtle touch.
And last week saw Delhi host the Spring/Summer Edition of Amazon India Fashion Week (AIFW), just a few days after London's Victoria and Albert Museum opened its first major exhibition to explore the dynamic world of handmade textiles from the country, titled, "The Fabric of India".

The fabric of India> India is the second largest textile manufacturer in the world.
> India is the second largest producer of natural fabrics such as silk and cotton
> The domestic textile and apparel industry in India is estimated to reach $100 billion by 2016-17 from $67 billion in 2013-14
> India has the highest loom capacity (including hand looms) with 63% of the world's market share
It seems the very fabric of Indian fashion is going back to its foundation. So at AIFW we saw Sanjay Garg reinterpret the Mughal weave of Mushru, Pero by Aneeth Arora's add some childlike charm to sheer cotton chandheris and 11.11's half jackets and asymmetry gave a new edge to the fabric of freedom, khadi. This focus on the humble cloth has allowed Indian fashion to adopt its own form of minimalism and tailoring. And it does seem a 'New Indian Aesthetic' is what this edition of India Fashion Week was about. It was about making cloth the real celebrity of Indian fashion.
A few seasons ago, fashion was talking India Modern, which was more about drape and embellishment; now, it's talking aesthetic, which is looking at fashion far beyond the surface. Rahul Mishra is the current poster boy of Indian fashion. Having shown in Paris for the last three seasons, his label is available in London's Harvey Nichols and Paris' Collette. He is giving India's new take on fashion an international visibility.
"For me, India Modern with jersey drapes, lycra body con or boxy silhouettes was a trend but cannot be defined as New Indian Aesthetic. This new direction is based on a great past which India has and creating a new universal look and adding surprising newness to it," says Mishra.
As fast as fashion goes, Anamika Khanna has always been the trendsetter and at India Fashion Week when she presented a collection of modern separates that go easily from day to night. Her starkest collection to date she has presented, it was all about cut and cloth, with surface ornamentation used as a highlight on occasion. There was not even a hint of the designer's favoured zardosi embroidery. Then there were debut designers like Love Birds, Asa and Anavila concentrating on clothes made with simple but natural eco-chic fabrics that are about functional fashion.
You can sense that Indian fashion is developing a new handwriting. Aishwarya Subramanyam, editor, ELLE India, noted: "I think there is a new kind of (younger, perhaps) designer in India now for whom the context of Indian fashion and what we want from it has changed. It's not only about occasion wear any more, which is a relief. It's still a small footprint, but Anamika Khanna's new show at AIFW, for example, is a pretty good indicator that the mood is catching on."
ELLE curated a show of "First Cut" designers at the fashion week, and this new aesethetic came through all the six designers who they selected. "It wasn't something we set out to do, but the emerging pattern was unmistakable. I think it worked well because the designers are all quite different, even within that aesthetic, and it's a trend we even saw with our two accessory labels," says Subramanyam.
When India Fashion Week started over 15 years ago, the West was going through a strong minimalistic moment, and there were some designers who tried to present this on the Indian catwalks. This was an aped minimalism, and one that did not appeal to the Indian sensibilities. The minimalism of today had a clean sophisticated feel but still is decadent and rich. The Grande Finale outfits of Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Atsu and Arjun Saluja are examples of this look. Innovative yet simple tailoring showed off the sumptuousness of the fabric with urbane styling. In the finale, 17 designers were invited to be make a collection that was "Born in Banaras". For centuries, Varanasi has been known for its beautiful weaves. Even international fashion houses such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen have used the rich fabrics of the city in their collections.
This "New Indian Aesthetic" as the industry is calling it, shows a maturity; it shows a new confidence and also helps keep the very 'skin' of India's fashion alive. As Mishra says, "Fashion thrives on universal acceptance with a surprisingly newness coupled with inherent familiarity. For me, this familiarity comes from crafts, ethnic culture, and age-old techniques. Surprising newness in the product adds freshness to it which eventually creates a universal appeal and acceptance."
The textile industry is the second largest employment generator in India. Modi's "Make in India" has not only given Indian fashion the much needed new direction, but also reminded the sector that Indian craftsmen need to be celebrated on the catwalks. Now we need to see this high fashion statement in the high streets on India, Milan, Paris, New York, London, and, of course, Dubai. One of the major plus points of this new aesthetic is that it has an appeal that is friendlier to the international market than it's slight more self indulgent "India Modern" predecessor.

Handloom fabrics give the Bandgala Jacket and Kurta tunic top a earthy feel by EKA
Handloom fabrics give the Bandgala Jacket and Kurta tunic top a earthy feel by EKA
Eco-chic cottons that look they could belong on a catwalk in New York, London or Milan by Love Birdspatna.
Eco-chic cottons that look they could belong on a catwalk in New York, London or Milan by Love Birdspatna.

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