MUMBAI, India — It’s a relatively new formula for Lakmé Fashion Week, which started here Friday — a full day of focusing on Indian textiles and weaves.
The event, held Sunday, started with discussions between designers and other experts, and was followed by shows of both young and well-known designers well-versed in the use of Indian materials and crafts.
The event remains the standout so far of fashion week. With fabric and ready-made garments flooding the market from China and a larger focus on synthetics, the focus on Indian craftsmanship generated significant attention.
Anjana Sharma, director of fashion at show organizers IMG Reliance, who introduced the event, observed that it could be a contributing factor in making Indian fashion more unique. “I’ve had every international buyer say, ‘Why would we come so far for a Western silhouette?’ They’re looking for the soul of India, and that is in the craftsmanship,” she said.
“It’s time to change the mindset,” agreed Jaya Jaitly firmly, referring to her experiences as author of books on crafts and decades of working with craftspeople.
She urged designers and students to experiment with using alphabet, language and poems on fabric, thus educating the artisan and coming up with unique designs.
But she noted, too, that the “common man often wants cheaper stuff and is not thinking about fashion.”
The question of how modern designers and global companies reach out to craftspeople who are essentially in smaller cities had a solution, too. “It has been a huge project, and has grown much bigger than we ever expected,” said Ritu Sethi, director of the Crafts Revival Trust, a Web site that has created an encyclopedia of information on crafts including names and contact information for thousands of craftspeople. “We think this will have to become a format like Wikipedia in the near future. Working with Indian textile and crafts is one way to fight the loss of dress identity in the country, which has been happening all over the world, particularly in Asia as Western dresses have slowly replaced more traditional wear.”
“When I see how we’re undermining our own heritage, my own creative nationalism comes out,” added Jaitly. “As we see how the hand-loom weaver is getting replaced with polyester, for example, we have to be careful about the way we go forward.”
Krishna Mehta, who curated the day, was clear that this challenge could be met. “I don’t consider myself a designer, but a weaver, a craftsperson,” she said. Looking around a room which included those who were still studying fashion, she commented that they should “visit each region in India over a period of time and learn and collaborate with different craftspeople to add richness to their work.”
Other designers pointed out the practical problems of finding craftsmen who spoke and understood their language, who were willing to stay consistently on their projects and some issues related to the fabric itself. As Kolkata-based designer Abhishek Dutta observed pragmatically later, “We love the medium and have access to the best of it in Kolkata. But weaves are expensive and the pricing of the dress goes up automatically. They also require an effort in their upkeep — washing and ironing have to be done with care. It’s a challenge.”
As for the runway shows that followed, here are some of the collections that stood out:
• Vaishali S, recognizable for her unique styling of pure fabric, combined the delicate fabrics such as chanderi and organza, sometimes pairing them with silk in brilliant shades of red, blue and creams.
• Deepika Govind worked with a theme from the Western state of Gujarat and a fabric known as patola, using these to create clean, simple silhouettes for short dresses, moving on to layered skirts, wide, high-waisted trousers and saris in vibrant shades ranging from oranges to violet.
• Krishna Mehta brought out opulence with fabric and embroidery and several other intricacies — pearls, glitter, block printing, cutwork and lace.
• Anita Dongre was the finale with a collection called Urban Goddess that featured gold motifs or prints in fabric sourced from different cities as well as gowns, slim pants and jackets.