By  on October 17, 2011

NEW DELHI — Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week here saw strong buying as designers continued to seek a balance between collections for the Indian market that also might appeal to an international audience.

The five-day event at Pragati Maidan here was held Oct. 8 to 12 and featured runway shows as well as an exhibition, with about 120 designers taking part and an estimated 200 buyers. The focus was very much about business, however.

As Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India pointed out, the fashion week is a “business event which has grown the business quotient. Many new international brands have joined the list of buyers.”

Fashion Design Council of India is the premier fashion designers body supported by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The event partners included Indian fast-moving consumer goods company ITC Ltd. Brands’ Wills Lifestyle (retail), which was the title sponsor, and Fiama Di Wills, its personal care subsidiary, as associate sponsor.

Atul Chand, divisional chief executive officer of ITC Ltd.’s Lifestyle Retailing Business Division, said the event has been “growing in strength each time with a better mix of young and established designers. The production values have gone up, the trend has been to up the benchmark. This event is looked at as providing the inspiration for the business of fashion,” he said.

Several of the designers who had stands at the event agreed.

“The number of buyers has certainly increased,” said Nandita Basu, who showcased Western styles on the runway, but had a selection of both Indian and Western wear at her stand. “Many designers look down upon Indian wear, but that is a big market and is very relevant to our buyers.”

She said that the balance between commercial designs and creativity is still one that many designers were striving for. “It’s a tough balance,” she said, “especially to find the right retail outlets.”

The association with the fashion week is finding more of a direct outlet into stores around the country and in global retail, but also in Wills Lifestyle, which has 80 stores in 37 cities. “We have been tying up with designers to make special lines for our stores and now have nine designers who have created collections for us. Recently we introduced Abraham & Thakore and Sabyasachi and next year will add Wendell Rodricks. These are special pret lines so the designer can get a wider base,” he said.

“Delhi has become the fashion capital,” said designer James Ferreira, who had a comeback to fashion this season, with the coveted 9:30 p.m. show on the fourth day. “I was out of the running for 25 years,” he said, “and am lucky to have got a second chance like this.”

His theme — based on patriotic Indian songs, slick, Western and Indian outfits in colors of the Indian flag and cool whites — caught the imagination of the audience which gave him a standing ovation. His silhouettes were clean, some with appliqués and big floral embroidery motifs. “I try to keep my dresses as seamless as possible and always start cutting from a square. What I would like to do is to bring the comfort of the Indian design to a Western silhouette,” he said.

Ferreira, who does all the cutting himself, talked about the need to take tradition into the future. “Our traditional embroidery is going to die at this rate. We have so much that we can take from our saris and traditional wear as well,” he said. And while several designers have been experimenting with combinations of silk, velvet, lace and a lot of synthetics, Ferreira observed, “I love silks and cottons and am fascinated by organza.”

Creating for the Indian market with more ethnic wear while designing with an eye on the West seemed to be a balance many designers were trying to strike. “We’re doing traditional things, contemporizing, looking at the way we dress and saying, why do we have to be so West-centric?” said Kevin Nigli, director of Abraham & Thakore “We can’t do 20,000 pieces like China, it is not a strength for us. The key is to do fewer but well-made pieces.”

If anything, the trends focused less on Indo-Western fusion with more of an emphasis on purely Western styles and separately, on more elaborate Indian traditional wear, which gained the most orders. Designers such as Sulakshana, who showed on the last day, said her orders were four times more than expected. Middle Eastern buyers frequented her stand, looking to the heavy embroidery, gold work, sequins, stones, and layered, long gowns as “inspirational.”

Several designers showcased a selection of vibrant colors, including Anupamaa Dayal, who commented that the “number of buyers here is much more than at some of the shows I have been to in Paris recently,” and Charu Parashar. Her collection was a showcase of digital printing, as was Reynu Tandon’s collection.

Nida Mahmood’s sprightly, upbeat dresses mixed pastels with fluorescents and had protruding pockets and colored belts. Raakesh Agarwal showed latticework on his jackets; Rahul Reddy’s collection in white had some innovative jackets, and Nikasha Tawadey focused on soft, flowing fabrics with silhouettes that brought elements of global fashion into Indian styles.

As ITC’s Atul Chand observed: “The fact is that fashion is getting more mainstream and taking in global trends.”

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