Thanks to Modi, Indian fashion rediscovers Varanasi

Thanks to Modi, Indian fashion rediscovers Varanasi
Ritu Kumar (Centre) with BJP leader Shaina NC and Bollywood actress Aditi Rao Hydari at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai.

At first when Modi came into power many in fashion were worried. His "Make In India" campaign was viewed as being pro the financially strong power loom industry.

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By Sujata Assomull

Published: Wed 2 Sep 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 2 Sep 2015, 9:48 AM

FOR centuries Varanasi has been known for its beautiful weaves. Though even international fashion houses such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen have used the beautiful fabrics of the city in their collections, like with many handmade textile crafts, the weavers are literally hanging on to their livelihoods by threads. For the last year or so the city of Varanasi has been better known for being the city that is Prime Minster's Narendar Modi's home constituency. Modi's choice of political seat may have, by accident, caused a new and very welcomed fashion trend.
At first when Modi came into power many in fashion were worried. His "Make In India" campaign was viewed as being pro the financially strong power loom industry. Across social media, the fashion industry asked connoisseurs of style to sign the petition, "Don't Repeal the Handloom Act". This protected handloom weavers against being copied by machine-made power loom competitors.
The recent edition of Lakme Fashion Week which took place last week, proved that Modi's party is in fact pro-weavers. At a pre-opening curtain raiser BJP's spokesperson Shaina NC (who started her career as a fashion designer at one point, was known as "the queen of the sari drape") unveiled an exhibition called "Women Wonders of Varanasi" at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum. Curated by the designer-politician it included the works of Rohit Bal, Rina Dhaka and Gaurav Gupta.
This was followed by Alok Kumar, Development Commissioner of Handloom in the Textile Ministry, lighting the lamp on the opening of Indian Handloom and Textiles day. For several seasons now Lakme Fashion Week (one of the most important fashion events in India) has encouraged fashion to realise their responsibility towards keeping textile and crafts in Indian fashion alive but this season special attention was given to Varanasi. A social media hashtag was created #ReinventBanaras for the week.
During the Lakme Fashion Week while textiles from all over India were seen on the ramp, there was a lot of extra love being given to Banaras. Of course Banaras does produce some of India's most beautiful weaves, but one cannot help but wonder where fashion's new found interest in the city has a political agenda.
Fashion for a while has been trying to woo the government. The "Made in India" fashion label does not enjoy the same sort of governmental support as the "Made in Italy label or indeed as the "Made in the Emirates" receives. While this new emphasis on weaves is something that should be encouraged, let's hope that fashion is not just a way of gaining Modi's goodwill.
Ritu Kumar who at Lakme Fashion Week celebrated Banaras' weaves with true respect even had Shaina NC along with the master weavers from Modi's constituency take the final bow. It does seem more about a political statement than a style statement.
Gaurang Shah and Anita Dongre too stayed with the #ReinventBanaras tagline. Dongre debuted her new Modern Pret line label "Grassroots" at Lakme Fashion Week showing that weaves are not only about wedding outfits, but can also be a part of your everyday wardrobe.
These weaves could be dressed up or dressed down. This was a strong prêt collection. Though Anita looked to Gujarat (she took her final bow alongside weavers from the state) and not Banaras for story. There was still a focus on the rich heritage of Varanasi as at the show she launched a documentary of Banaras at the fashion week. Now one can't help but think that this show that must have made Modi himself very happy that Gujarat is home state and Varanasi is his constituency state.
The good news is that one expects to see more celebration of Banaras weaves at India's next important fashion event, Amazon India Fashion Week, which will take place in October. It seems fashion and politics can make a very chic combination.

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