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Down couture memory lane

This year was a landmark of sorts. Fashion Weeks completed 10 years in India this season. Here’s Vinod Nair tracking the highs and lows through a decade of Indian fashion.

fashion and trends Updated: Apr 04, 2009 19:25 IST
Vinod Nair

Till the concept of Fashion Weeks began in India, there were only individual designer shows during the autumn/winter season where some of our designers showcased their collections in what was then perceived as a ‘social circus.’ These shows were more for wining, dining, socialising and media attention than the very purpose of these shows — to generate business.

With the formation of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) the concept of a Fashion Week was born in India. FDCI joined hands with Lakmè and IMG and the very first fashion week, the Lakmè India Fashion Week, with much fanfare was started with the theme ‘business of fashion.’ Since then, for some time, fashion weeks were held on a yearly basis and later it turned half-yearly, pertaining to seasons such as spring/summer and autumn/winter.

And a star is born
Several talented designers such as Ashish Soni, Manish Arora, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Varun Bahl, Sabyasachi and Anamika Khanna took off from Indian fashion runways and landed on coveted fashion runways like New York, London, Milan and Paris and the world started noticing what India and its designers have to offer in terms of creativity in fashion.

According to Sunil Sethi, who was first associated with the fashion week as a buyer and now as the President of FDCI, one of the noticeable things in the last 10 years is the retail revolution that happened. “When the first Lakmè India Fashion Week happened, designers didn’t even have the ‘care instructions’ on their garments or the export licenses.

“Now, all of them have that and their production centres, which used to be in basements and garages, have turned into state-of-the-art centres,” he says.

“In addition, over the last 10 years, retail stores catering to designer wear have come up in many cities. Indian designers have been participating in every fashion week that one can think of,” he adds.

It’s wartime
In the meantime, the first turbulence in the fashion industry happened when the Lakmè-IMG and the FDCI split owing to differences about five years ago and that resulted in the formation of the second fashion week in the country, the Lakmè Fashion Week (LFW).

FDCI in retaliation told (albeit unofficially) its member designers that they cannot be part of LFW. However, LFW proved to be a success and over the years, has produced talents that overpowered some of the so-called biggest names in the industry.

In high places
Extremely talented designers such as Rahul Mishra, Nachiket Barve, Nitin Bal Chauhan, Rimzim Dadu, Walnut, Kallol Dutta and debutants Kiran and Meghana of Myoho, among others, made sure that what really matters is what’s shown on the runway.

Another milestone in the industry was India’s first Couture Week, by the FDCI in 2008.

“After six years into fashion weeks, events based on fashion seasons began, that was the first change,” says Lakmè’s advisor Anil Chopra. “The second one came when we started LFW. We gave a platform for deserving youngsters through the Gen Next and they moved from there to the Emerging Designers category and then on to the general category and have won accolades from the media and buyers from around the world,” he adds.

FDCI and its Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) too started growing. The two fashion weeks co-existed perfectly in India as some of the designers who were in the FDCI board started showing at the LFW.

Too many cooks
Then another split happened when Sumeet Nair, the then executive director of FDCI, quit the organisation, blaming differences with the FDCI board. A few weeks later, he announced the formation of a third fashion week in India, the Delhi Fashion Week (DFW) and the Fashion Foundation of India (FFI) during the spring/summer season in 2008.

Senior designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal and Lecoane-Hemant, along with a few new faces, aligned themselves with DFW. Each time the FDCI announced its dates for fashion weeks, DFW in turn announced theirs, making the dates clash with each other.

Confusion central
Media and buyers went into a frenzy as some of the talented designer shows on both sides clashed. Fashion weeks in Delhi became a mess while LFW continued its smooth journey with its member designers standing as one and making the event stronger.

In fact, the LFW that just concluded its autumn/winter presentations at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai was the best Fashion Week ever in terms of the venue, organisation and presentations.

And now, yet another body called the Fashion Design Promotion Council (FDPC) has come up under the Ministry of Textiles. Frankly, we are yet to see whether it’s going to be beneficial or detrimental to the fashion industry.

Celeb circus
While our fashion designers and events have been in the path of progress and have evolved in the last decade, fashion journalism in the country still stands somewhat in the same place where it started.

Newspapers, magazines and TV channels thrive on gossip, celebrities and everything else that is not relevant to the business of fashion.

The fact that an 11.30 am show where some incredibly talented designers present their lines goes empty and a sponsored show has fashion editors jostle for seats shows that fashion journalism has had a shameful innings in the last 10 years. Editors still want more of what went wrong on the runway than what went right. “Journalists, instead of asking what they are going to showcase on the ramp, ask which celebrity is the show stopper,” states Chopra. “And designers, under pressure, bring some celebrity on the runway and then get blamed by the same media for trivialising the show with celebrities on the ramp,” he adds.

Business of fashion
Designers on the other side need to pull their act too. Communicating with them seems to be a rather difficult task. And most of them haven’t learned to keep their word in the last one decade of fashion.

“You send them a mail and they never respond. If they say they will, they wouldn’t, and this is not something that can take them anywhere,” says Fern Mallis, head of fashion for IMG. “They have to learn to keep their word if they want their business to flourish, especially in the U S and European markets. Communication is important and communicating promptly is even more important in the business of fashion.”

This season, there were a few collections on both sides that were absolutely undeserving on the fashion runway. And there were ‘trophy buyers’ too on both sides who came just to hang around. That’s just two things that need to change. There’s plenty more.