NEW DELHI, India — Dozens of models and many of India’s leading designers packed the runway while the audience rose to a standing ovation at the close of Amazon India Fashion Week.
Showing two pieces each from 25 designers in glowing and burnished oranges, reds and pinks, the fall runway appeared to be on fire for the finale of the five-day event at Pragati Maidan, the event’s venue.
Ranging from gowns to fusionwear and culminating in bridalwear, with heavy embellishment and layers of silk and gold, the finale was an unusual signal of unity for the country’s fashion world as designers put aside their differences and came together to celebrate the theme of the crafts of India.
JJ Valaya, Ritu Kumar, Wendell Rodricks, Suneet Varma, Sabyasachi, Tarun Tahiliani, Rahul Khanna and Rohit Gandhi, David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore, Pankaj and Nidhi, Rina Dhaka, Anamika Khanna, Varun Bahl and Rohit Bal were among the designers who walked the runway for the finale.
India Fashion Week was celebrating a big anniversary — its 25th season. It also marked the first season with the Indian arm of Amazon as the sponsor. The previous sponsor, Wills Lifestyle, had strength in brick-and-mortar retail with more than 40 stores across the country. But Amazon, which is relatively new to the e-commerce market in India, has an ambitious growth plan with distribution of 19,000 postal codes already.
Fashion designers appeared to be focused on the new opportunity. In a discussion about these possibilities before the shows began, Vikas Purohit, head of fashion at Amazon India, held an open session with designers. Purohit spoke about the need for clarity, and motivated designers to think of new and innovative growth to target the bigger online market.
Kumar, known for her extensive use of Indian crafts and textiles, put the challenges succinctly: “One of the problems Indian designers face is that we don’t have any multinational backing for growth.”
It isn’t clear whether Amazon is going to step in and play this role, but designers clearly hoped it would. “If some kind of facilitation happens with Amazon and if they take on a designer and they facilitate the production it would definitely encourage Indian fashion,” Kumar said.
Although no commitments were made, Purohit urged designers to think more deeply about why they design instead of who they service and what they create and shared insights about the market and the possibilities ahead. “You have to redefine the problem we are attacking, instead of the symptom,” he said.
Although the fashion week itself began with “unusual quiet,” as several designers observed, the pace picked up as the shows went on. “Fashion is all about celebration,” said Khanna, who designs with Gandhi. “Clothes have become a conversation piece, people know how to adapt what they wear to their body types, how to wear their makeup.”
Although the duo canceled their show in deference to a close friend’s death, they held a smaller presentation for a select few. Khanna said the coming season, and in fact the year ahead, would remain mostly an ode to the Sixties and Seventies, and the showing of textured black and whites was proof. “What is important is the comfort, the quality,” said Khanna, describing the change in his own evolution toward design. “People need to be at ease when they’re wearing your garment.”
The collections most Indian designers showed on the runway, though, were not that different. Embroidery was still the ruling motif, although the silhouette was more feminine. A strong trend toward digital prints was developed further and some designers, such as Valaya, came up with strong collections. Valaya described the fall collection as “Indian — but with a kiss of Russia.”
Namrata Joshipura’s 36-piece collection kept the focus on glamour. “There is a lot of texturing in our work, which is very artisanal,” Joshipura told WWD. She said embroidery, too, was unlikely to lose its hold on the Indian market.
“The way the economy is moving — both India and the global economy — the customer is looking for something special. They really want a bang for their buck. It is very important to offer something that makes the customer feel special. So in that space, whether it is embellishment, whether it is texturing, or both together, I don’t think it will completely go away. I do a lot of sequins, and coming from India I think we will continue to work with those. And so will other Indian designers,” she said.
Asymmetric hemlines, with layers and long jackets and a clean, fitted waistline were a recurring theme. They were particularly well-presented with Samant Chauhan’s soft silhouettes and emphasis on embroidery. In contrast was the sharply cut collection from Gaurav Gupta.
Making an appearance Saturday night was British designer Zandra Rhodes, who is still remembered in India for her revolutionary sari concepts in 1987, as well as her shocking pink hair and heavily blue-shadowed eyes. “It’s wonderful to see how Indian fashion is spreading around the world,” she said. “India has just come into its own, developed its own style. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops.” She noted designers like Manish Arora and Naeem Khan had made it to the world stage, but that the Indian market was quite stage enough in itself. “India already owns it,” she said, “including all the manufacturing.”
Hoodies, cross scarves, net headdresses and unusual shoulder bands were also part of the new look for fall. This was supported in the exhibition area as well, with a changing aesthetic. Shingora was a first-time exhibitor, although it has long been a manufacturer and exporter of shawls and scarves.
Marta Santambrogio, creative director of Shingora, who was previously a scarf designer for Etro and has designed a collection of 100 pieces for fall for Shingora, emphasized the correlation with art. “If you think of a scarf as a piece of cloth, people wont buy it. But if you think of it as an artwork it’s different,” she said, speaking about the range and possibilities of production in India. “The techniques of weaving are much more vast; hand embroidery is completely out of budget for Europe, and the fact that you can have all these things done in one location. I can decide to use many different techniques for one scarf and all of it happens in one factory. That is something totally inconceivable in Europe.”
Dates for the next fashion week were revealed, too, as Sunil Sethi, president of the organizing Fashion Design Council of India, observed: “We aspire to take progressive and lucrative strides in the coming years.”
The next two seasons for the Amazon India Fashion Week will run from Oct. 14 to 18 and March 16 to 20, 2016.