The mid 1980s was a turning point for the Indian fashion industry, precisely because of designer Rohit Khosla, who gave it its preliminary shape. Subsequently, fashion designing as a profession found place in the minds and hearts of Indians. As celebrated designers such as Rohit Bal, Suneet Varma, JJ Valaya and Ashish Soni reached milestone years some time back, we look at how fashion has evolved from the time of Khosla to now in the last 25 years.
Indian fashion started off as a garage industry when these pioneers started business from the garage of their residences. Next notable landmark was the establishment of National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in early 1990s, which really saw the industry coming to age. The Indian designers formed the Fashion Designers Council of India (FDCI) in 1999. From 2000, their bi-annual spring/summer and fall/winter fashion weeks were organised.
Next came the fashion retail boom and mechanization of production facilities 2007 onwards.
2006 was initially seen as a curse when the MCD demolished factories of several designers, but later it proved to be a boon as they moved to Noida and Gurgaon as now they were consolidated in one place.
The India Fashion Week introduced global retailers to the Indian designers, it also enabled Indian designers to participate in international fashion weeks. The mall-culture 2007 onwards expanded the fashion retail business and things moved from multi-brand stores to designer stores.
Ashish Soni, who celebrated his 25 year fashion journey in fashion on December 16, started his label in 1992. “After pursuing fashion designing from NIFT Delhi, he interned with Rohit Bal, before launching his own namesake label.
“In those days there was a divide between Indian-wear and western-wear designers. My inclination was towards contemporary design,” he says.
In the early 1990s fashion designers were catering mostly to wedding wear or occasional wear. Patrons were mostly high-net worth-individuals (HNI). Bal ruled this segment. In his early days, he didn’t have access to varieties of fabrics or technology. These days, he says, high-tech machines can do just about anything, from laser cutting, button-holing to digital printing. “Now we are a full-fledged industry but ruthless in our approach. The fun has gone,” he says.
Soni started in the early 1990s, when menswear was primarily about suits, sherwanis or the boxy, double-breast look. “We did not have much variety in fabric and trimmings but in the late 1990s, Narain Trader started importing fabric from Italy and Japan and we got more options,” says Soni. Economic liberalisation of 1991 allowed more import. 2000 saw menswear fashion evolving rapidly with the metrosexual look becoming popular.
Talking of other trends, the slim-fit look was in then and is still now. Lapels of jackets have moved from wider to narrower. Trousers have became narrower, low-waisted and textured. Shirts have gone from wide-collared ones to buttoned-up, and finally to small ones. Checks are big now and were in the 80s. Block prints have evolved to digital prints. Pre-stitched saris have become a rage. Sequins and crystals are replacing zari and gotta patti.
Evening gowns are worn more in Ludhiana than London. The Punjabi salwar-suit has evolved to anarkali silhouettes. “Lehengas have gone from mermaid style to flowy ones. Cholis have become versatile. “For men, slim-fits and bandhgalas are trending,” says Suneet Varma, who has been around for 30 years. Globalisation helped him a lot. “Trends have evolved as dressing has become a priority,” he says.
JJ Valaya, who has completed 25 years feels proud of the legacy the industry has left behind but doesn’t turn a blind eye to plagiarism. On a futuristic note, he feels ready-to-wear fashion will face hard competition from labels like Zara and H&M. Wedding wear will continue to reign supreme in India, he believes.
“The years merely change tastes, the appetite only grows larger and that’s true of all things fashion,” he says.