The Indian fashion story is a relatively young one if compared to its parallel penned in the West (fashion in the West appeared more than a century back thanks to couturiers like Poiret and Vionnet). Despite what India has in terms of costume history, it was only in the late 80s and early 90s that India witnessed a new fashion movement—one that involved the use of an individual’s name on a ready-made garment—hitherto unheard of in a land that believed blindly in the omnipotent master tailor!
I consider my creative mentor, the late Rohit Khosla, as the father of modern Indian fashion. I am sure that all those who have had the opportunity to know the man would not dispute this fact; Rohit had the vision and the belief that the time had come for India to be exposed to design and in effect, aesthetics that were evolved to another level. He kick-started the process of what was to become a way of life for modern India today. I consider myself fortunate to be among the pioneering batches of Indian fashion designers. To truly understand our journey, it’s important to know some facts about what existed (or did not exist) back then. Picture this: there were two fashion retail outlets in the country, a handful of designers, one fashion institute (with a batch of 20 graduating every year), no media to cover fashion (let alone have dedicated magazines and supplements), no TV channels, no Internet, no fashion weeks (in fact no shows) and finally a near non-existent client base! We had the freedom to experiment, to fall down and get up again, to learn from our mistakes. Today, there is an unprecedented number of fashion retail outlets in the country as well as a burgeoning demand from overseas. There are thousands of designers flaunting their wares, several fashion institutes (about 2,000 graduate every year), an extremely focused media covering fashion and several prestigious dedicated fashion and lifestyle magazines. Add an impressive bouquet of TV channels, an exciting parallel world of exposure, research and retail on the Internet, several fashion weeks (let’s discount the quality of most for now) and finally, a magnanimous and rather well travelled and enlightened client base!
I can assure you that there is no better time for fashion in India than the present! However, the challenge that now remains for Indian designers is to create a unique language of their own, one that is distinct and deeply connected with India. In the quest of ‘being different’ and in order to fulfill the desire of fashion glossies, which clearly do tend to get biased towards a visually stronger, cutting-edge Western influenced silhouette (evident from the number of pages that glossies dedicate to slinky numbers as opposed to indigenous fashion such as saris and lehngas), designers try hard to embrace a Western sensibility, ignoring the amount of wealth we possess within our history, craft and culture.
Therefore, I feel that today perhaps more than ever in the past, we need to realise our true DNA and direct our creative energies towards creating an experience (not clothes alone) that has conviction, is well balanced, remains relevant to the times and invariably, very gently and yet proudly flaunts the new India, both within our boundaries and beyond.
Be Indian, buy Indian, bequeath Indian… Now, perhaps more relevant than ever before.
(Valaya is a noted fashion designer)