From poetry to swirling fabric, or anklets to metallic embroidery, the art and craft side of India has always been one that has inspired and enthralled me, exponentially more over the recent years when the world continues to shrink to miniscule proportions.
Which is why, when asked for my favorite collections at Wills India Fashion Week, I lean towards those that exude more of a traditional aura.
Although I attended only a handful of shows, they showed me the splurging variety of styles that the nation had to offer. These were far more diverse than what I had seen gracing the runways of New York, perhaps owing to the fact that India covered both traditional, ethnic styles as well as the so-called western ones, and everything in between in electrifying fusion. My pupils dilated first to the gorgeous draperies and golden linings of traditional, ethnic clothing adorned by gracefully wafer-thin models sashaying down the runway. Just like in the menswear review, wearability was a key criterion, as was my obvious fetish for all things elegant with a touch of quirky.
Having just rounded up a Punjabi trip, everything from the effectively rich and gaudy Ludhiana to the opulent Golden Temple and tasty Amritsar to the opulent Chandigarh, I have a newly acquired liking towards phulkari work: lined up embroidery in adjacent blocks of trigonometric color. Phulkari was the basis of border and design for all of Manish Malhotra’s female outfits, almost all of which were anarkali in concept: excessively swirl-inducing skirts as a kurta over trousers or churidaars, or longer skirts that stood alone as pseudo-lehngas. He kept to deeper maroons with blacks or paler blues and oranges with golds, lending regal earthiness to his work. A dash of seductive feminism was relayed by his upper body cuts around the pelvic or cleavage areas to reveal just the right amount of flattery beneath heavily encrusted collars or body pieces. Marrying horizontal stripes with the phulkari and anarkali trend, he successfully fused a variety of styles while keeping the crux of ethnic fashion in place. It all relayed a sense of a party that was about to begin, but was lying momentarily silent under the swirls of fabric. And most of the designs were destined for classy, commercial uptake.
Vineet Bahl took inspiration from mid-century poetry and vintage prose, calling his collection Awadh. It was a tribute to the Moghul era of begums and queens who were clothed generously with layers and folds and pleats of sorts, dipped in pastels and whites, with the breezy outfits swirling and flirting with the very air itself. Almost all the models were guarded in headscarves of chikankari and sheer net, predominantly white, with elegantly embroidered and embellished borders in thinner lines of bolder reds, blues and blacks. The collection included a variety of lehngas and skirts, or the everyday staple of a Punjabi suit with salwars and jamas that folded ethereally around the legs, with the kurta speaking volumes with its refined prints and artwork. The zardozi work lent a refinement to the outfits, with its 3D-esque embroidery with metal wiring bouncing light to tease the watchers, with hand-block painting and a dash of bling with mirror work and sequin embroidery to finish things off with a glimmer. Apart from the elegant headscarves, the nose rings and accessorized jewelry added to the nostalgic feel, making the entire show akin to the whiff of a bygone era that yearned for an inevitable comeback.
Last in my ethnic favorites is the most parrot-like colorful of the lot, Ekru by Ekta & Ruchira, with a collection called Indian Kaleidoscope. Probably a bit timid in its thematic interpretation of the many colors of Indian festivities, I was initially about to give this one a miss, had it not been for the restrained delicacy of the craft. For most colorful outfits I see are overwhelmingly chaotic and over embellished to a jarring degree that mandates sunglasses. This collection however succeeded with monotones like a yellow Anarkali with many folds of yellow and a golden border with a clever pink shadow. Or a green-on-green Anarkali with a sheer net scarf with heavy silver embroidery. Or a gorgeous yellow net sari with gold and white motifs and sunset hued accents. The rippling Anarkali swirl seemed to be thematic in all the outfits, and even the multi-hued ones were complimentarily matched, like reds with whites and blacks or a festive gold with a rusty orange sari that was disguised like a lehnga. The collection also had the best usage of net and sheer fabrics, on everything from scarves to peekaboos in skirts to saris to blouses. Truly contemporary and overwhelmingly traditional with a succulent pout of color!
Deep rooted in cultural eye candy and viewed by yours truly who has a soft spot for all things shimmering in opulent tradition, these collections definitely spell out what I anticipate (and hope for!) my leading ladies to adorn over the upcoming year.
And for fusion style, we’ll chat another time.