Models in Monisha Jaising at Lakme Absolute Grand Finale.

MUMBAI, India Sponsors have been looking at global fashion weeks with growing interest over the past few years and the five-day Lakme Fashion Week Festive 2018 lineup was a sign of how the business is changing. At Lakme Fashion Week Festive 2018, the line-up was more indicative of how the business is changing.

“Sponsorship is up 40 percent,” Jaspreet Chandok, vice president and head of fashion at IMG Reliance told WWD. “This season is going to be the highest amount of sponsorship the LFW has done, having grown consistently for the last four seasons. This is also in an era where there have been many changes, including the goods and service tax [or GST], demonetization and consequently a lot of sponsors holding back on investing or shutting down.”

The fashion week is organized by IMG Reliance Pvt. Ltd., an equal venture between Reliance Industries Ltd., India’s largest private sector company, and IMG Worldwide, the global event management company, and Hindustan Unilever Ltd.’s beauty brand Lakmé.

While individual designers are finding more direct sponsors, “the sponsors that are coming directly through fashion week are because of the large platform where multiple conversations can happen,” Chandok observed.

The digital conversations have been key to this change. “Our spends on content have gone up 500 percent in the last two years,” he said. “Today we have three video content agencies, each with a manpower of 40 odd people, just on content development. We’re focusing far more on digital actions on public relations actions.”

But the increased sponsorship has not meant more shows. “We actually have not increased revenue by increasing shows,” Chandok said. “The number of shows is exactly the same as it was two years back, between 42 and 45 each season — that has been consistent. We also feel there is a certain limit to creating more content — because then the shows themselves will not stand out.”

However, sponsorship patterns are becoming more diverse. While major e-commerce players were visible sponsors for several years — with e-tailer Jabong doing several seasons with Lakme Fashion Week — they have been cooling off from fashion week sponsorship in general. Instead, firms like premium car brand Nexa and Austrian fiber manufacturer Lenzing have stepped in.

What draws Nexa, the premium end of India’s favorite car, Maruti Suzuki, into the fashion world and sponsoring Amit Aggarwal’s show? “Nexa is more than just an automotive brand, it’s also a lifestyle brand,” said R.S. Kalsi, senior executive director, sales and marketing, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. “Our new age customers want to be a part of an experience that’s not just limited to our products. The association with Lakme Fashion Week gives our customers a first-hand experience of high fashion and it affirms Nexa’s imagery as a premium lifestyle brand.”

He explained Aggarwal’s work and the car brand were “synonymous with dynamism and innovation,” describing the “use of new age materials, experimentation in form and pattern as well as the employment of incredible craftsmanship.”

As for why Aggarwal linked with the car brand, he said, “I think it is just the time in the life of the brand — when its reach grows, more people are interested in collaborating with you.

“In the last three years we have got a lot of offers to work with a variety of sponsors, but I have been very conscious of the sponsor choices that I make. It has to be a good fit,” said the designer, whose show marked the launch of his men’s collection. The collection had “the kinetics of speed and glamor at its heart,” he explained, using modern industrial materials that included his favorite polymer strips and metallic laces that matched the styles of the car maker. Mostly separates, the prices ranged from 5,000 rupees, or $70.36, to 50,000 rupees, or $703.60). Of the 45 styles on view, half were his men’s range.

The trend of textile and fiber companies coming in as sponsors has been growing as well. Lenzing, maker of the branded lyocell fiber Tencel, came into LFW for a second season, this time with well-known designer Rajesh Pratap Singh.

Speaking about his collection, Singh said it was “not an expensive collection. Just because we’re making it sustainable doesn’t make it too expensive.”

“The first target is to create the awareness with the consumers,” S. Jayaraman, commercial director of Lenzing’s Singapore office, told WWD. “But Lakme Fashion Week also creates a lot of traction with designers and retailers and brands. So I would say it brings in a combination of different factors.”

It is also clear that Jayraman is looking ahead as he speaks about the value of the association with the fashion market through fashion week. “Today, India is the only market that has 65 percent cotton consumption versus a consumption of man-made fiber, which is 35 percent in India. Globally, it is the other way around. At this time, India consumes about 5.5 million tons of the 6.2 million tons of cotton grown in India. In a few years, India will reach a point where it won’t have enough cotton. So, that’s the point where sustainable fibers like Tencel and Ecovero will play a major role,” he said.

Singh, known for his precision styling as well as his continued focus on sustainability, said that working with Lenzing added to his technical knowhow. “I keep saying if any industry is not focusing on sustainability it is an obsolete industry. It is not about fashion — but rather much beyond that — it’s a desperate need,” he remarked.

Meanwhile, while the markets are waking up to the power of consumer aspiration, recent entrants to India, like Smartwater from the Coca-Cola stable, helped develop new initiatives at Lakme Fashion Week this season.

Smartwater, which launched in India last year, looking to the 70 billion rupee, or $1 billion packaged drinking water market, sponsored an event called The Platform that was focused on emerging designers and having them “push boundaries.”

“We feel that fashion is an industry where innovation is key and risk taking is something that designers have to do constantly because they have to create for the future. Smartwater is a brand that’s been developed with the principles of innovation, risk taking and forward  thinking,” Anoop Manohar, general manager marketing, Coca-Cola India, explained. “We believe that Lakme Fashion Week channels aspiring designers and the collaboration is to nurture them, encourage them to think differently, and creatively,” he said.

Designers Kanika Goyal; Sakshi Shah and Swasti Shah of Shanti, and Ishanee Mukherjee and Anirudh Chawla of Poochki showed collections based on the theme “Inspired by clouds.”

Not all designers have sponsors, though.

Priyanka Modi, of the designer duo brand AM:PM said the brand had always gone without a sponsor. “We didn’t find the right kind of sponsor. You have to find the right aesthetic,” she said simply, referring to their gypsy-inspired show. Ranging from 12,000 rupees, or $171.56, to 30,000 rupees, or $428.90, the collection had satin organza, hints of leather and a very rich color palette, with wine and sand as the two main colors.

“What sponsorships really help out with is the ability to think bigger, to be able to showcase twice a year, to get a celebrity for the brand. There’s a lot more you can do with a helping hand,” she said.

Meanwhile, the focus on bringing in more drama at the events continues. Recent fashion weeks have closed with historic locations — at the newly refurbished Royal Opera House in Mumbai, and the majestic Bandra Fort two seasons. This time, the finale — which included the show of designer Monisha Jaising — had Cirque du Soleil presenting a special preview of their upcoming act “Bazzar” with dancers, acrobats, skaters and hula hoop specialists. Lakme brand ambassador and actress Kareena Kapoor Khan also launched her first make-up line at the event — Kareena Kapoor Khan by Lakme Absolute.

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