WHEN the first National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) batch of 24 students graduated in 1989, Barbara Crossette wrote in The New York Times about how India’s wealth of fabric, embroideries and skilful appliques somehow never found their way into international fashion. “The new school hopes to change the situation by turning out young designers with a basic business sense, a sophisticated way of handling of fabrics and a cosmopolitan outlook,” she wrote. And in the three decades since the government set up NIFT, on paper in 1986 with courses starting in 1987 (in collaboration with Fashion Institute of Technology, New York), the institute has done just that.
NIFT has given India some of its finest fashion talents — from JJ Valaya, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Manish Arora, Ashish N Soni and Sabyasachi Mukherjee to Varun Bahl, Gaurav Gupta and Kallol Datta, among others. Today, the NIFT family has grown to 15 centres across the country, including centres in Kangra, Raebareli and Shillong, making it the country’s premier fashion institute. So, not surprisingly, the decision to appoint former cricketer and two-time BJP MP Chetan Chauhan as chairman of NIFT has garnered far-ranging responses.
According to the NIFT Act 2006, the chairperson of the Board of Governors (BoG) is expected to be “an eminent academician, scientist or technologist or professional, to be nominated by the Visitor” of the institute, which is the President. While former chairpersons have included the likes of DP Singh, Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, Venu Srinivasan, chairman of TVS Motor Company and managing director of Sundaram Clayton Ltd, and retired IAS officer Kiran Dhingra, who is said to have had a flair for textiles, Chauhan’s appointment has hit many for a six. And his comments about devoting 20 per cent of his time to NIFT have only added to the discordant voices.
India’s fashion industry may not be happy with the turn of events, but prefers to take a lenient view of things.