The colour, connoisseurs and trend-breakers at the fashion week
Blue overlaps another shade of itself. Like mountains, and sea. All combined in one. A landscape of blue, and there it is. Cobalt, which is what she will present to an audience, and in those few minutes as the models walk down the ramp, she will hope that onlookers get it. The rawness, coarseness and complexities that then become so simple that it often forgets its own journey.
There’s a blue shirt. That, she says, is her boldest piece. There’s the opening outfit. A blue dress. No ornamentation, no desire to make a saleable piece. It is expression.
Uninhibited expression. That’s what fashion weeks are for. For retracing that journey of trying to be bold, and expressive. Because the ramp, they say, is a different space. You don’t want normal. You want dramatic. You want narratives.
Mrinalini Gupta says she has no design philosophy. She says she stays away from those because they collapse to give way to new things. She interned with Rajesh Pratap Singh, and says he was a huge influence. He helped shape her design sensibility, made it minimal, and in that neatness, she says, lies her boldness. It’s a move away from the bling and kitsch that is everywhere. But she isn’t judging anyone. Look at what Manish Arora did with it, she says. He made it universally sought after. That’s how an artist works.
There will be a lot of blue showcased at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) that will unveil the trends for Spring/ Summer 2015. Like Rajesh Pratap Singh, who says he has worked with indigo, and will be showing what he calls “wearable garments” this season. For Rajesh Pratap Singh, who works with minimalism and hand-woven textiles, the forecasts don’t mean much. They are for the masses, and he has never let that decide the course of his collection. It is what he sees, and what he is ready for, he says. As for fashion weeks, he says, they organise the industry, and that’s good for fashion. But again, designers are people who work in isolation, and develop concepts over a period of time, and when they are ready, they unveil it.
“Hand spun, hank dyed, natural indigo, hand woven, bespoke, hand stitched.” That’s how it starts. The video of the making of Rajesh Pratap Singh denim. He calls it Rare Pure Freedom.
But the video starts with flags that flutter, and cotton that flows like rice. There’s imagery of so many things and of so many places in Rajesh Pratap Singh’s collection this season. There are women working the looms, and the machines, and a small instance where the camera pans on a red chunni associated with a goddess. A man mixes colour, and dips the yarn in what seems like waves of green, and purple and blue. That then becomes indigo.
That’s how freedom is attained. With synchrony, and with hands. That’s what he will showcase. The rarity of freedom from everything industrial. Of being minimal, and simple, of red and blue, and people, and their hands, and their smiles.
Last season, Gupta’s collection, inspired by Kashmir, earned her rave reviews for her play with colours and silhouettes. There were olives, and browns, and whites and grey. The landscape, and the conflict merged in the narrative on the ramp with models walking to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s beats dressed in capes and bandaged salwars. Kashmir, with all its complexities, the military and the people, and the winters, and the mountains, was there for the audience to take note of. She dyed bandages in shades of olive and brown and pasted them on fabrics to recreate the experience of conflict and casualty and injury, and made her own experiences in Kashmir speak through the detailing. Because she is a traveller, there is no denying the sea, and the mountains, and the people, and the love, or the melancholy. She is in and out. There’s nature, and she says she seeks purity.
She is one of the few designers who are trying to do things their way. “Because once you are touched by it, you can’t return. When you meet simpler people in places like these and share their outlook, it tends to declutter a lot in your life. You begin to relate to simple things. Kashmir happened because I travelled there. Mountains are in my system. They are non-conformist and so am I.”
“I haven’t been to [the] Alps, and it is Indian in a way that I have been in the Himalayas, and that’s what my fashion is. Indian, and yet stubborn,” she says.
Cobalt, which is what her collection is called, is just one of the shades of blue. Just when the fashion industry is going the handloom way, Gupta says she kept it simple by introducing tatters on her textiles. Fashion is strictly just that. There is no saving of the world here.
“I didn’t force myself to be inspired. I have become raw. I want to translate that rawness and I was overwhelmed by gloss and the manufactured appeal of fashion weeks. I am choosing to make my point that it is really okay to be Indian. It is something I am evolving into and there is a lot to get deeper. Yet, I would like to keep simplicity alive,” she says.
Cobalt has kaftans, and boxy shirts, and capes. She says the garments are so simple that it evokes the whole imagery of going to a government office. It is simple old school vagueness that she finds charming. “I flowed from one piece to another. Bold to me is ridiculously simple. It is pretty complex to be that simple,” she says. But designers are a lot of people in one. Like Gupta, who says “I am fashion and I am farmer. I am that dichotomy.”
Raakesh Agarvwal says he has done a denim line which is unusual in the sense that it is tattered, and the feel is like you returned from a wild party on the beach or in the jungle. He is one of the few designers that can straddle glamour and simplicity, and the combination is often interesting with both forces working together, and not at war or in conflict with each other. “It is very interesting this time. And it is not the usual indigo denim but more than that,” he says.
