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FDCI chairman Sunil Sethi on haute couture, Prêt-à-Porter and holding the first-ever digital India Couture Week

Sunil Sethi, a self-confessed old-school at heart, talks about the upcoming fashion extravaganza, why it is more than just a boisterous show, and what he expects the consumer base to be post-pandemic

Written by Shambhavi Dutta | New Delhi | September 18, 2020 12:30:39 pm
The India Couture Week is set to take place from 18th -23rd September'20. (Photo: PR Hanout/ Designed by Gargi Singh)

Like many events, India Couture Week will also be digital this year. Sunil Sethi, who became the chairman of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) in 2008, is credited to have hosted its first edition the same year. All these years, he says, he has thoroughly enjoyed hosting the bi-annual event, an experience he describes as “uninterrupted and satisfying”.

In a tête-à-tête with indianexpress.com, Sethi talks about the upcoming six-day ICW, how the extravaganza is more than just a boisterous fashion show, why haute couture will never witness an end, the consumer base post-pandemic, and why prêt can never replace couture.

Excerpts:

What do you think about introducing haute couture to the digital space? 

India Couture Week started back in 2008, which is when I became the president. It is something that came in my tenure and has been a long journey indeed but an uninterrupted one. This is our 13th edition, every time we have done the show we have proven that space for couture is not a ‘fly by night’ kind of operation. Since 2008, there has been no break; there has been a seamless continuity, which personally for me has been the biggest satisfaction.

Secondly, we have got very good A-listers who are still a part of the same time, and one or two designers who have become a part of the council. A lot of designers who are present at the moment weren’t there 12 years ago. In fact, they didn’t even have a couture line back then and for me, it is a matter of pride that they are a part of the same. I am honestly glad and proud that for many designers this very platform has introduced them to haute couture. However, about going digital, I have an old-school approach and would have always preferred to do this in a luxurious physical space.

 

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How do you plan to make the experience exciting for the viewers?

India Couture Week brings to the table that part of the emotion which has been missing for quite some time now. We are so caught up in introspection amidst the pandemic while also being stuck in webinars discussing the realities of life. But what is also important is that we also see what makes us happy. If wearing a beautiful creation designed by one of India’s best designers is what gives someone happiness, so be it.

India Couture Week is targeting a wide number of people which does not only mean that they have to be a shopper of the designs but it is also trying to reach people who are looking forward to witnessing life post-COVID. It is time to not just keep talking about gloom and doom; I firmly believe that ICW will be a welcome change because I can see the excitement on the same. Firstly, people are excited that we are going to go digital, secondly, people don’t know what to expect from the show.

How has been the experience to conceptualise a show for the digital space?

I am a person who has a thought process which is old school in its approach, where digitisation and anything related to isn’t been a part of. However, getting into the planning of the digital edition of ICW was a much simpler process and not as difficult as everybody says it to be. It is not complicated, the best part is once you get a hang of it you realise the potential it has to offer. You can do it faster, better and you can reach a wider set of audience. However, this is something I always knew but I witnessed the same amidst the pandemic.

READ| Tech, newer platforms, reinventing: How designers plan to weather pandemic and beyond

You said the transition also means a larger audience. What do you expect the consumer base to be post-pandemic?

India Couture Week is a B2C (business to consumer) event rather than a B2B (business to business) event, which means that it targets the kind of customers who have to attend a special occasion or those getting married. For example, there are NRIs from all over the world who want to come to India for their pre-festivities or shopping. While trousseau might not be considered a good word, but there are people who believe in couture and ICW and in turn look forward to the designer’s new collection. Not only this, but there is also the public at large who has been starved of good fashion. By public, I also refer to fashionistas awaiting fresh designs and a new collection.

While sustainability and handloom is the talk of the town, one also needs to see if there’s a new collection and what it offers. While the designer will take these buzzwords into consideration while designing, at the same time what is missing is the idea of celebration and rejoicing.

Do you think the pandemic has led to the fashion model being reconsidered?

Absolutely, the fashion model is being reconsidered because in a way the current situation has thrust upon us to go digital. We have no other solution. If the FDCI and the Indian fashion designers want to stay relevant and want to continue to show their collection, there’s no other way but to go digital. However, ICW is happening with both physical and digital formats being combined. We have come to realise that digitisation will always be an integral part of any kind of fashion week. It is only that post-COVID days will tell us whether physical has more importance or digital but I am sure that by the end of it will be a combination of both. Who gets more priority over the other is something only time can tell. As a council, we are geared up for doing both the things together and whichever medium is more successful we will try to integrate it.

There is no way that out of the two segments only either will work. Despite COVID-19 situation not easing out, we witnessed a development where people are going out to shop.

READ| Tarun Tahiliani marks 25 years: The ace designer on his most memorable show and what continues to inspire him

However, with fashion going digital, does it spell the end for haute couture? Or is it set for a redefinition, along with Prêt-à-Porter coming under the spotlight?

In times to come, couture will be all about presentation. It is aspirational and exciting for people to see what the new collection has to offer. I think the physical space is of relevance to increase the sale of haute couture because once the customers start contacting the designers, they go to the stores and then their demands are specially made to measure, bespoke with personal elements that the designer has to cater to. All of this requires strong physical engagement but I don’t think it is the end of haute couture.

In India, it will never see an end because special functions like a wedding can’t take place until one wears a creation by an Indian designer. In my opinion, Prêt-à-Porter will certainly have a better resonance with the customers because the price points are lower and secondly, the sizing is demarcated carefully. Whatever people will see from the ICW the consumers will start to contact the designers for their requirements.

 

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How has the transition from haute couture to Prêt-à-Porter been for designers? 

I don’t think the transition has been difficult because a couture designer is still essentially working in that area and hasn’t gone into Prêt. Most of the designers who are taking part with us like, Manish Malhotra, JJ Vallaya or Suneet Varma, are all wedding designers and are only working in this category. However, there are others who are a part of both couture and Prêt, which is always welcome. But, there’s no transition per se because that took place long back.

For example, when Gaurav Gupta started it was essentially Prêt, similarly, Rahul Mishra did Prêt too. However, designers usually have a separate line of Prêt like Anamika Khanna who does bridal wear but has a separate collection known as the AK-OK. Other is Shantanu and Nikhil, the duo has another line of Prêt called S&N. Most designers are very clear about where they are headed in the longer run.

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