When Ritu Beri was announced as the chief designer of French couture house Scherrer, many of us gasped a collective breath. Much of it was disbelief. An Indian designer leading a French luxury label, even 15 years ago, was delightful news. Although I do admit the gasp was more at the choice of Beri, a designer who stopped delighting several years before this news.
Then came the news of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan being chosen as the global face of L’Oreal and Longines, two much-adored companies with their roots in France. India had truly arrived.
Today sees Rahul Mishra, Indian fashion’s new darling thanks to his International Woolmark Prize win earlier this year, showcase in Paris’ contemporary art centre Palais de Tokyo. It also had our favourite milliner, Little Shilpa (her sobriquet is such because she just about touches five feet), present her Disco Denimals line last Sunday at the French capital’s Ofr. Galerie. I am excited for both these young and creative superstars. But I also hope their international dreams are a little more realistic.
Delhi’s Manish Arora and Rajesh Pratap Singh began to present one collection a year at Paris Fashion Week about eight years ago. Both are best friends and yet, their aesthetics are bipolar. However, both were superbly received in the continent. Arora went on to head Paco Rabanne, the label behind many uncles’ favourite cologne, and presented avant-garde collections for them. In just a couple of seasons alone, he was dismissed from his haute seat.
What happened with Arora is also what is happening with many chief designers or creative heads of fashion houses. They are all given very little time to prove themselves. If the first collection isn’t a roaring success immediately, please find your way back home. This is also why Hedi Slimane (who disgruntled with the blatant commercialism at Christian Dior resigned to make music and photographs in California for almost a decade) now makes the most straightforward and simple clothes for Saint Laurent. High fashion is now considered otiose. Wearable clothes — once the antithesis of fashion — is where the wind blows.
Paris is producing fewer fashion labels and businesses. Besides Alexis Mabille, the former jewellery designer at Dior, Bouchra Jarrar and Cedric Charlier, who worked alongside Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, there are barely any new names in Paris. Industry portal BusinessOfFashion.com points out some relevant bulletpoints to why Paris now lags behind London and New York.
One among that is French fashion schools teach only design technique, not creativity like in London or business skills like in New York. Besides, since most of the major fashion houses are French, most young designers just want to get a job at Chanel, Balmain or Hermes, instead of launching their own mini-empires, it states.
When French designers themselves are struggling to gain a toehold in Paris, what can one expect of Indian names? If small orders in boutique stores or possibly an opening in a British or American department store happen, that’s wonderful too. But the business is still back home. India is still where the Indians will make good.