Come winter every year and, aside from chills and sniffles, one thing is guaranteed. All around you, every evening, you see fashion in opulent overdrive.
There are two reasons for this. One: The weather's fantastic so we feel peppy and that makes us want to dress up. And two: It's the wedding / festive / party season, so we really have to dress up.
Since these are such good excuses for excess, we can't be blamed for going all out when it comes to thick, rich fabrics and bright, celebratory colours. And while there is a variety of textiles, prints and colours to choose from, the biggest thing this season is brocade.
Yes, brocade. That smooth length of silk traditionally woven with pure gold and silver threads. Yes, the same fabric traditionally found in a bride's trousseau – and traditionally only worn on extra special occasions.
TRADITION TO TREND
Tradition has nothing to do with the brocade we're seeing so much of this winter. Trends do.
Says fashion designer Kavita Bhartia, "Brocade is a versatile fabric that looks good in any form, whether an achkan, a kurta, a saree, a jacket or a skirt."
If we think about this hard enough, we have to acknowledge that we've seen signs of this versatility all year long. Lara Dutta wore a brocade mini skirt in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom's title track. Debutant actress Sonam Kapoor has made many appearances in dresses with a brocade bodice. And stylish Rani Mukherji often wears brocade sleeveless blouses with her chiffon sarees.
"It is one those fabrics that does not need any support to look glamourous," says designer Sapna Chopra. "The weave is such that it is lush in itself. We've seen it hover on the periphery of style for a couple of years now, but this season brocade is finally in the spotlight." No wonder then that film star Zeenat Aman found clothes made of brocade irresistible when she stepped into Sapna's studio.
International recognition is why brocade is finally centre stage, ac cording to designer Amit GT. "It got its due when big names in the international fashion arena such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs started using it. But while they use it as an element in their creations, I use brocade for full outfits. I especially like using the tanchoi weave for dresses."
Our edge over the west is the richness of our fabrics. They add glamour to even the most boring of outfits. While old-fashioned winter fabrics such as tweed, velvet and corduroy are appearing in clothes and accessories for both sexes in western wear this season, a touch of brocade gives them a certain look of luxury .
Brocade has gone beyond the traditional outfits it was originally used for. Now it's used to highlight the designs of accessories such as bags and footwear and clothes as basic as jeans and skirts.
Says designer Monisha Jaising, "Women should pair boring English fabrics like tweed with a luxurious, feminine fabric such as brocade. It looks interesting that way ."
Sabyasachi Mukherjee also believes in mixing fabrics such as velvet with brocade to make a dress come alive. "If the dress is only in velvet, the cut and finish can look good, but if you add a bodice of brocade, it stands out in the crowd."
You don't need to go to a designer for that expensive look. Cheaper versions are available on the streets. At Janpath in New Delhi, for example, a smart denim skirt with brocade patches can be bought for as little as Rs 250. (Bargaining, of course, is necessary .)
MIX AND MATCH
But textile expert Madhu Jain doesn't like this kind of usage. "It is unwise to cut up a nice piece of brocade. I have some old brocade sarees and dushalas that I have preserved and wear only on special occasions. A good piece of brocade is a work of art. In the olden days, brocade was meant for the nobility
For instance, everyone in the Mughal courts used to wear brocade. Zardozi looks fabulous on brocade and dupattas and dushalas made of brocade look stylish with anything."
That's a great style tip: A brocade dupatta or shawl, whether in bright colours or a monotone, draped over a plain black dress or any deep solid colour international outfit, can liven up the whole ensemble at once.
Designers such as Preeti Chandra have used brocade in western silhouettes like the evening dress, with a contemporary embroidery motif. Says Kavita Bhartia, "Since it is now easily available, the challenge lies in being innovative with the fabric. It has a very high repeat value. You can wear it again and again in the same season without getting bored of it."
That's why Sapna Chopra's multipanelled brocade jacket is such a big hit. "The charm of a jacket like this is that it can go with jeans, trousers or skirt and make any ensemble look dressy," she says. Amit GT has also made brocade jackets with fleece. "That way it looks good and keeps you warm enough for any outing in the winter," he says.
MEN IN BRIGHTS
The brocade trend is not restricted to women. Men who think beyond the conventional are not above wear ing brocade jackets either.
That again comes from international usage – though of a somewhat different variety, according to designer Abdul Haldar who retails his outfits from various stores in Mumbai, Delhi and Kenya. Though brocade jackets for men sold pretty well last year, he says, this year the demand has increased manifold.
Why? "Because foreign visitors to India have really taken to it," says Abdul. "It makes sense because they want to take back with them something that reminds them of their trip to India, and a jacket makes an ideal souvenir. Not only is it something of a showcase of traditional craft, it can be of some use to them as well."
In other words, as more foreign men wear these Indian-made brocade jackets, more Indian men become brave enough to try them as well.
And when a fashion trend catches on, it finds a place in every aspect of our lifestyles. So it's no wonder that you also find brocade in people's homes as well, putting in stellar service as cushion covers and window drapes.
"A lot of people feel that using brocade in their drawing rooms gives their house a very extravagant look," says Jyoti Motihar of Encore Siesta. "And in the winter, the hues of brocade also lend a feeling of warmth."