Designing new horizons
From mandap to host, the year saw designers crafting fresh roosts for themselves. Does the future lie in skipping fashion for design?
FACE-OFF: From Valentino to Giovanni, Western designers are looking for fresh territories, and India with its numbers makes business sense.
THE RAMP is no longer their only roost, opulence is no longer their middle name; still `con-fusion' remains the word for Indian fashion in 2004. The year saw in the name of brand extension, designers finally moving into the accessory business in a big way but by the end of the year, the branching out rash spread so much, that some trousseau masters became amenable to designing tents and cards for weddings.
From JJ Valaya, Tarun Tahiliani to Rohit Bal, all formalised something they were doing over the years as friendly gestures. Fellow designer Ravi Bajaj termed them as nothing but English-speaking tentwallahs making the word brand dilution finally an ominous reality in India.
JJ Valaya. whose fashion house has tied up with shaadionline for designer shaadis, counters, "Ours is one of the India's best known fashion houses that specialises in trousseaux. The wedding design company is purely a brand extension because it will cater specifically to design ideas, with the implementation part looked after by shaadionline."
Design or fashion
Yes, design instead of fashion is promising to be the defining word for the industry with the fraternity coming up with suggestions to make everyday life beautiful. For instance, designer Raghavendra Rathore forwarded an idea about making as routine a thing as a traffic signal more eye-friendly. "Fashion is coming out of the niche closet where design is more important than fashion." Remind him that Indians are up to it and Rathore retorts, "After all, the Taj Mahal is our design. This is a democratic way of growth. If the Government is making 88 walls without a window, a designer can certainly step in."
He believes brand dilution is not an Indian concept and cites Amitabh Bachchan to nail his point. "In Europe you get one chance to prove yourself, here you can get a number of chances," quips Rathore.
The year also saw select designers realising small doesn't mean dilution and they smoothly moved from extravaganzas at the five-star hotels to the small yet niche spots. "This has to happen. As Indian fashion is evolving from couture to ready-to-wear, cost cutting is the buzzword," says Rathore. While hosting a show in a five-star costs around Rs.10-15 lakhs, at a smaller place, you can easily save Rs. 5-10 lakhs. For couture, though, designers still prefer glitzy hot spots.
Ironically, India Fashion Week, the annual event to promote prêt beyond the niche segment, remained just that, a hot spot for the rich and the famous and of course, the byte hungry, lifestyle friendly media"I don't participate in the Week because it is no different from private shows, same people, similar buyers. Mass is a vague term in India, but if you have to take fashion even to a section of the middle class, hold the Week in a public place," argues Bajaj. Foreign invasion
Meanwhile, with saturation staring at their faces on home turf, international designers Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Valentino and Giovanni all came looking for a public place called India. However, the embrace remained limited to words; the number of their products in the market proves they are just testing the waters. "There is a danger for those who are copying international labels, but for originals there is no need to fear as no Western machine can copy the hand-done kantha work," says Rathore. He admits the customer is demanding sharper cuts even in ethnic wear
Like most, for him influence stops at confluence that is fusion in fashion parlance.
With lifestyle channels blooming every day, tradition seems open for mutation. In the meantime, television provided channels to designers like Manish Malhotra to anchor new grounds. Sabyasachi Mukherjee made waves with his `frog princess', and his demure foray into costume designing with Black is eagerly awaited.
Hope things will streamline next year."
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