It was only a matter of time before our beloved Indian designers would spread their wings and take a stab at attracting an international fanbase to add to their already substantial local following. What better place to start than showcasing their collections at the Mecca of fashion: one of the four prestigious fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris (referred to as Fashion Month). While some of our favourite homegrown exports are seasoned pros (Manish Arora is celebrating his 10th season at Paris Fashion Week), others (like Vidhi Wadhwani) are making their runway debut.
Here’s a look at the 10 Indian designers who showed their Fall 2018 Ready-to-Wear collections at New York, London and Paris Fashion Week:
Bibhu Mohapatra (hailing from Rourkela, Odisha) found his muse—Estella—in the often celebrated literature of Charles Dickens‘ Great Expectations. More specifically, the designer focused on the bond between his protagonist and Miss Havisham, who groomed the budding beauty into a tragic femme fatale. Passionate watercolour prints, vintage lace, embellished vogue turbans, and merlot furs hinted of a long-lost romance. Flirting with danger were seemingly innocent silhouettes in sheer fabrics and cut strategically to show just enough skin to tease the senses. Even more seductive than the collection was Bibhu’s “affordable” price-points of separates from his debut collection Sashi by Bibhu (affectionately named after his mother who ignited his passion for design by teaching him how to sew as a young boy). A presentation inspired by powerful female mentors who’ve either shaped upstanding men or brought them to their knees, could not be more relevant. Bibhu, who has shown his collections at New York Fashion Week since 2009 and has dressed all-mighty women like Michelle Obama told Digiday, “I am also shaped and inspired by women who have faced challenges, and today, I design for a customer who’s more confident and sure of herself than ever before.”
Sachin & Babi Ahluwalia (originally from Mumbai and Delhi) drew inspiration from the source that often stimulates fashion designers (and people in general): their travels. Recently, the duo ventured to Bali and brought back with them tranquil earthly prints and details of storks that one might find while touring Bali Bird Park. Sachin & Babi followed suit with the likes of Rebecca Taylor and Monse in forgoing a formal runway format for a more straightforward approach—In Sachin & Babi’s case, personal appointments and a lookbook featuring silver-haired model Maye Musk. While their styles certainly look age-appropriate on Maye, the collection left us wondering how the demure silhouettes and matronly colour palette will transfer onto the below-sixty set. Not to say that twenty- and thirty-somethings are only keen on wearing bodycon and showing some skin. But perhaps more of Sachin & Babi’s signature detailed embroidery and stellar embellishments that they (and India) are so well known for would have fared well for every age group.
Feathers, fringe, sequins, beading—Pick your poison because Naeem Khan has it. The designer made no bones about bedazzling his styles with every eye-catching trope you can think of. While the hooded maxi dress covered from top to bottom in sterling sequins (save for the hood’s vivid red lining) and an almost-to-the-belly-button plunging neckline on a see-through jumpsuit may seem OTT, it works seamlessly for the Naeem Khan girl. You know, the kind of girl who thrives on making an entrance. After all, nothing says “look at me” more than head-to-toe leopard print. Naeem proposed a new kind of power dressing—for both the boardroom and for life. In some offices, it’s not too farfetched to imagine his lavishly embroidered velvet two-piece suit—replete with lamé pussy bow blouse, whilst mysterious capes and glammed-up tracksuits would fare well over the weekend. Whether you’re the one donning these loud-and-proud styles, or admiring the confident woman turning heads, you’ve got to admit that Naeem’s art of unapologetic dressing is nothing short of empowering.
Vaishali Shandangule (who currently lives in Mumbai) traveled to New York to present her collection “Parokh—The Veiled Reality.” For her fourth successive season showing at New York Fashion Week, the designer unleashed a stream of innermost thoughts, which “develop in any subconscious mind as a creative process giving birth to different forms and ideas as per subjective experiences.” Translation: almost every look was asymmetrical, with off-kilter long sleeve jackets and uneven dress hems. Handwoven wool, silk, and cotton fabrics were embellished with boondi embroidery and evocative deep plums were offset by a rather bland tasting oatmeal-beige. If Vaishali’s intentions were to muddle our mental psyche, her seemingly ill-fitting shapes and disheveled garments succeeded in doing so. For such a thoughtful attempt, we wish the designer had dug deeper into her ego to allow her subliminal artistic influences to truly run wild. While the collection lacked the unbridled abandon we crave, it’s clear Vaishali’s sales aren’t suffering—She has about forty employees on her payroll. Saving graces were an asymmetrical wine-coloured top with one structured, one draped shoulder, and a cut-and-paste asymmetrical beige jacket with off-center shank buttons. See more of the collection here.
