A few seasons back,at the fashion week in Delhi,there were two stalls by the name of Gaurav Gupta,a few paces away from each other. Two designers of the same name. The label of one was called Akaaro; the other Atpug Varuag (Gaurav Gupta spelt from back to front).
Akaaro was by a young designer,a debutant then. Conscious of not colliding into each others brands,the young designer would begin calling himself Gaurav Jai Gupta. And,for an entirely different set of reasons,the other renamed his label Gaurav Gupta.
This story though is about the younger of the two- Jai Gupta of Akaaro. When he showed his first collection in 2011,I remember being struck by the arrival of Greige in India grey and beige,handwoven and textile dominated. Fresh,strong. Akaaro had a clear signature a dark,brooding palette with black,greige,deep purple,quiet maroons in unembellished handlooms with clever use of stainless steel. Not a dot of Swarovski. Almost as if this designer had thoughtfully turned his back towards the roaring business of decorative and overdone fashion in India and was trying to say something else,even though his voice was barely a whisper.
Soon after that,he told me that he was thinking of tying-up with Swarovski Elements. I was taken aback. All that commitment to handloom was getting coloured very soon,in a matter of months actually. This was a disappointing turnaround,he had succumbed to the market without even putting up a fight. Losing in love is a powerful experience but Jai Gupta hadnt loved enough.
When Swarovski celebrated its 10 years in India with a glittering party and exhibition at the Austrian Ambassadors residence,he was there,one of them,though not quite. Its not easy to survive, he admitted,in a market that does rely on the customers undying love for decorative and shiny fashion. If you are so concerned,why dont you all get together and help me get a handloom project with the Ministry of Textiles? he asked.
So he gave in and officially collaborated with Swarovski. His collection that walked the ramp two days back at WIFW was called Kotaanissqatsi. The tedious tongue twister is a complex idea too. In Hopi language,it means a life of moral corruption and turmoil,he explains.
We met again yesterday at Jai Guptas stall. I went to see his Swarovski embedded handloom garments from close. Dark and brooding even now in form and presentation,they didnt sparkle with the obvious crystals in white,gold or fuschsia pink. Then why was he doing this?
Jai Gupta has a studio on the outskirts of Delhi and weaves his fabrics there. He had woven a muted selection of Swarovskis in fabrics with stainless steel,cotton,mohair,Angora and silk in Tangail and Jamdaani techniques. Why are you using Swarovskis if one cant even see them? I asked,lost as a spectator of his turmoil that seems to reflect in the clothes. Its for those who want to wear handlooms in the evening for a glam or formal event, he replied.
Intellectual ruminations apart,Jai Gupta seems to have made his fashion business only more complicated. His clothes with these blink and you miss it crystals make no definitive statement. They are neither unabashedly on the side of bling to alter his customer base or attract a new clientele,nor are they pristine enough for the handloom loyalists to come for untouched fabrics. He may have got a Swarovski collaboration but the design collaboration in Jai Guptas head appears knotted with the pressures of selling. Is he going to sell more now? I doubt it. It is difficult enough to have a design signature,and retain it. Erasing one to acquire another is fine too perhaps as the market sees it as a clean departure,suggestion a correction in business notions. But overwriting a signature? That can get very tricky.