It is for the first time designer Raakesh Agarvwal is veering away from glamour that has been his trademark to launch a denim line at the WIFW, and the inspiration has come from the rave parties of the 70s. “We have done edgy this time,” he says. “It is not your usual denim but couture denim. The whole world is returning to the 70s on a nostalgia ship, and I wanted to do denim.”
He speaks about a rave festival called Ozora in Hungary, and pictures a muse going to that party. That’s how the story progresses. These go on for days, and the people there wear what they have, and dance until dawn, and until dusk. Dawn and dusk come together, and that makes for the poetry of the collection. There’s blue, and there are tatters, and colours as if they sprayed these in a party.
“You know that feeling of the dawn and the dusk. It starts with distressed denim. Nobody carries clothes with them. If they get torn, they stitch them up,” he says. “The idea is movement and freedom, and party. It is the story of the party as it progresses.”
The movement is shown in fabric, he says, where he has used 60 or 70 metres to create the freedom and beauty of movement. The show will end with a palazzo pant and a jacket.
The WIFW Spring-Summer 2015 started on 8 October. The business of fashion, as the Fashion Design Council of India, an apex body, keeps saying, is serious.
Besides the blue, there is lace, and vintage, and a whole invocation of the 60s and 70s, and the recalling of structures and drapes that were in vogue back then. But fashion, if it comes from the subconscious, is also nostalgic. The nostalgia could be for things that weren’t, or which you didn’t experience personally but were transferred to you.
For Rina Singh, who has been showcasing her label Ekà in Paris and New York, it is a chance she must take now after 14 years of being away from the ramp. Her work is well known for its simple silhouettes and a minimal approach to drapes and colours. She works with linen and khadi, and for the fashion week, she has gone back to simple stories. It is love, and the beginnings of it, with flowers and smiles, that inspired her collection.
She has combined the outfits with lace negligees worn by models underneath for a little drama.
“The ramp is a dramatic place, your hidden fantasy world,” she says. “I don’t wear lace, but I know you must break your own boundaries, and let love take over. It is like twisting the story. It is the beginning of romance when it is still about flowers.”
Of course, there are others who would depict the abyss of love’s melancholic state when abandonment happens. But for Singh, it was keeping things simple because the story has just started.
She isn’t nervous, but says the ramp is a challenge in terms of depicting a story with a beginning and an end. Hers are delicate silhouettes with small pretty flowers on linen and khaki. A happy collection for spring, because they say love happens when seasons change. But who wants a clinical decoding of the chemical reactions in the brain? Love is pretty, she says, and so are her clothes.
With her brand Ekà showcasing in the US and France, and she never felt the need to be at a fashion week, but when buyers wanted fresh stories, she thought it was time. Her show in Delhi, she says, brought it all together. There is a cookbook with sketches in crayons of flowers, and flowing garments. Everything is fresh. Everything is beautiful. Like love at first sight. “I like the imagination to take over,” says Rina Singh, speaking in general of what moves her.
“This season, it’s love. Next could be war inspired. Who knows?”
While Indian fashion weeks offer a platform for designers to showcase their work, it is a costly affair and restrictive in terms of what they can do with lights and set design, so not everybody is keen on this platform. Yet, it is all they have. To tell stories without props is a challenge. Yet, some of them have come through, and fashion weeks are getting better, with designers innovating with clothes and accessories to convey their idea or create a narrative.
Among the others who will showcase their collections are Aneeth Arora of Péro, Nachiket Barve, Wendell Rodricks, and Rohit Bal, who will do the grand finale. A few designers have stayed away, as two fashion weeks in a year are hectic, and the creative process takes time. Like David Abraham of the label A&T, who has done an interesting collection with dhotis as a nucleus.
Indian fashion, while aiming to break shackles all around, is in a state of churn. Designers are trying to embrace what Indian culture offers, and not mix it with Western sensibilities dictated by Paris and London. They are trying to create their own language with what they have—and it is both interesting and getting better. At one point, culture was confused with ornamentation, and that is going through a transformation. India may be about decorative things, like furniture and interiors, and our design elements have always reflected that. For some time, there was much emphasis on flashy aspects. Now, young designers are discovering that Indian culture is a repository of plenty that holds deep meaning. Like Aneeth Arora, who did a polka dot story in one of her collections, a narrative of the little dot and how it has been a statement across the country. She has also used textiles from everywhere— like khand from Maharashtra—as a canvas for her styling and designs.
David Abraham says the decorative is what needs to be embraced. There’s interesting work going on here, he adds.
It’s not just the big names of fashion, even the younger ones are not shying away from making leaps of faith, and telling stories of simplicity. Some of it stands out as bold for now. But over time, hopefully, Indian minimalism will come into its own.