We are at Café Zoe in Lower Parel. The restaurant has been turned into a high fashion venue. Mannequins and banners in statement prints hang from the ceiling and a video installation in the background adds glamour to the evening. The occasion is the launch of designers Pankaj and Nidhi Ahuja’s exclusive high street collection for Koovs.com.
The 33-piece fast fashion collection taps into the designers’ penchant for statement prints, splashing patterns like broken plates, shattered glass and gemstones on midi skirts, maxi dresses and crop tops, all under Rs 3,000. And the duo aren’t the only ones swearing by this formula. Designers are looking to team up with high street retailers to launch affordable capsule collections in a bid to reach a wider audience.
Tracing its origin
While capsule collections are a buzzword in the Indian market, these have been a norm in the west for a while now. Right from Topshop and Target to Macy’s and GAP, brands and stores have been constantly collaborating with top designers to introduce affordable luxury. In 1983, when designer Halston launched the Halston III collection in collaboration with JCPenney, it sowed the seeds of ‘masstige’ fashion. The market matured with several brands following suit. Think Isaac Mizrahi for Target (2002-2008) and Jeremy Scott for Adidas (2003), which was followed by the H&M and Karl Lagerfeld association in 2004.
Road to India
India’s tryst with capsule collections began in 2002 when Raymond launched an affordable designer wear label called Be:. It stocked creations by the likes of Rohit Bal, Ritu Beri and Raghavendra Rathore, among others, at prices ranging from Rs 600 to rs 6,000. This chain of stores shut down in 2007 citing repositioning as the official reason; the label was considered too niche back then.
The market for collaborations only started gathering steam in 2010 when Wendell Rodricks and Narendra Kumar tied up with Westside to launch lower-priced summer collections. In 2013, Bal designed a special range of Indian wear for Biba. “The international fashion market matured earlier than the Indian one, which explains the delay in this trend reaching our shores. Indian brands started to reach a point of saturation only in the past five years, which is when the need for differentiators like designer collaborations was felt,” explains Kumar.
As an increasing number of brands started to offer more of the same thing, there was a scurry to stand out in the clutter. Add to that the entry of popular international retailers in India, particularly fuelled by the launch of Zara in 2010, and Indian high street brands realised the need for a strategy that would give them an edge.
“Interest in fashion is at a fever pitch today. And such designer collaborations help democratise fashion — the time is definitely right and ripe for them,” says designer Nachiket Barve.
It is also interesting to note that though easy on the pocket, as far as designer wear is concerned, these collections are pegged as premium limited edition lines and often priced higher than most of the other offerings of the said brand. This explains the incentive for high street labels to rope in designers — grab more eyeballs by cashing in on the designer’s clout.
But what’s in it for the designers? While the high street has certainly lost its stigma with the fashion elite, creators of prêt and couture are often restricted from reaching the mass market due to logistics and limited production capacity. The high street brand takes this burden off the designers in the case of such collaborations. Pooja Dadlani, business head of Stylista.com, a high street e-tail brand that focuses on limited edition designer fashion says, “Mass production needs a special assembly line infrastructure, which the designer may not have access to. When designers collaborate with us, they provide us the creative inputs and designs, which we then manufacture.” Stylista.com has collaborated with designers like Nishka Lulla, Wendell Rodricks, Masaba Gupta and Yogesh Choudhary since its launch. Apart from cost effectiveness; the additional income, tapping into potential customers for their mainline collections and the chance to reach an audience much beyond their regular clientele are the other big draws, according to Kumar.
So, are capsule collections a win-win for all? Turns out, these collaborations are not without their risks and challenges. The minute you throw a well-established designer to the equation of a high street collection, expectations soar sky-high. It’s hard to achieve the same level of finesse associated with high-end clothing in a high street line. Consumers can be unforgiving when these are not met and once disappointed, a disgruntled customer may never return to the retailer or the designer.
Designers also run the risk of diluting their brand image, sending mixed messages to the audience, and most importantly, alienating their core customer base who may feel cheated by such lower-priced collections. “This can happen when designers pick something from their mainline and make an extremely similar item available at a cheaper price,” agrees Pankaj. “Capsule collections need to be well-thought-out and researched. The trick is to be honest to your signature and aesthetic but design keeping the high street brand’s customer base in mind,” he elaborates.
Having said that, the perils, in this case, don’t seem to outweigh the positives. As designers and brands continue to straddle this (sometimes tricky) playground, everyone seems to be more in favour of collaborations than against it. The consumers notwithstanding. Case in point: Sanjana Samuel, blogger at A Whimsical Closet, who bought a Nishka Lulla for Stylista maxi dress. Samuel (whose thoughts are similar to several fellow shoppers) feels that these capsule collections are a great way for style-savvy individuals to stay on top of the latest trends on a budget. “An expensive high-end designer piece is a good investment when it’s a classic. But as far as seasonal trends go, I prefer shopping from high street collaborations. The quality is good enough for a few wears, and most importantly, the price is great.” she says.
So, while the international scenario is abuzz with talks of collaboration fatigue, the Indian market is just getting started.
Pankaj & Nidhi for Koovs
Why : For prints ranging from gemstones and shattered glass to broken plates.
How much: Rs 1,295 to Rs 2,995
Payal Singhal for Bombay Shirt Company
Why: For formal shirts in Payal Singhal’s signature high-low hemlines.
How much: Rs 1,990 to Rs 2,800
Rohit Bal for Jabong
Why: For wedding-ready anarkalis and suits in bright colours.
How much: Rs 7,999 to Rs 18,999
Shivan & Narresh for Stylista
Why: For swimwear that mixes stripes with bold colours.
How much: Rs 2,950 to Rs 3,950