Couture Interrupted
Does Indian couture need a coming of age?

Is Indian couture entirely dependent on bling? And by this I don’t mean the kind that sparkles on the garments—but jewels. 

At the recently held India Couture Fashion Week 2018, jewellery brands chose the glamorous way to showcase statement pieces with a lineup of models; some of them celebrities too! Or, is it that jewellery brands are they bailing out couture (considering that there’s already the annual India International Jewellery Week)? Do they put in the moolah for shows which cost a bomb; and if there’s a celebrity showstopper to go with it... well then there’s hefty bill at the end. Is it that Indian couture can’t carry the weight of its own presentations, or is it just the way of the world? 

These questions are for another debate altogether, today we focus on Indian couture—the clothes and nothing other than the clothes. While the presentations were as beautiful as expected, there was one which stole the show—Rahul Mishra’s Maraasim.

Mishra Mishra is the first Indian designer to win the Woolmark Prize at Milan Fashion Week in 2014. That is possibly one of the reasons he presents his collection at Paris Fashion Week each year, rubbing shoulders with the likes of design legends Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani (previous winners). 

His name is sandwiched between couture gurus like Elie Saab and fashion forward Comme des Garçons on the event’s calendar.  But it’s the sheer talent, hard work and unadulterated focus with which he approaches his craft that has put him on the international map. Mishra, however, humbly credits his trailblazing success to a higher force. . ­­

At India Couture Week 2018, he showcased a path breaking collection which stood out for its modernity, minimalism and global appeal. It’s hard to find a designer who is willing to look beyond embellished lehengas in the culture specific “Indian couture” (over the years synonymous with trousseau) market. It takes confidence and grit to take the path not oft taken. In a conversation with the designer we find out how the risk paid off.     

FC: From 2014 when you won the Woolmark Prize fast forward now to 2018, do you think the award gave you a platform to propel your label at such a great pace? 

RM: Of course! It has obviously contributed to where I am today. I was very lucky that the Woolmark Prize happened to me at such an early stage of my career. It gave me the confidence that I needed to push me forward; to trust my gut and intuition. With the funds I won I was able to set up my factory in NOIDA to take the brand to the next level. Woolmark was a defining moment in my life.

FC: What is it like to showcase at Paris Fashion Week? 

RM: Even before Paris Fashion Week happened, I was consistently showcasing at the Indian fashion weeks and abroad. In 2010 the President of French Fashion Council thought I should present at the event, but I was not ready. 

After Woolmark I got the confidence and the means to take my brand to the next level. Getting a spot in the Paris Fashion Week Calendar is the best thing that could have happened to our brand. What it does is pushes you to improve your game. When you play with the best players, you have to step up to the plate and perform; it drives me to put my best foot forward and to work harder.  You know when I see my names alongside the likes of Hermes, Elie Saab, Vivienne Westwood the joy is unimaginable. It has helped us develop the brand immensely in terms of creativity and work ethic. I experiment a lot more with silhouettes, design techniques, textiles and pump in as much energy as I can muster.

It’s not just the brands who feature at the event, it’s also the biggest names in the industry— journalists, Creative Directors, CEOs, top management, celebrities etc who judge your work. They are accustomed to the very best in the world and have seen it all, so one has to push oneself and set higher standards if you want to cement your position as a serious player. 

When you see your name in the same calendar as Chanel and Alexander McQueen it’s a surreal feeling. I think some higher power must have been very happy with me to have given such an opportunity so early.  But it hasn’t gone to my head… I know I have miles to walk before I can even count myself amongst them.

FC: Less than a decade ago you were still a student at the Instituto Marangoni. In a short span of time you’ve built a standalone brand at par with India’s industry veterans, what do you credit this to? 

RM: I have a very long way to go. I cannot compare myself with anybody and indeed it has been a privilege to showcase on the same platform as India’s top designers and fashion brands. They are all so amazing. When I used to be a student I used to look at their work. They are all so fabulous and I am humbled to be part of the India Couture Week with them. When I showcase here in India I get very excited; it’s like a home coming. My team is excited, we do it once a year and it feels like a close knit family. 

FC: You have showcased in fashion weeks across the world. How is it different back home and do you feel the Indian fashion industry is yet to mature? 

RM: It’s unfair to compare. Paris is hard core fashion, the fashion industry there is bigger than their automobile and aircraft industries put together (which are some of the biggest in the world if I may add).  That’s a huge scale to be up against. Abroad it’s about some of the biggest fashion corporations in the world, their hierarchy and ideas are very different.

Here in India my team and I work like a family. There the level of professionalism is astounding; everything has a method to it. For example here I get a pool of twenty models that are all well known to me and we are friends. There the Casting Director auditions six hundred girls from around the world and narrows them down to sixty. From this we shortlist twenty models, keeping in mind the collection and show. Everything is also very expensive the cost factor to showcase there is relatively high compared to India.

