Sunil Sethi: Couture today is more individualistic and less ornate
As the India Couture Week (ICW) completed its 15th edition, we spoke to the Chairperson of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) about its renewed purpose, evolution through years, and the map ahead
The recently concluded FDCI India Couture Week 2022, in association with Lotus Make-up was an amalgamation of finest fabrics, extravagant techniques and intricate details. The ten-day fashion extravaganza with HT City Showstoppers as its style alliance partner featured couturiers from Anamika Khanna and Rahul Mishra to Siddartha Tytler and Kunal Rawal. As the ICW completed its 15th edition this year riding on constant innovation, we spoke to the Chairperson of FDCI, Sunil Sethi, about its renewed purpose, evolution through years, and the map ahead.
1.What purpose did FDCI introduce India Couture Week with?
The idea for ICW germinated in 2008, the same year that I was nominated as the president of FDCI. We were looking at a platform for couture, red carpet and occasion wear, since FDCI was doing only prêt shows then. As occasion wear is the most potent market in India with our legendary designers being mavericks in taking tradition and intermixing it with crafts and textiles, it seemed only natural that they be provided with a runway to present. ICW has seen phenomenal growth since then with each year getting bigger and better.
2.How do you think couture has evolved in 15 years?
Couture today has understood the changing needs of a more independent-minded, free-thinking bride, who is making her own decisions and earning her own money. She wants to value rituals, but still wants to add her own unique twist to it. Couture is also occasion wear and red carpet; it is not restricted by definition to just bridal.
Although we all know that weddings are a money-spinner for designers with the total market value being pegged at $50 billion, today I see designers adapting to easier, functional, multipurpose use occasion wear which is timeless. Vintage vantage is the new theme song for couture as old is the new new! Designers are repurposing older pieces and adding memories to new ones. Comfort and bridal wear are now synonymous--you have pockets in lehengas, duppatas are vanishing, veils and trails are bringing in new flavour, ruffles and faux feathers are replacing zardosi and dabka. Plus, charcoals and ivories are di rigueur creating a distinct space between reds and rani pinks.
3.What does couture mean to you?
Couture is hand-made and made-to-order using techniques which have withstood the test of time. Post-pandemic, it is also a luxury that gives you the freedom to be who you are, the freedom of time, of doing things your way. It celebrates slowness. Couture today is more individualistic and less ornate, it mirrors the change in society; as we are connecting more to our inner selves, couture too, is getting unrestricted moving away from the diktats of using traditional embellishments. The shine is now back, but it is about innovation in terms of materials, reimagining processes, and building a bridge between craft, sustainability and the future.
4.Is couture essentially wedding wear?
Couture is not just about wedding wear even though it makes up for a major part of it in our country. It is about the finest fabrics, extravagant techniques, looking at drapes and silhouettes which make a bride’s life smoother, abandoning set traditions around what colour to wear or how you should look. It is about thinking beyond what exists; if a bride wants to wear a jacket/tunic with her lehenga and a veil, a designer will provide that. Or, if she prefers a gown with a trail for her engagement in metallics, it is now being accepted. I would say, engineered-to-please is the new definition of couture!
5.What was the criteria to choose couturiers before vs now?
The criteria remain constant--a very informed jury must select you from a list of coveted applicants. We also see how long the designer has been in the couture business. In addition, brides or red-carpet fashionistas should be seen wearing your offerings, and needless to say, you should be known amongst couturiers and the fashion fraternity. You should also have a store selling couture, bridal wear or occasion wear. We have always given an opportunity to new couturiers with this year being no different as three to four new entrants made a foray.
6.Which show(s) did you like the most this year?
As the chairman of FDCI it is tough for me to choose, but I would like to say that each and every designer made a dedicated effort to give us many wow moments in the physical format. They outdid themselves in terms of design thinking and taking couture to the next level--Pure luxury crafted with mindfulness.
7.What are your plans for ICW in the coming years?
ICW has now become an extremely exclusive space for veteran and new designers to explore. Each year it gives a fashionable audience something that will live in their closet for a long time to come, that they will wear with aplomb, even with a new separate. And, we plan to continue doing this.