Shivani Jain prophesied ruffles as the fundamental element of her Fall 2018 collection, which featured monochromatic evening wear. Almost every look featured ruffles along necklines, hems, and sleeves. The designer provided several iterations of the feminine frill: waterfall-style cascading down asymmetrical hemlines, layered in tiers, or punctuating long sleeves. Unfortunately, the ruffle on ruffle styles fell flat. What had the potential of being voluminous ornamental frills deflated into lifeless drapes. As Balenciaga once said, “a ruffle must be intelligent.” Perhaps putting more effort into the main attraction—with generous volume, weightier fabrics to add shape, and exaggerated waves—would have saved the flirty foray. As for the solitary beaded number (the corset on a white gown), the effect too, seemed lackluster. When it comes to showing during New York Fashion Week, Shivani is still considered a newbie, having first presented in 2015. We would love to see the designer experiment further with her interpretation of ruffles and more elaborate beading. After all, Shivani was spot on in predicting ruffles having their moment.
“What I love about showcasing in London is their fashion sense. They are so edgy, bold and experimental—So I’ve taken the styling and looks up a notch, making them more fun and quirky,” said Vidhi Wadhwani of her eponymous label that showed at London Fashion Week (Vidhi was the only Indian-based designer to do so). Edgy, bold, and experimental the collection was! Vidhi’s deconstructed jackets, 3D handmade textures, and structured modern-mod shapes indeed felt of-the-moment. Titled “Solstice,” the collection of sheer fabrics, detailed cutwork, geometric appliqué, and block-printed organza were meant to represent “the play of light and darkness, of luminescence and shadows that occurs during a solstice.” Vidhi is no stranger to the international scene. The Nagpur-based designer has shown at both London and Paris Fashion Week in the past, and has stores littered throughout India (Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, and Raipur) as well as in Singapore. Locally, it’s Bollywood celebrities like Taapsee Pannu and Soha Ali Khan who have helped put Vidhi’s designs on the map. Being the clever business woman that she is, Vidhi has used her Indian heritage to her advantage. “What makes us stand out is that each piece—however basic and simple—has a touch of the Indian artisans through techniques of quilting, appliqué, cutwork or fabric-manipulation.” While some designers find it challenging to create a middle ground between the local and western market, Vidhi reasons that the two aren’t as disparate as one might think, “They both value the art of craftsmanship and are always looking at new trends and styles to play with.” Apparently, the world is Vidhi’s playground. Her designs have proven to work in England, India, Singapore…anywhere really.
The conversation of scaling fast fashion has been on many industry insider’s lips, citing the dire need to eliminate waste, mindless consumption, and it’s impact on the environment. Ashish however, felt the need to shout his sentiment from the rooftop—Or the runway rather. Creating an Indian market setting, the Delhi-born designer sent models walking down a mismatched carpet-clad runway, with flashy graffiti-covered signs labeled “Glamour Fashions” and “Posh Lookz” in the backdrop and half-clothed “storefront” mannequins displayed below them. Ashish used clever wordplay on easily-recognizable sequined logos that read “American Excess,” and “Masturbate”—An obvious play on notorious credit card companies. Furthering his point were models carrying plastic bags filled with the day’s purchases. The message was ominous, but the festive styles and rainbow palette felt playful. Ashish traced back to his roots in more ways than one. Besides his Chandni Chowk-runway and desi garlands, the designer’s collection was actually made in India, using the same traditional handwork our country is known for. Many westerners love to describe India as a culture of “sensory overload.” Similarly, Ashish’s collection was a mashup of shiny metallics, bold stripes, intricate beading, showy sequins, contrasting prints, technicoloured tinsel, loud appliqué, hand-embroidered crochet lace floral patterns and everything but the kitchen sink. Yes, not for everyone. Albeit, there were a handful of far less audacious styles that one might find non-abrasive, like Ashish’s sparkling red maxi or ruffled heart-print dress. We applaud the designer for being ahead of his time. The pertinent topic of overconsumption was also a theme in his spring 2014 collection. We hear you loud and clear Ashish, and hopefully the rest of the world will too.
