For a fashion trade event that has long been riding on the shoulders of industry heavyweights,the Spring-Summer 2014 edition of Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) will witness a notable shift in balance. With 113 designers participating and around 57 labels showcasing catwalk collections over five days at Pragati Maidan,New Delhi,its arguably the first time in the history of the event that nearly 50 per cent of the brands showcasing on ramp are less than seven years old. With fashion stalwarts such as Rohit Bal,Ritu Kumar,JJ Valaya,Tarun Tahiliani and Suneet Varma electing not to show collections on the ramp,it has been left to veteran designer Wendell Rodricks and senior labels such as Krishna Mehta,Ashish N Soni and Cue by Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna to do the prêt presentation.
Following close on the heels of Aamby Valley India Bridal Week and PCJ Delhi Couture Week,where the missing marquee names put up quite a show in August,it questions whether this edition of WIFW will suffer from prêt neglect. While I understand that bridalwear is a big part of their business,in the interest of the industry and as a showcase of Indian fashion,its imperative that senior designers take part in prêt shows. With all the buyers coming in,I dont think this is good for the image of Indian fashion. Its like going to Paris Fashion Week and not seeing Jean Paul Gaultier participate. Or having Donna Karan go missing from New York Fashion Week, says Rodricks,who misses showing alongside his contemporaries.
But Sunil Sethi,president,Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) is optimistic. The senior designers have been in the business for nearly 20 years and have recognised their area of specialisation. While they continue to be a part of the FDCI board,fashion is also evolving and the market is looking for younger talent, says Sethi,who cites the example of international trade shows such as Pret-a-Porter and Tranoi,where newer designers are also fuelling change. Moreover,this is a B2B event and foreign buyers dont come with any preconceived notions,they are only concentrating on the product. So age and seniority dont matter, says Sethi.
Mumbai designer Nachiket Barve agrees. Its encouraging to see so many younger people showing. In that sense,style has become more democratic. Buyers are not just interested in big labels,but in the quality of the clothes. Everyone has a fair chance, says Barve,who like many other designers,namely Masaba Gupta,Anupama Dayal,Rahul Mishra,Nida Mehmood,Aneeth Arora and Dev r Nil,debuted at Lakme Fashion Week before gravitating to the FDCI fold for greater business opportunities. Today,these very names are WIFWs star participants,a shift Sethi and company have been quick to recognise and capitalise on. With scouts from Harvey Nichols (Riyadh),Beams (Japan),Anthropologie (USA),Sunmotoyama (Japan),Moda In and Tiki (Kuwait),among others,expected to be on the prowl,the playing field is more level this season than ever before.
For Delhi designer Yogesh Chaudhary of Surendri,a LFW GenNext graduate,who makes his WIFW debut this season,its a homecoming. He says,In 2010,I won the Van Heusen Emerging Designer award at WIFW and later FDCI sponsored my trip to New Zealand to participate at the World of Wearable Art show.Apart from sentimental reasons his presence at WIFW is also a sound business decision. They show a season in advance,which is compatible with international buying patterns. I want to bring that structure and discipline into my business. Also,my clothes are very international and Im hoping to catch the eye of foreign buyers here, he says.
With media focus not trained on the bigger labels and their front row attendees,maybe itll give the younger lot room to capitalise on opportunities. Thanks to younger designers a lot of westernwear has come into the market. Even when they do Indianwear its their unique interpretation, says Rodricks. As Sethi puts it,We have to move forward and look to the future.