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Finally, fashion pundits applaud the Indian way

For years, the pundits said Indian designers made only costumes, not everyday wear.

india Updated: Jul 20, 2003 19:07 IST

For years, the pundits said Indian designers made only costumes, not everyday wear.

Too much ethnicity, too much embroidery, too much embellishment, and not enough great cuts and falls, they said.

But at the fourth annual India fashion week, the times are a-changing.

"If India is not Indian, then what are we?" asked designer Raghavendra Rathore.

At his show, Rathore, who hails from the royal house of Jodhpur, coupled regal brocades and jewelled insets with simple cotton skirts and slim pants to give a dazzling impact-India, Western style.

"We have to be different," said Rathore, who moved away from lounge and trance music for his show to use radio broadcasts in Hindi from the All India Radio's Jodhpur station mixed with Indian rhythms, with just a touch of metal grunge.

"It's the same with writing and the movies. Indian writers like Vikram Seth and Salman Rushdie succeed because their style is refreshingly Indian and yet they speak of universal emotions," said Rathore. "So do Indian origin filmmakers like Gurinder Chaddha and Mira Nair."

He's hit the nail on the head. Across the fashion week, people are talking about how Indian designers need to bring that special quality that makes them, well, Indian.

"I'm in India because I want to see the heritage, the history being translated into clothes," said Armand Hadida, head of niche French fashion chain L'eclaireur, which means Pathfinders.

"If I just see great cuts, then there's enough of that in the West."

Added his wife and partner Martin: "India is one of the last countries where the ancient history lives on in the present and that is also sent down on the runway - in the new metropolitan, metro-sexual manner."

Exactly what Indian fashion's poster boy Rohit Bal is doing when he puts vermilion streaks on the hair parting of his male models, who wore Elvis Presley style jackets but with embroidery and Rajasthani mirror work and tassels.

"Putting vermilion on the forehead has been the traditional way of saying I'm married for the Indian woman. I want to change all that and say why not men?

"If globally fashion is going metro-sexual and bending the gender, this is our very Indian way of doing it."

A way fashion doyenne Ritu Kumar has perfected over 40 years.

"Everything works as long as we as Indians sell it as Indian and not try to sell it as something else," said Kumar after showing off slinky tops replete with Hindu iconography.

And that's the way to be, said Sunil Sethi, the Indian sourcing agent for swank London store Selfridges. "I don't want to see another Dolce and Gabbana or Donna Karan here, I want to see something that's uniquely Indian."

Sethi, who's at the fashion week with former Selfridges manager Kasunchana Wijeyawardena-Kapilasena, said he has in the past burnt his hands trying to sell an Indian designer gone too far West.

"I showed the work of this prominent Indian designer who had done this impeccably cut range of plain suits and they said this is all very well but this will get lost in the crowd.

"In order to grow, India must stand out on its Indianness."