Haute couture and the Indian fashion scene

Haute couture and the Indian fashion scene
CHARLES Frederick Worth, widely known as the father of haute couture, would have never imagined that the concept he brought about in the late 19th century would transform fashion in so many ways. Worth brought a different vision in the industry where he took customised tailoring to the next level, designing special clothes for special clients. Couture in layman terms means “exclusively for you,” and soon designers in Paris and rest of Europe started following Worth’s way of creating exclusive clothes for exclusive people who wanted to look distinct and were ready to pay huge amounts for it.

This gave rise to the formation of the Chambers Syndicate De la Haute Couture Franciase in 1868. Seeing the surge of couture all around, it then lay down certain conditions for a fashion house to be called “haute couture.” Since its inception, only about a100 fashion houses worldwide can claim to be haute couturiers. We are proud to have an Indian designer, Manish Arora, as a member of this body, the only one from our entire designer pantheon who can legitimately call himself an “haute couturier.”

The world’s top fashion capitals hold a couture fashion week where the rich and famous of the world come to check out the latest lines. The market is endlessly expanding as we see Paris Couture Week selling an outfit worth £ 50,000 without either the buyer or the seller batting an eyelid. Designers like Giorgio Armani and Valentino have seen a sales rise of 40 per cent in the past two seasons and Donatella Versace, who had not doing couture for many years, returned to Paris Couture Week two years ago.

Right from the time of our extravagant maharajas and maharanis to the scions of top business houses today, there has always been a niche section in our country that has been couture clients all along. There has always been a market of exclusive clothing in the most expensive fabrics and the very best workmanship for a section ready to pay exuberant prices for it. The potential of this market gave birth to a platform like the Delhi Couture Week started by FDCI in 2008. Some critics compare it unfairly with the Paris Couture Week and castigate ours by saying it is basically confined to bridalwear and nothing beyond that. I feel comparing the two is rather unfair because Chambers Syndicate De la Haute Couture Franciase is more than a century old and our Fashion Development Council of India (FDCI) is just 15 years old with Delhi Couture Week just in its sixth year.

The couture week is still in its early days. It is unfair to compare the two also because the Paris Couture Week has clients that can easily spend Rs 50 lakh on couture gowns whereas in India, the only product which fetches even one third of that amount is bridalwear. The Big Fat Indian Wedding is the most lucrative market for our designers so what is wrong if they create elaborate lehengas and saris under their couture labels?

Nevertheless, the concept of Couture Week is one of the best steps taken by the FDCI to move Indian fashion forward. And there are some designers like Gaurav Gupta, Manav Gangwani, Shantanu & Nikhil and Manish Arora who are showing that Indian couture is not just bridal and have presented some stunning couture collections on the runway. Besides, couture is not only about luxury and exclusivity alone, it is also serving as a lifeline for our traditional craftsmen who are the people behind the spectacular weaves and embroideries that go into the creation of our couture.

(The writer is a Delhi-based fashion designer)

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