While creatives are typically “right-brained” individuals who invoke their instincts, imagination, and artistic awareness over logic and reasoning, Rahul Mishra seemed to adopt the opposite approach—Or perhaps a middle ground between the two. The designer exposed the inner trappings of his heart and soul, following up with a contemplative, well-thought out interpretation of what he deemed as nostalgia. His “Rhizome” collection referenced Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. In a vain attempt to grasp hazy childhood memories, Rahul realized his collection was not about recreating those moments. “It is not what we remember, but how we remember,” explained the designer. So what does a lifetime of Rahul Mishra’s memories look like? Velvet blazers and disco sequins from the 70s, empowering shoulder pads and oversized coats from the 80s, tartan plaids of the 90s grunge era, and cozy knit wool sweaters that would arouse heartwarming recollections of any of our pasts. Other “imagined and reimagined” memories took form in hand-loom brocade referred to as kinkhab (fleeting remembrances of his mother’s wardrobe), corduroys in vintage shades, pleated shirts with city prints (blurry memories of migrating from his small village in Kanpur to the city), and organza dresses bearing geometric patterns. The pensive collection certainly left an impression on us. The fear of forgetting those we cherish and the longing for what once was, is a feeling that many of us (whether left- or right-brained) know all too well. No matter what his method, this melancholy-yet-heartfelt collection was a true testament of Rahul’s artistry.
Ever curious to find out what makes wild child Manish Arora’s wheels turn? In an exclusive statement from the designer, we were surprised that despite all the chaos in his Fall 2018 collection, his inspiration came from a rather zen place. Manish cited “the pristine spirituality, beliefs, mythical creatures, uniformity and surreal nature of Japan.” It turns out, there’s a method to his madness. More specifically, Zen Buddhism and meditation spawned imagery of vibrant cherry blossom brocades and vivid Chrysanthemum threadwork on Japanese raw silks. Upon deeper examination, we realized the star players of the collection were his dynamic outerwear. Iterations ranged from long kimono-style cloaks, broad-shouldered capes, quirky washed denims, boxy silhouettes, shorter A-line overcoats, quilted bomber jackets, and even a bomber-Jodhpuri fusion jacket—All displaying his animated prints. Layers and layers of prints. In fact, this season saw less of Manish’s usually heavy-handed embellishments, and instead, more of his tricked-out embroideries and idiosyncratic prints. Knotted neck scarves made from handwoven jacquard (created by local Delhi craftsmen) looked like they could double as kickass head pillows on a long flight. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Manish Arora show if his mantra of love and acceptance weren’t strewn throughout his collection (expressed literally through sequined and embroidered hearts). As always, the designer stayed true to his aesthetic of maximalist imagery, lucid colours, and eclectic mashings. For someone so sure of themselves and who swears that all you need is love, we wonder if the mastermind hasn’t already reached zen himself.
One Kolkata-based designer who has proven to the world that she’s a force to be reckoned with is Esha Shethi Thirani. Although Esha has never shown at Amazon India Fashion Week or Lakme Fashion Week, she felt that Paris Fashion Week was the perfect place to make her runway debut. “The dream has always been to take the label overseas. By opening up to a wider clientele and expanding a niche market, there was no better place than Paris,” said Esha. Her collection “Qalamkar” pays homage to the art form of kalamkari and the designer’s need to “revive this dying art that first made an appearance during the Mughal era.” Kalamkari is a South Indian print technique used to create mosaic-like appliqués. Esha used tulle, stretch viscose georgette, unbleached jute cotton, and organza, but it was Neoprene (scuba fabric) that gave her sculpted shapes their architectural appeal. Garments like her winged mini dress with boning, structured top with thickly tiered ruffles, cape with shoulder cut outs, and exaggerated bell bottom pants are all pieces that are vying for space in your fall wardrobe. Earthen shades of sage, brown, and ecru were made sleek when combined with chic black. We hope Esha reconsiders showing at one of India’s fashion weeks. We would love to see her collection up close and personal and we’re thinking her Bollywood clientele would agree. Esha’s designs have been worn by an endless list of celebrities like Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Taapsee Pannu, Shraddha Kapoor, Gauhar Khan, and many more.
Which collection do you love most? Tell us in the comments below!
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