French flood India fashion week
At India's fourth annual fashion week, the French are everywhere.
Never before has the world's fashion capital shown so much interest in what is perhaps the most nascent fashion industry.
Some of France's biggest names in fashion are in Mumbai's sprawling seaside culture hub, the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), which is the venue for the fashion week, absorbing as they say the "ethnicity" of Indian fashion.
There's Jean Marc Loubier, president of the French Fashion House Celine, who at his first India fashion week has spotted three top names to source from - Rohit Bal, Raghavendra Rathore and Ritu Kumar.
"Very impressed," said Loubier. "These three people understand the dynamics of mingling international styling with Indian values."
Values are what Estelle Bouchet is talking of when she mentions the intricate and everlasting beauty of the Indian woman. She talks of the dusky complexion, the kohl-rich eyes and the vibrancy of colour, and how Bollywood star actress Aishwarya Rai does not fit the bill.
"Aishwarya, who is undoubtedly very, very pretty, however, is not the traditional Indian beauty as mentioned in the ancient texts," said Bouchet, an expert on art, costume and fashion, who gave a lecture on "Art and Fashion - The Occident and the Orient" at the event.
"For centuries, the occident has been terribly fascinated by art and culture (of the orient) and in the 21st century, fashion is one of the ways that this love would continue to grow," said Bouchet.
It's just the sort of fascination that has lured Armand and Martin Hadida, owners of the French swank store chain L'eclaireur, to the fashion week, hunting for "ancient wisdom in clothes".
"I'm not interested in the road well-travelled, so the American brands and big names are not for me," said Armand Hadida. "When anything becomes too popular and too, how should I put it, mass? It's not for me."
Added his wife and partner Martin: "We do business with our heart and soul and not only for money. We believe that India is the last place on earth where centuries old tradition lives on."
Tradition, they all agree, makes Indian clothes unlike anything anywhere in the world.
Said Maria Luisa, owner of the French Maria Luisa chain of stores: "Indian fashion has that intricacy of style and sensibility that can make it the best in the world. But it's still a long, long way to go."
And the presence of the French is a great beginning, said Fashion Design Council of India executive director Vinod Kaul. "There's no one who's bigger than the French in world fashion. If they are sitting up and taking notice, we are getting there."