So there is a huge difference when you compare Paris or Milan Fashion Weeks to India. The fashion industry abroad is over a few centuries old. In India it’s hardly even thirty or forty years old, so one can’t weigh them against each other.  However India is advancing at a very rapid stage, today we are one of the biggest fashion markets in the global village and the pace at which the homegrown fashion industry is growing, we will not take very long to bridge the gap. It won’t take us centuries to get to where they are provided we have the highest standards of education, technique and production.  

FC: Speaking of globalisation, do you feel the advent of ecommerce and social media platforms has done a disservice to designers like yourself?  Do you feel the online space has corrupted/diluted the brand value of original creations through the sheer volumes of knock offs? 

RM: This is always a problem, and a huge one altogether! Our laws and have to be clearly defined and IPR laws cannot be taken for granted. They need to be taken very seriously.

Ethnic labels and high street labels need to be conscientious about their work ethics; this pertains to the future of Indian fashion.  On the one hand we are plagued by false alarms and claims-—like when some uses a flower, paisley, rose, lotus or a tree… no one has a copyright on these.  It does not mean that if one designer has used this no one else can use the motif.

Fashion is not created in vacuum, God is the biggest creator and he created all these magical things which inspire us. Even a scientist identifies elements, he doesn’t create them. These kinds of claims dilute serious copyright offences which need to be taken up. No one can be 100 percent creative; we are exposed to ideas which we re-create.  

There are times when brands have design teams inadvertently make a mistake or even if they do so deliberately, they offer an apology or pay damages from which you can recover the losses it has caused to you.

Damages usually amount to the profits they have made from your knock offs, so the next time they will think a hundred times before they copy your creations and it will act as a strong deterrent in the future.   

However, designers are left with no option but to take legal action when there is shameless blatant copying of designs. I have had to take action against two firms (both Indian and Western) who have knocked off my designs from Paris Fashion Week. I would not like to comment as the matter is sub judice.  If my case is strong my stand will be vindicated. A lot of times we don’t even get to know, they don’t target my clients as they have no access and are selling in markets we don’t even get to know about. There needs to be a strong code of conduct and strict policy. There’s no short term solution.  

FC: Your wife Divya, also an NID graduate works with you. Do you often bring work home? And how tough is it to work with your life partner?

RM: I’ll let her answer that.

DM: Well we always bring work home, and on holidays! Work doesn’t take a backseat ever; it’s inevitable that the conversation comes back to it most of the times. However, we have a lot of creative discussions on expansions and future projects, so as long as the discussions are positive and not destructive it’s okay. 

FC: What is your vision for the brand in the future?

DM: As a homegrown brand from India God has been kind to give us to privileged to showcase at Paris Fashion Week. Our show is on the 29th of September between Comme des Garçons and Elie Saab, so our focus for the immediate future is to make sure the show is a success. We have to remain motivated that as a homegrown Indian brand we have a presence in the international market, we have a name. We would like to open doors into leading international stores and to be present in the global fashion space at a large scale. 

RM: Back home too we are inaugurating our second store in Delhi next month and the first in Mumbai; so it’s exciting times ahead. 

FC: You are celebrated for your purist approach, craftsmanship and minimalism; does that set you back in the Indian wedding market and do you choose to not dilute your style for monetary gain? 

RM: Ninety percent of market is flooded with those kinds of styles. There are over hundreds of players in that business. So why would I focus on that? I would rather focus on ten percent of the market which understands my ideology. I cater to the thinking and more sophisticated client and I feel to be one of the few that focus on 10 percent rather than one of the hundreds who focus on that market makes more financial sense to me.

Our brides are the younger girls, the millennials who know their mind. They are strong willed and strong headed and they do not look to Bollywood to get their confidence. Their life isn’t styled in the shadows of some star. I get inspired by a woman who knows herself. My clothes don’t overpower one’s personality; I don’t want to impose on your personality; I don’t want to make you into something you are not and who no one can relate to on the biggest occasion of your life. My muse remains true to herself and my clothes compliment her; the clothes are secondary.  

Tarun Tahiliani
‘In Elysium—An Ethereal Lightness of Being’ defines Tahiliani’s slow and steady shift, literally, towards light weight couture. However, do not mistake that for anything less than lofty in both design and sentimentality.

Tahiliani keeps it modern and millennial, catering to the new age bride who far from wanting to be weighed down by sheer volumes, prefers to be the belle of the ball twirling through the night.  His signature shimmering drapes are now weightless. European construction is fused with classic Indian embroideries. Tahiliani carries his rich heritage to a modern way of life.

The palette is soft, the embellishments are layers of Swarovski and the silhouettes are structured to accentuate the waist. The weightless under-structure is disguised with hand-knotted lace, Italian tulle, French lamè and sheer silk.  Gota-patti and chikankari give the traditional touch.

