I was at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai last week and for each show I sat next to one of the leading fashion writers in the world Colin McDowell, who among many things also writes for the Sunday Times London.
As we sat and watched show after show, I realized that the interest of the West, especially in such stalwarts in fashion writing as Colin, lay in the portrayal of India in a format which is acceptable to the West.
Colin told me during one of the shows, as he watched a sari appear on the runway, that there’s nothing as elegant as a sari in any part of the world and I saw his interest as he watched contemporary silhouettes with elements of traditional Indian crafts such as embroidery appearing at some designer collections. Even if it is not all that western in nature, but some thing that is acceptable to the West (as the Japanese designers successfully did in the West) will do the trick for Indian designers to break into the market abroad successfully.
Now whichever designer is doing their creations for the foreign market (in a small way though) do the same mainly using Indian textiles (perhaps with a bit of embroidery as Indian stamp). But their silhouettes have always been western. No one has so far been able to market India in its original form successfully on foreign soil so far. It has always been either textiles or crafts.
This makes me wonder why our country has not been able to produce an Issey Miyake or Yohji Yamamoto yet in fashion. Yet another successful name from Japan is that of Rei Kawakubo better known for her super expensive label Commes des Garcons.
None of our designers have made a mark in the western world. If you look at it, Japan just had Kimono and its designers have created several adaptations of the same to suit the tastes of the western world. All of them without exception achieved stupendous success in doing the same earning money and fame, and more importantly putting their country’s name in the western fashion map.
Looking at India, we have so many options that can possibly be adapted to the western tastes and possibly marketed successfully there. Colin’s appreciation on sari is a reflection of how those who understand fashion appreciate the same when it comes to some of our traditional attires. A young designer Nida Mahmood made her models wear sari over a pair of denim and I thought that was just the beginning of how designers can/should innovate and move beyond what they attempt to do locally.
If one designer makes an attempt to do this intelligently I have a feeling that he/she will succeed. After all, the west comprises mainly of black and grays and over the last 100 odd years it survived just on pants suits and skirts. If one of our designers, as did a few of their counterparts from Japan, try and break into that mould with careful planning that could well be the beginning of India in the western world.
They how and when part we will leave it to our fashion designers. The question really is whether any of them have the will to do it. As they say, if there’s will, there’s way.