When designer Rajesh Pratap Singh said that his Spring Summer 2015 collection was a tribute to the denim industry “the blue blooded tribe”, he put his collaborators and craftspeople on a pedestal, literally. The artisans, clad in all blue, sat on a raised platform and formed the backdrop for a summer collection that was awash in indigo. Singh’s undying love for the classic white shirt and his various textile innovations may have been chronicled in the past, but there was no better place than the India Fashion Week runway at Pragati Maidan for him to bring his long-standing affair with denim out in the open. With designers the world over embracing the slub and nep of the blue fabric for summer collections, Singh’s outright ode came at an opportune time.
Even as international spring-summer ramps have seen head-to-toe indigo in the form of shirtdresses at Gucci, pantsuits at Tod’s, boot-cut pants at Prada, rhinestone encrusted jeans at Dolce & Gabbana and denim jackets at Burberry and oversized shapes at Yohji Yamamoto, on home turf too the rough-and-tumble fabric has moved from rugged streetwear to high-fashion flavour of the season.
While purists like Singh have delved into raw selvedge handloom (khadi) denim and taken the hand-spun, hank dyed, hand woven and hand-stitched route to artisanal excellence, there are others like Aneeth Arora of Pero, who have prettied up upcycled denim with floral embroidery and Raakesh Agarvwal, who, in complete contrast, has given a distressed, shredded and altogether decimated rendition to the style staple. But what all three diametrically different collections have in common is a broadened design direction that veers away from the ubiquitous classic jeans and explores shapes like pinstriped suits, dungarees, shift dresses, crop tops, culottes, jackets and footwear, even bags. From suiting tailored in indigo denim for formal occasions, to jumpsuits for a night out and drapes for the boho chic vibe — the desi spring-summer runways has seen them all.
For Arora, who includes denim in big and small measures in all of Pero’s collections, the summer collection ‘Love on Foliage’ saw repurposed jeans from Italian brand Pence taking on a touch of dainty with delicate embroidery, trims and hem detailing. “Pero is all about comfort clothing. We use denim every season to show wearers how they can team their Pero clothes with their daily wear. But the idea is to take a mundane pair of jeans and personalise them by adding a dash of playfulness. The wearer will discover surprises in every garment,” says Arora.
And while Pero keeps its upcycling philosophy going with its denim range as well, others like Urvashi Kaur and Anjali Patel Mehta are using the sturdy fabric to add different dimensions to their lines. “My summer collection Ziran was inspired by Xining, China. I wanted to bring the starkness of its tough terrain to my collection and decided to add the rough texture of denim to lend structure to the clothes, thereby establishing a dichotomy between rigidity and my trademark fluidity,” says Kaur. With the introduction of stripes, camouflage prints, shibori, tie-dye, block prints and frayed edges, the attempt was to “pull the fabric out of ordinariness and make it more fashion”, says Kaur.
Much like Lakme Fashion Week debutante Patel Mehta, whose “fuss-free and wearable” philosophy has seen her use varieties of denim over the years for her label Verandah. “My collection Urban Islands was travel-inspired and comfort and softness play a large part in any ideal travel wardrobe,” says Patel Mehta. The designer used silky, cotton lycra and cotton denim, treated them chemically to achieve distinct levels of softness and then subjected them to applique, embroidery and quilting for added effect. From biker jackets, skirts, playsuits and overshirts to footwear — the use of denim extended beyond the banal.
And while most designers explain the haute revival of denim as a corollary of the ’70s trend sweeping through fashion, there’s no denying that they’re also attempting to tap into a younger demographic with a more pronounced predilection for the textile. “Denim is indeed very reflective of youth; something that is rebellious and goes against conformity. Which is why I created skirts, crop tops, overalls, infusing the collection with a softer, youthful touch,” says Kaur.
And even if relieving the fabric of its straitlaced trouser drudgery might be the higher purpose for most designers, they’re also hoping that the trend will transition effortlessly into fall-winter, thereby signalling more than a short-term dalliance between fashion and denim. Even as Singh’s experiments with the handloom variety continue, Verandah offers bespoke services on denim pieces all year round. Pero’s recent Fall rendition saw jeans wear enamelled buttons created by silversmiths in Rajasthan, colourful patchwork pieces and embroidered messages declaring ‘peace’. Denim is diversifying and so should you.