There is a frisson of excitement in the air as fashion week hits the ramp in the capital. As models shimmy, sashay and strut down the catwalk, fashionistas will discuss the relative merits and demerits of creations, never clothes, in shades of fuschia, tangerine, slate and coal. Indian fashion has arrived, the faithful will cry, Valentino, you’re cutting it real fine now. But what is the real story behind the razzmatazz of the Indian fashion scene? Originality is certainly not our forte but then creative licence says anyone can interpret couture to their own taste. So Chanel’s timeless classic, the black cocktail dress, metamorphoses into an Indian avatar. The inimitable cuts of an Armani and Versace turn up with desi touches. And why not?
But at the end of the day, fashion is not just about cutting a dash, it is a cut-throat business. The international fashion business is worth $ 35 billion. India’s share of that is only a measly 0.1 per cent. Many cuts below the rest really. The Indian fashion industry’s bread and butter still comes from Indian clothes, not Western wear, though we’d like to believe otherwise. The bulk buyers from abroad are NRIs whose taste leaves a lot to be desired. And, of course, the rich Arab or two. Some designers have wisely stuck to their core competence while others have international aspirations. Yes, some do retail at big stores abroad but, let’s get real, you’re not likely to see a Julia Roberts or Hillary Clinton all togged up in desi threads.
Yes, some do when trying to make an impression on the Indian community come election time. The odd actress like Judi Dench may turn up
in an Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla dress. But India is not really a happening brand in haute couture. It doesn’t really matter because, much like Bollywood, there is more than enough business at home.
India has evolved its own style of high fashion, a delightful affirmation that East is West and West is East. A little bit like the sartorial version of that inexplicable but wildly popular dish, the chicken tikka masala. An ageing Liz Hurley gamboling about in a pink whatever it was at her Jaipur wedding is not likely to send buyers flocking to India. But we are not likely to come apart at the seams because of this.