The menswear collection features hand-embroidered muted monotones with vibrant bursts of auspicious colour on sherwanis, bandhgalas and bandhis.  

FC Tip: Pick Tahiliani for a destination wedding on Indian shores

Suneet varma
Summing up Varmas’ collection in his own words, “the Naintara collection is a theatrical representation of the modern Indian Woman who lives in the today—yet embraces the romance of traditional Indian couture.” 

Varma is known for his bold designs which highlight the female figure and seductive styles which compliment a woman’s sense and sensibility.  Although this collection was more demure than his usual style, it was whimsically crafted featuring a mix of traditional motifs with abstract artworks. 

All the Varma staples were present — feminine, romantic and modern. Refreshingly it was a luxury automobile brand (BMW) who presented Suneet Varma rather than just another jewellery label. 

FC Tip: Pick Varma for a wedding high on glamour

Rohit Bal
Bal is a design puritan, he sticks to what he loves best and knows no one can do it better than him.

Guldastah is Bals’ ode to the magnificent beauty of flowers; a rendition of his favourite motif.  

Rooted deep in Kashmiri culture, close to his own heritage, the collection is a dedication to the colours, the fragrance and the irresistible allure of flowers. Recreating floral beauty via techniques like thread embroidery, gold wire and zardozi, the work on his creations is nothing short of artwork, akin to botanical paintings by some of the great masters.

The silhouettes remain larger than life, with luxurious fabrics like organic cotton, cotton silk blends, chanderis, silk organzas, silks and velvets.  It’s a home coming for Bal with the flowers of Kashmir—Sunflowers; Poppies, Tulips and Peonies. There is no underlying sense of luxury... it is luxury to the very core. 

FC Tip: Pick Bal for a traditionally grand wedding

Anju Modi
Period fashion and costume are at the center of Anju Modi’s couture offering.  With all its opulence, beauty and vintage charm ‘A Maiden’s Prayer’ seemed to be caught up in a time warp.

Exaggerated silhouettes, copious amounts of fabric, grandiose sleeves, and fancy collars topped off with dramatic hairdos might have been an ode to the Victorian era but seemed displaced in the millennial scheme of fashion today.  

Nevertheless, the collection will resonate with those with who have a perchance for ostentatious fashion,  ornate art and hedonistic architecture.

FC Tip: Pick Modi for a theme wedding

Falguni and Shane Peacock

Making their debut on the India Couture Week runway, Falguni and Shane’s Amour De Junagarh collection juxtaposed high octane glamour and small town appeal.

Not wanting to alienate clients based on individual styles and tastes, the designer duo created something for everybody—there were gowns with thigh high slits to traditional embellished lehengs.

Sequins, feathers, crystals and zardozi featured on both Western and Indian silhouettes, appealing both to the urbane woman and girls from tier two and three cities.

“A medley between the queen of the French capital and the grand palace of Junagarh” is the self confessed inspiration of the duo. 

FC Tip: Pick Peacock for glamorous cocktail parties

Amit Aggarwal
Aggarwal kept his collection engineered, structured, and modern. Inspired by nature’s forms the silhouettes are modern combined with rich textile heritage. 

The formation of crystals at a molecular level and the enveloping of the metallic chrysalis around a butterfly cocoon are imaginatively recreated in metallic outfits with crystalline textiles.

There’s sculpt, drape and geometric precision. The colour palette consisting of jewel tones of rose quartz, silver onyx, emerald, amethyst, topaz and sapphire, as well as metallic shades of rose gold, silver, pewter and light gold.

FC Tip: For an avant-garde and statement look pick Aggarwal

Pallavi Jaikishan
Veteran designer Pallavi Jaikishan’s chose to stick to her signature style and motif.

Floral patterns were the centre of her collection, Nostalgia, which was indeed nostalgic. While beautiful to look at, Jaikishan’s collection was predictable and featured nothing to talk home about. It was an “amalgamation of her classic old designs revisited and modified”.

It was classic flowers done in French knots on sarees as usual and the colour palate was traditionally festive. “Old favorites” like the Kabja, four circle ghagras with can-cans, shararas and jackets were part of the presentation.

FC Tip: Mothers’ of the bride may choose Jaikishan for that vintage look

Shyamal & Bhumika
So here’s what we liked about designer duo Shyamal & Bhumika’s collection, there were a lot of midnight blue, emerald green, moon grey, dusty mint... albeit there were reds and pinks too, but kudos to helping brighten up the mood. (Yes the collection had flower motifs as well!)

Muse of Mirrors “celebrates their princess muse.” The use of eco-friendly matka silks was a winning point. Besides this, embroidery techniques like aari, zardozi, pitta, rose gold zari threadwrok were a plus.

“The collection is inspired by the regality and romance of ancient palaces, with their ornate archways, painted ceilings, silk upholstery and baroque carpets.”

FC Tip: Marrying the traditional and the modern, this collection is for the young bride of today