By  on August 19, 2014

MUMBAI, India — There are changes afoot at Lakmé Fashion Week, which starts today, as it pushes to turn buzz into business.

The location is new, for one.

Shifting after several years of drama at the Grand Hyatt, with its lines for security, traffic issues and long walk to the exhibition area, the show is moving to the Palladium Hotel, with a new ambience. The hotel is closer to South Mumbai and is located above the luxury mall Palladium. It is also adjacent to High Street Phoenix, a mall where fashion and beauty have a strong retail presence (and sales).

There will be 86 designers showing at LFW, with a strong focus on launching international designers for the Indian market, which is growing in double digits in apparel sales. Four Pakistani designers will show during the week: Faiza Samee, Rizwan Beyg, Zara Shahjahan and Sania Maskatiya, who was one of the designers short-listed in July for the Woolmark Prize from the region.

Also showing will be Australian design duo Easton Pearson, on Friday, and well-known Indian designers including Rocky S, Vikram Phadnis and Anita Dongre.

Also new: The inaugural show today will be shared between two up-and-coming designers instead of a single established one.

The opening will include designers Masaba Gupta and Amit Aggarwal. Gupta, who has her own brand, is also head of fashion at Satya Paul, which is known for its innovative saris and is owned by Genesis Colors. Aggarwal said his show would focus on a futuristic tribe, with a lot of metallics, combining his love for structured and the amorphous. Would those styles translate from the runway to retail? “Our styles sell in 21 countries around the world, without making many changes,” he said. “So obviously it works. I’m excited about it.

“What challenges me is the strong contrast between something that is rigid, and that is fluid. I strive for that balance,” he said.

Whether the inaugural show will set the tone of innovation that LFW organizers IMG-Reliance are hoping for is one of the questions that continues to surround the runway season, which technically is scheduled for Wednesday to Sunday.

LFW has increasingly involved IMG-Reliance juggling many balls: the association between Reliance Private Ltd., one of India’s largest retailers, and the New York-based IMG in a joint venture that also involves beauty brand Lakmé, owned by Hindustan Unilever. The fashion week also has 17 sponsors, on top of which there is a second show area sponsored by e-commerce platform Jabong, which means choosing a series of shows that are more flexible, and choosing the right mix of young designers. The runway for the Jabong shows will be U-shaped for the first time — another experiment, said Saket Dhankar, head of fashion at IMG-Reliance.

He predicts that this season will be better than those before, and that the media reach, with a significant use of social networks, will be greater than ever and have an explosive level of reach to wider markets.

Still, LFW remains under pressure because of its past failure to attract as many buyers as the competing Wills Lifestyle Fashion Week, which is held twice a year in New Delhi. While some designers dismiss LFW for its focus on emerging names, others say that the significant media coverage of the shows eventually brings them business.

Shruti Sancheti, who will be focusing on silks in her show on Thursday, said that LFW was her starting point and that she now retails in more than two dozen outlets across India and abroad. “You cannot dismiss how important this fashion week is,” she said.

There will be other differences this season: Bloggers will have a higher profile, organizers say, to reach the 10 million viewers LFW organizers claim to have. LFW Apartment, on the 27th floor of the hotel, will be a special area for “bloggers and newsmakers,” according to organizers.

There is a generational change happening in terms of design as well. “The emerging designers are very clear in terms of their design sensibilities, their creativity, silhouettes, sizing, in terms of finish,” said Dhankar. “Also, with LFW, being that it showcases the current season, the designers see their lines out in the stores for immediate sale.”

“That is very rewarding for domestic sales,” said Priyadarshini Rao, who will show on Sunday, explaining how she copes with immediate orders in terms of production. “We develop our fabric and embroideries to be ready when we are making the collection. So as the orders come in, we can turn the fabric into garments in a matter of weeks,” she said.

“This time the festive season is early in India and people are looking for new looks and products. It is an exciting time,” she said, adding she will be showing a mix of contemporary and ethnic designs and a collection in indigos.

The earlier dates of the Dusshera and Diwali festivities, which being in October this year, along with bridal, are giving LFW an extra buzz, as is the fact of the increase in domestic sales. As Sancheti pointed out, “Now from August on, India goes into continuous rejoicing for the next nine months so there is a lot of potential for new design. I expect people to be shopping.”

Despite the changes at LFW this season, the week’s finale has a familiar ring to it. The last show on Sunday will be by Bollywood favorite Manish Malhotra, who has designed for celebrities from the film industry for years. He has said he will focus on the bridal segment this year. Also expected is the launch of Lakmé’s beauty looks for the season, with brand ambassador Kareena Kapoor high on “gloss,” which is the theme of Malhotra’s show.

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