Fashion Flirts with Art

Once a domain of artists,installations are fashion designers’ latest tour de force.

Written by VIDYA PRABHU | Published:May 21, 2013 3:21 am

WHEN Delhi-based Anupama Dayal was approached by the organisers of the India Design ID 2013 to set up an installation at the NSIC exhibition grounds in the Capital,her creative streak prompted her to say yes. “I have had no prior experience of putting up an installation. This seemed like an interesting challenge as I was getting to work with a new medium,” says Dayal. She went on to create a tree-shaped installation,titled Tree-D,at the design forum that took place in February. “Once I had the blacksmith make the tree,we draped it with a sari made out of recycled fabric bearing motifs of peepal leaves and butterflies. The concept was referenced from Indian wedding traditions where trees are often treated as brides,” she says.

While Dayal says that setting up the installation was not a premeditated move,the same isn’t true of others. Mumbai’s Shilpa Chavan (of the label Little Shilpa) and Kolkata-based Kallol Datta are known for their predilection for fashion-meets-art installations. The former has shown exhibits (including moving installations inspired by street life in India for the Regent Street Festival in the UK) and the latter having worked on installations during his Khoj residency,and more recently,the launch of his autumn/ winter 2013 line at Mumbai’s Project 88 gallery. Others include Manish Arora,Wendell Rodricks,Arjun Saluja,Lecoanet Hemant,Nikhil Thampi and sisters duo Gauri and Nainika Karan.

Datta says often it’s the venue that inspires him to come up with installations. “Art galleries — such as the Project 88 gallery — have an industrial quality and that comforts me into making clothes centred around a key concept. It encourages me to build a larger story,so the installation becomes more than just fashion,” he says,adding that an installation makes it easier for him to expand upon the concept.

For Didier Lecoanet and Hemant Sagar too,concept reigns supreme. “A typical fashion week show comes with so many caveats and thanks to sponsorships,there’s a definite plan in place for the hair,makeup and the ramp walk. To my mind,this reeks of a commercial,non-artistic attitude where there’s no room for freedom of concept. So when we were asked to work on installations for Bonjour India 2013 at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar with a carte blanche,it was too tempting an offer,” says Sagar,who along with Lecoanet,created a line of unique pieces titled ‘Luminocity’. It was unveiled as a fashion installation with real light sculptures and projections on the opening night of the festival this February. “Our LED-lit pieces — made using translucent synthetic fabrics and technical light-diffusing materials mounted on metallic structures — reflected iconic Indian imagery from daily life,mythology,arts and culture,” he says.

Often the installations are intended at creating awareness. For instance,at the Summer Resort (2012) edition of the Lakme Fashion Week,the entry to the main show area was dotted with several installations,including those using Rodricks’ eco-friendly creations that had been featured in his show at BIOFACH (Germany). “We were at that time aggressively promoting Malkha cotton and thanks to the installation,everyone noticed the clothes,” says Rodricks.

Installations offer good recall value. Young designer Nikhil Thampi,who recently created a video installation as part of an event at Mumbai’s Volte art gallery,says that he wanted his work to stand out. “My showcase entailed a display of my garments alongside a live video fashion installation where a video of my Lakme Fashion Week ramp show,integrated with elements of colour and motifs that were related to the collection theme,were projected on to a white customised gown,” he says.

If this is not enough,the medium is also a good option for those looking to support a cause. Myna Mukherjee,Director of Gallery Engendered Space,New Delhi,and curator of Resist (a multi-city art intervention that brings together artists,musicians and fashion designers to voice their dissent against gender-based violence through events,works and installations),said in an earlier interview that though fashion is often associated with frivolity,she wanted it to be part of the show. “We used it as a political tool,” she said,referring to the participation of Datta,Saluja,Gauri and Nainika and Manish Arora in the Mumbai edition of the event that took place at Gallery Beyond on May 17.

Whatever the reason,designers agree that they are no different from artists looking to express themselves through their works. The medium then is only the means to an end — that of creative satisfaction.

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