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Deals & Steals

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Couture Clichés

The HDIL India Couture Week aimed to brighten up the
Mumbai monsoon with some razzle-dazzle. But Sohiny Das,
at times, wished for her shades

The perception of couture as trousseau in our country had
seeded apprehensions regarding the purpose of the HDIL India Couture Week, even before the event had commenced. But then, definitions may alter with location – this reasoning was enough to garner enthusiasm and leave cynical presumptions outside the venue entrance. Couture is fantasy, who needs reality?

Inside the tent, however, the Vibgyor fringed installations seemed to depict a celebratory continuation of the recently held Gay Pride Parade in Mumbai. The general observation to this ‘Rainbow in the rains’ décor was, ‘Why?’ Perhaps this was the intended preparation for the fantastic journey that was ready to unfurl with the somewhat jarring red carpet....

Six days of the country’s grandest fashion extravaganza left a mixed aftertaste. When eleven master couturiers of the country assemble for a presentation, one expects nothing short of magic. But that is what was lacking. Somewhere, hopes were raised, sighs escaped, gasps were drawn, and the palpitation almost ruptured – but then again, almost.

Textile Trends
Velvet and net predominantly juxtaposed throughout. Ritu Kumar, J J Valaya, Varun Bahl, Rohit Bal, Manish Malhotra, Tarun Tahiliani, Pallavi Jaikishan and Manav Gangwani featured both fabrics in generous doses, while Suneet Varma and Anamika Khanna used net effectively. Lurex peek-a-booed in many collections (saris, gowns) in the form of jerseys, georgettes, taffetas and satins. Cashmere, worsted wool (Asish Soni); silk jersey, tweed (Tarun Tahiliani); and cotton velvet (Ritu Kumar) provided some refreshing alternatives to the chiffon/ georgette/ tissue brigade. But of course, brocades and jacquards continued to hold their own as the traditional Indian regalia.

Print and Palette
Splashes of digital prints depicted human figures, jewellery (Kumar), shibori effects (Tahiliani), paisley panels (Valaya) and water-colour florals (Varma). The paisley emerged strong – miniature to giant, full-figured to size-zero, sometimes stylised to serpentine proportions. Art Nouveau floral motifs also domi–nated in bold and intricate versions.

White, cream and black featured prominently, with gold and silver next in line. Jewel tones like emerald and ruby, along with indigo and chocolate, were the darker favourites. Salmon pink, coral, flamingo red and turquoise added the bright accents, while onion, mocha and warm grey provided subtle touches. Though the timeless single-colour outfit theory was popular, a few designers like Kumar, Valaya, Bal, Malhotra and Bahl did play with imaginative and strikingly unconventional combinations.

Shape Shifters
The most noticeable was the variation in the lehenga shape;
after the prolonged reign of the A-line gherdaar, this allowed numerous liberties. While Valaya, Tahiliani and Kumar presented multi-panelled, streamlined A-line skirts, Bal, Khanna, Jaikishan and Bahl depicted volume, with underlayers or sheer overlayers – almost on the lines of the farthingale.

Malhotra retained fluidity, with thick hem bands; while Varma and Gangwani revamped the fishtail/mermaid, the latter stiffening the base to form a wide disc-like hem. Bal, Khanna and Valaya also displayed pleated underlayers as design features, and Khanna presented concave hemlines.

The straight, long jacket was the desi statement on androgyny – featuring prominently in men’s as well as women’s collections – as bandhgalas, or V-necked ventures. Classic equals boring is sometimes true, and it was déja-vu at every show, especially in menswear. While godet inserts made interesting menswear elements (Valaya, Soni), they, apart from the occasional dart/ tuck detail, were just about the only variation in men’s shapes.

Soni’s designs for women, however, stressed on shape. Structured fluidity prevailed in the geometric yet soft pleats and drapes of jackets, dresses, pegged skirts and jodhpur-palazzo hybrids. The U hem featured in Soni’s and Khanna’s collections. Khanna also presented the ‘pegged’ waist and hip, but in lighter fabrics and draped styles.

Embroidery Extravaganza
Designers revelled in the glory of India’s textile treasure trove. The intricacies of embroidery were arguably far superior to those at any Paris couture show. Demure to dazzling, layered to lacey, matte to metallic – the salutation to our craft was the point driven home, repeatedly.

The usual zardozi, aari, chikankari and bead-work prevailed in large quantities – painstakingly intricate, breathtakingly beautiful, and centuries old – featuring in almost all collections. Parsi gaara and ‘jacquard’ embroideries were another common element – whether to create a lace illusion (Varma, Jaikishan, Bal), or an Art Nouveau feel (almost all shows).

Tone-on-tone texturing through quilting (Malhotra), 3-D threadwork (Soni), fringing (Bal, Tahiliani, Soni), meshing (Soni, Khanna), smocking (Khanna) pleating and ruching (Khanna, Gangwani, Tahiliani) showed a more modern approach. Khanna interestingly placed bunches of antique safety-pins for a quirky, yet aesthetic take.

Metal, the Goddess of Indian embroidery, shone through her many incarnations. Badla, dabka, gota and zari transformed from vintage vixen (Kumar, Khanna, Bahl, Valaya, Malhotra) to sheen-ful seductress (Tahiliani, Bal) to dazzling diva (Gangwani, Varma, Jaikishan). The blast from bling countered with equal force, with crystals, mirrors, sequin-sheeting, kundan and stones encrusting the remaining available space, confirming suspicions that the Indian couture customer measures value of luxury on a weighing scale.

Par Excellence?
Yes, apprehensions were ultimately justified. This was largely a bridal extravaganza. A visual feast of regalia, grandeur and heritage – but not much more. Predictably, the fine line between opulence and ostentation was frequently blurred. While the bar of craft was raised extremely high in every show, there were too many overlapping elements. Due to the repetitive materials, techniques, fabrics and motifs, one could be forgiven for concluding that the same textile trend forecast journal was referred to by the Indian design fraternity. Despite the vast variations in our craft, the same few are recycled every season under the ‘support our tradition’ tag.

Couture here is also perceived as the synonym of volume, triggering irrepressible Victorian fantasies with a semi-Oriental take. The so-called ‘majestic’ offerings – where pomp replaced substance – were Eastern cousins of the more outlandish Elie Saab and Dior couture examples, with a bit of Issey Miyake thrown in. Often bordering on costume mish-mash, these pieces seemed better suited to theatre, or in a museum.

Of course couture cannot be complete without feathered headgear; therefore, plumage ruled the roost, and crests – no matter how integral to themes and concepts, it was a bird sanctuary! Serenading Shakespeare is another favourite couture cliché; so behold Venice, balconettes and enchanted forests! But the individual sets and creative choreography are a significant step in the right direction, and though there is always scope for improvement, they deserve special mention.

The bright side is that our designers realise that emulating European couture is not the key to fit Indian parameters – improvisation according to need is acceptable. Thus, each designer presented what they considered to be their forte. Trouble is, the forte was largely common ground. Therefore, it is recommended that we first understand the true definition of couture and stem the future from its roots. Couture essentially means hand finished, it is that simple. A baby-angora vest sans precious ornamentation can be on the same couture level as a fully beaded choli. A Chantilly lace scarf could be worth more than a zardozi sari. Luxury transcends occasion; therefore, it is personal. Only after this realisation, can we educate the market, and expect a better informed customer, who would be willing to extend beyond trousseau for couture.

Text by Sohiny Das

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