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June 14, 2024

Why are Indian designers gaining popularity in the West

By Neeti Mehra

“Sporty and sexy” was what designer Manish Arora was gunning for in his S/S 2019 collection showcased in Paris, where models strutted down the ramp in towering shoes in bright neon coloured outfits. Dabs of paint streaked their faces and a riot of generic motifs, in his signature style, defined their clothes: 3-D hearts, concentric circles, candy stripes and a lot of shimmer. Big flouncy tassels, ginormous bows, and tasseled earrings swayed down the runway, along with leopard-heads and wedding cake-shaped bags. All, with an underlying pattern of Indian embroidery and a vibrancy of Holi colours.

Manish Arora
Manish Arora’s SS19 Collection

The audience, sitting in a huge plastic dome, lapped up the collection, which indeed, painted the town in a vivid rainbow. Arora, one of the first Indian designers to make a successful crossover to the West, has completed over a decade of shows in Paris, a city he has made his home, which has embraced him with open arms. But was it so easy for an Indian designer to slide into the global capital of fashion with nary a dropped stitch? Arora believes that fashion has a universal appeal.

“Fashion is omnipresent: it’s open to individual interpretation, which transcends cultural, social, political boundaries.” 

To Arora, there is no right or wrong, because style whittles down to a personal choice, something that transcends just the physicality of it. “As long as fashion makes you feel confident and beautiful, that’s all that matters,” says the guru of kitsch and OTT (Over the top) ensembles, who was also the Creative Director of French fashion house Paco Rabanne for a short while.

Anita Dongre
By Anita Dongre

A global aesthetic

While designers such as Bibhu Mohapatra and Naeem Khan have made a splash operating from their base in the US, home-grown couturiers Anita Dongre and Ritu Kumar have forayed Westward too with boutiques. And there is a younger breed of designers whose sharp sensibilities are finding resonance beyond our borders.

Rahul Mishra
Designer, Rahul Mishra

In 2014, Rahul Mishra became the first Indian to win the prestigious International Woolmark Prize, an award which propels aspiring designers to dizzying heights of stardom. His collection, inspired by traditional Japanese stencil art and centuries-old Chintz textile techniques, was fashioned using intricate hand embroidery in floral and geometric patterns, featuring hand embroidery on lightweight Merino wool. The label is now sold in some of the world’s most prestigious fashion stores, including London’s Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Milan’s 10 Corso Como, and Joyce in Hong Kong.

A few years down the line, Ruchika Sachdeva, behind Bodice Studio – an understated womenswear label, became the first woman to win this coveted prize.

Ruchika Sachdeva
Bodice Studio

Travelling across 22 states, making her own yarn and fabric from scratch, Sachdeva’s collection was a labour of love. “The judges were most surprised by the level of detail, quality and versatility that we achieved through using traditional techniques like Kantha stitch and handloom wool with extra-weft detailing. They really appreciated the beautifully tailored clothes, which had a very clean silhouette, but nonetheless had artisanal processes close to their heart,” exclaims Sachdeva, whose garments went against the stereotype of ‘earthiness.’ For her, clothes need to be hardy, but comfortable. Sachdeva, who balances the elements of cut and construction with comfort and exquisite fabrics says,

“People will always respond to good design and well-made clothes that have something meaningful and authentic to say.”

Made in India

For the decade-old brand Injiri, started by Chinar Farooqui, the founder’s love of handloom textiles and handicraft has found takers in Japan, US, Europe, Australia and the Middle East. To build a universal appeal, she believes that a designer needs to be true to her beliefs and traditions.

Manish Arora’s SS19 Collection

“I think people are looking for originality and are also interested in process followed by designers. One must respect the resources and skills of one’s nation in order to produce meaningful design.” But one size doesn’t fit all. While Arora’s silhouette evolved to cater to a global audience, his focus remained on India-inspired elements, holding on the embroidery, the colours, the fabrics and more. “My roots may be Indian but my appeal has always been global. What defines our country’s heritage —craftsmanship, detailing, fabrics and techniques — has grown to develop a massive fan base globally. It’s artisanal nature and unique aesthetic has reinforced its luxe positioning and covetability among a growing international audience.” With a legion of designers, whether Pero, Eka, Maku, or Tilla, each infusing a fresh and a novel perspective to global fashion, in a world that’s always seeking something new, avant-garde and experimental labels, fashion’s runways are waiting to be conquered.

Pratishtha Rana


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