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 Coco Chanel to Indira Devi: The class and style of 1920s defining first wave of feminism

For example, Indira Devi, the Maharani of Cooch Behar and former princess of Baroda set her own royal fashion trend by wearing silk chiffon saris.

Published: 29th February 2020 08:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th February 2020 08:39 AM   |  A+A-

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: It was in the 1920s that the world was recuperating from the horrors of World War I. It was also an era to have witnessed the first wave of feminism with women demanding more rights especially to vote. This was also the time which saw lipstick emerge as the most important make-up product especially with hues like red, plum, cherry and coral as its swivel up tube made it more convenient to carry and apply. Estee Lauder, Chanel, Guerlain and Elizabeth Arden started selling the variants.

Coco Chanel, the revolutionary French fashion designer, changed women’s fashion by introducing, comfortable clothes, loose tailoring, clean cuts, trousers and shirts worn with multiple strings of pearls – giving the modern woman what she truly needed in her wardrobe. And then came the age of Jazz which redefined fashion, culture, morals and more. Now, we are almost at the end of 2020’s first quarter so lets take a look if some of these trends from 1920s will really make a comeback. 

Coco Chanel

London Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week and the ongoing Paris Fashion Week show an interesting blend of uber feminine elements such as frills and drapes with strong androgynous silhouettes. Says city-based fashion designer Dipti Mrinalini, “The empowered wearer is going to express with power shoulders, comfortable trousers with drop waists and drawstring puff sleeve dresses-essentially, unexpected combinations of work and streetwear in strong yet soft fabrics.

I notice that a lot of high-end designers are slowly making an effort to use more sustainable fabrics-recycled fibres, natural fibres and non-toxic pigments and dyes. I sincerely pray and hope that more and more designers will adopt the same in this decade.” The 1920s was all about comfort but without any compromise on style. That’s how we remember that bygone era, as that of liberation. Of little black dress. Of costume jewellery. Of short skirts. Of bob cut.

Good riddance from the painful corsets. Showbiz icons like Greta Garbo, Clara Bow among others were the trendsetters. Adds Mrinalini, “We’re already seeing the marriage of functionality and aesthetics but I think clean lines combined with simple fabric manipulation techniques such as pleats and gathers from the 1920s will start showing up more and more. So here’s to a decade of more natural fabrics, cleaner silhouettes and happier people, just the way it was in the 1920s!” And back home in India, a a look back in time tells you that it was the sophisticated royal ladies, who blended traditional designs with western influences.

For example, Indira Devi, the Maharani of Cooch Behar and former princess of Baroda set her own royal fashion trend by wearing silk chiffon saris. She had a penchant for luxurious footwear and would commission orders from designers in Europe. Designer Salvatore Ferragamo mentions in his autobiography about her ordering of more than 100 pairs of shoes. On the other hand, ladies like Rattanbai ‘Ruttie’ Jinnah chose diaphanous chiffon and georgette saris with delicate borders and teamed them with pearls and Parisian-style blouses. Author-journalist Sheela Reddy’s book ‘Mr and Mrs 
Jinnah’ her wardrobe extensively several times.

Talking about classic saris as the trend, fashion designer Gaurang Shah gives examples of the royal ladies of previous eras, “The maharani style sari is also eye-popping. Think of Maharani Chimnabai of Baroda’s signature Nauvari drape, with a long jacket blouse. Or a sari draped like a gown, reminiscent of the style attributed to Suniti Devi, Maharani of Cooch Behar. It’s back to the classics. The colours trending this season are pastels which is invigorating.” And his advice for the dressers? “Stick to what suits your personality. Go minimalistic with accessories to highlight your clothing. Choose sari as it gives you immense styling possibilities, while you can choose from a range of Benaresi, Kanchi, and khadi. Try wearing it by tucking the pleats on the side and wrapping the remaining yardage like a dupatta.”
 saima@newindianexpress  @Sfreen



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