Fashion is art, fashion is politics


Please don’t phone me this week at all. If you want to send a WhatsApp message, that’s fine, but I may not reply. Emails will be responded to only next week. You see, I am going to be very busy at this season’s Lakme Fashion Week. The organisers have sent me the schedule and I don’t want to do anything other than watching fashion show after fashion show.

Of course, my mood has changed. Only a few seasons ago this column chronicled all the fun and frivolous shenanigans at fashion shows. We met tantrum-throwing senior designers, has-been fashion veterans trying to hustle their way to a front-row seat, and fashion-obsessed young folk who have a cigarette for lunch. Hopefully, all of them will be there this week too. But there is so much, so much more.

This event has managed to capture the zeitgeist of Indian fashion. It has turned into a smorgasbord of ideas and ideologies that observe, analyse, illustrate, extol and supplant Indian fashion and its many identities. One could argue the trousseau-wear market behemoth is missing from its roster, but including it would elbow out the fashion industry’s newer concerns.

To start with, this season’s fashion week has curated some of the more revered names in the business. Partywear queen Monisha Jaising has tied up with the French-Canadian Cirque du Soleil, the greatest theatre production in the world, to support her dazzling evening wear collection as the closing show. Rajesh Pratap Singh (otherwise known as ‘He Who Can Do No Wrong’) is putting together a brand new collection with Tencel fabric, a 100 per cent sustainable material whose waste is turned into drinking water. Handloom pioneer Abraham & Thakore is showing in Mumbai for the first time. Ashish Soni, Amit Aggarwal and Ritu Kumar bring up a top-class rear.

But fashion is political business. It is most interesting when it allows subaltern voices to speak and even sing. An overarching theme in fashion across the world is redefining the idea of gender. More and more young designers are playing with androgyny, blurring binaries and questioning the roles of ‘he’ and ‘she’.

The fashion week’s studio space will be divided into four rooms for its Gender Bender showcase, each space for one designer label’s installation art, interpreting its idea of gender. The label Anaam reminds us of our ‘Behrupiya’ identities through its versatile clothes. Divya Dureja, a psychologist, poet and activist from New Delhi, will present a performance, while two transgenders from the TWEET (Transgender Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust) Foundation will participate.

The Pot Plant label believes that clothes don’t need a gender, and Glorious Luna from the Queer community will elucidate. Bobo Calcutta has the non-binary superstar and sculptor showcase its openended combinations of colour. Bloni reinterprets internal and external transmutations through its clothes.

The inclusivity theme continues with Chola, by Mumbaibased Sohaya Misra, using references from drag artists for its incredible drapes. Antar-Agni, by Delhi’s Ujjawal Dubey, will present a performance art-show. Kolkata’s Kallol Datta marries art and fashion; his presentation will resemble an art gallery.

Then, Mumbai designers Rixi Bhatia, of Half Full Curve, and Narendra Kumar are showing plus-size fashion to promote body positivity. Interestingly, Good Earth, the uber popular, Made-in-India home décor retailer, is coming to the event with its fast-growing fashion line, Sustain. The store is presenting ‘The Miniaturist’, which will be a mini history lesson in Gota embellishments. The idea behind this is to promote slow fashion by clothes whose minute details can be seen from only up-close, like Mughal miniatures that India is renowned for in art circles.

The fashion week is also committed to its promotion of sustainable weaves. One day each season is dedicated to artists who work closely with weavers to produce top quality fabric and fashion. This season, it focuses on Rajasthani and Odisha weaves, along with a show that digitally empowers village artisans.

Through all its art and activism, Indian fashion is carving out a strong local identity. Not too many years ago, Indian designers wanted to ape a European model of business. To tend to a European or an American market and its tastes. But with India asking for so many conversations to be had, a modern language is underway.


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