Remember that seminal cinematic moment in Jab We Met, when Kareena Kapoor, wearing a Patiala style salwar and long T-shirt, jumps off a train? That outfit, which launched a style tsunami? But that was seven years ago, which in fashion parlance, might as well be a millennia. The salwar suit style train has since left the Patiala station and is now halting in Pakistan.
Because women in India are now wearing something that's loosely called the 'Pakistani suit' and it's changed the Indian salwar suit mould entirely.
This particular style typically includes an ankle-length kurta with deep side slits, worn with a pants-style salwar, usually edged with lace. The Pakistani suit gained popularity in 2012, after a very successful exhibit, Lifestyle Pakistan - a first-of-its-kind premium exhibition held in Delhi that year.
Also read: Made in Pak apparel show in Chandigarh
Showcasing apparel, textiles, design, furniture, jewellery and art, the exhibition gathered a huge response and initiated a chain reaction to what was to become one of the biggest salwar suit trends in the coming years. (We'd already called that one out in Sex Up The Salwar, our style report that followed the exhibition in 2012).
The managers of Libas Impex, a clothing and apparel store in Lajpat Nagar, one of the biggest salwar suit markets in the country, tell us that Pakistani style suits make for almost 30 per cent of all sales - a sizable chunk in a market that's dominated by heavy net churidaar suits and flouncy Anarkali style kurtas.
"The suit is typically made in a fabric called lawn, which till recently was only exported from Pakistan," one of the store's employees told us. "Now variations of lawn are available in Surat, and other fabrics like cotton satin, chiffon and mulmul are being employed for the suit."
The Indian fashion market, which till recently divided its focus between ornate wedding-worthy Indian wear and trendy western wear, rarely gave women adequately stylish choices for casual yet traditional clothes like saris and suits. Even the big Indian designers rarely experimented with the silhouette. The result? There have only been a few radical style innovations, barring Bollywood's occasional takes on the matter (Bunty and Babli - short kurti and salwar; Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya and Dil Toh Pagal Hai - skin-fitting churidar salwar, chiffon kurtas).
The Pakistani design industry, on the other hand, focused keenly on stylish Asian clothes (including mostly salwar suits), leading to fresh trends and several style inventions over the years. "That's why," Pervez Lala, CEO of the one of the oldest Pakistani lifestyle brands, Lala (it was established in 1948), told us over the phone from Lahore, "the Indian market is now hankering for Pakistani designs".
"One of the reasons these suits got so popular in India is because their styling was completely fresh, unlike any other style seen in the Indian market," says Lala. "Also, since 2012, efforts have been made to improve bilateral trade, which has led to a proliferation of Pakistani fashion in India."
With an eye on the Middle Eastern market, Pakistani suit fashions strive to be more global than ethnic, a quality which adds to their appeal in India.
Apart from its crisp silhouette, this style is extremely form-flattering for the average Asian woman, unlike the Anarkali or the Patiala that only looks good on the skinny. Shruti Sancheti, who showcased a collection of Pakistani suits in her recent outing at the Lakmé Fashion Week, says the Pakistani style provides ease of movement and more comfort than other suits.
"The kurta here falls straight and hides ungainly bulges that a tight shirt kurta openly reveals," she explains. "And the style is not only contemporary, but versatile. It can transform from daywear to a night ensemble easily, due to the grace of its cut. And the delicate lace pajamas that resemble wide-legged pants and palazzos suit the typical Indian broad hips more than the ruffled Patiala salwar does."
Adapted by designers like Sancheti and Vandy Mehra, Pakistani suits are now available in Indian handloom textiles like chikan, with indigenous embroidery and prints.
Several Pakistani designers have set up shop in Delhi and Mumbai, including the Pakistani Fashion Design Council and independent designers like Shaila Chatoor, Huma Naseer and Riyaz Gangji. According to Chatoor, Pakistani fashion has always found favour in India. Over email, she recalled her first collection for Bridal Asia in 2004, which reportedly sold out in less than two hours.
"Pakistani fashion is visibly different from the Indian market in terms of the cuts and a subdued colour palette," says Chatoor. "Also, in Pakistan, we still wear a lot of eastern wear during the day unlike in India. So the designers have to offer trendier alternatives to western wear, which results in experimentation with cuts, silhouettes and embroideries."
This is a wake-up call for Indian designers to explore the largely ignored casual Indian wear market.
Or we'll have no choice but to take a train to Pakistan.
1. Kurta: Voluminous, typically ankle-length with deep side-slits.
2. Salwar: Pant-style, with wide cuff ends and often lined with lace, unlike the Indian style which tapers narrowly.
3. Material: Originally made in lawn, it now comes in variations of mulmul, chiffon and cotton satin.
4. Silhouette: Loose, flowy and flattering all body shapes.
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From HT Brunch, July 20
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