Ranveer Singh and the late actor Irrfan Khan’s son, Babil, may have slayed the red carpet with their eccentric style statement in skirts and flared palazzos, but make no mistake, India has owned this gender-fluid fashion moment for eons. Why must only girls wear pink? Or, for that matter, are suits or bomber jackets a male thing?
Delhi-based designer Suket Dhir would disagree. The eclectic designer has a line for women, uncharacteristically named—He for She—that comes with a distinct masculine silhouette. “This is the land of the angrakha, achkan, mundu, dhoti, kurta, shalwar, churidar and more. Each of these is as much a garment of the men as the women,” says Dhir. Likewise, the kediyu tops of Rajasthan or the shirts paired with ghaghras or shalwars in Haryana and Punjab, respectively. All more or less genderless.
Ujjawal Dubey of Antar-Agni says, “There has been a gradual shift toward this idea since the last seven years, which has now resulted in its prime. The acceptance level of androgynous or gender-fluid clothing has gone up now more than ever before. The belief in sensible and smart clothing has made more of an impact, especially in the last year. The changes in society with men and women striving to be on the same page should reflect on fashion choices as well, so we do hope these changes are here to stay.”
As can be seen in NorBlack NorWhite, the brainchild of Mriga Kapadiya and Amrit Kumar, which merges modern silhouettes and refined techniques of traditional Indian handicraft. Championing disappearing art forms by reinterpreting age-old practices of textile design to fit modern-day sensibilities, the collection comprises unisex separates that are not confined to cultural or societal ideas of what should, or should not be. Yet another brand, Bloni, believes that clothes have an inherent spirit of fluidity. Founder Akshat Bansal’s stark and neutral shades are perfect to play the gender-fluid role.
Goa-based unisex luxury design label, Moral Science by Isha Ahluwalia, creates clothing, accessories and millinery inspired by workwear silhouettes. Ahluwalia’s aesthetics combine utilitarian functional designs with the one-odd flair or pattern thrown in for drama. She says, “From a singular piece of animal hide and then fabric draped across our bodies in ancient India, Egypt, Greece and many such cultures across the world to dhotis, anarkalis, robes, ornaments and headdresses worn through time regardless of gender, androgyny has and will continue to be part of our human expression.”
Perhaps the one designer who has defined gender-fluidity like no one else is Kolkata-based Kalol Datta. Working with the most unexpected materials, his idea of clothing is to make it ‘thought-provoking’ for the viewer and wearer alike. Also, the other Kolkata designer—auteur Sabyasachi Mukherjee—is a name worth mentioning. With his chunky accessories—bangles, necklaces, rings, bags, et al—heavily embroidered kurtas and shawls, not to forget, jootis, and male models in nail paint and kohl-lined eyes, it is nothing if not a celebration of androgyny.
At the same time, making a man wear a dress or woman wear a suit doesn’t mean androgyny. Go back in time and you will find the route to gender-fluid fashion through unstitched, draped garments—because drapes were the main mode of clothing in India. Then arrived Victorian fashion dictates with the British, and the times changed. Women’s clothing with zippers and buttons on the left emerged as maids were dressing them, while men started having it on the right, since they dressed themselves. Slowly, marketing and visual merchandising through promotional photoshoots, stressed this demarcation. But now, we seem to be coming full circle.
Dhir, the soothsayer, says, “I can safely see this trend lasting a very long time. After all, we were born to it. Though in its second coming it came to us from the West, remember, the origins were always here.”