There is little left to say about our sari, argued as the national dress of Indian women by many daughters of the soil, even though most prefer the salwar kameez for all its practical purposes. The sari, the dhoti and the lungi come from our ancient draping methods. The kurta (a long tunic shirt) and the salwar (slouchy pants tied with a drawstring) are from our Mughal roots. While the lehenga (a circle skirt with drawstrings) and kediya shirt (men’s shirt with a circle-cut and string tie-ups) come from the deserts of the Kutch. But our western wardrobe comes from, er, the West.
Bridal bling has been making way for India’s local heritage. Handloom weaves has stepped out of its saris-and-stoles-only mould and have enveloped a large range of shirts and trousers. Printing and embroidery techniques that were only found on Indian ethnics are now the mainstay of our global wardrobe. India’s handloom history has become the focus of its sartorial language.
The pioneers of this Indian-made-globally-worn aesthetic were mostly Rajesh Pratap Singh and Abraham & Thakore. For decades they have pursued the language of craft, to bring it on to the main stage, despite its very small audience.
Today we see almost every young designer — whether a student of our NIFT schools or London College of Fashion — surprise with their glo-cal style. Rahul Mishra, Gaurav Jai Gupta, and Aneeth Arora are India-based designers that are successful in Europe for these very reasons.
The Indian tailored suit is finding a strong toehold. Rohit Bal’s new collection that closed the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week on Sunday, showcased a range of deliciously structured jackets (some with Eastern influences such as Japan, others tailored like a bandhgala and some a simple tuxedo collar) worn with an assortment of vivid lehengas. The designer insists this look is “distinctly pret-a-porter” which is a loud yay for its easy prices. This look, he says, is contemporary with a strong Indian sensibility. Despite his lavish embroideries on large flowers (and the visceral feast of Quli Khan’s tomb as a backdrop and Shubha Mudgal’s Sufi strains), Bal’s tailoring made the show.
Pratap Singh himself took his cutting techniques to a new height. He paid homage to raw selvedge denim made with pure indigo and raised it to the level of couture. His jeans, trousers, shirts without armholes and plenty jackets were all the stuff of modern dreams.
Khadi Modern has also been the signature of 11.11. Shani Himanshu, the label’s designer and frontman, shows off a summer suit made from “kaala cotton”, a Saurashtra native, known for its black bud. It is woven in a fine 200-count khadi and striped with indigo. “This is our answer to Indian luxury,” says Shani, “It is a universal wardrobe.”
Ashish Soni is a designer who is known for his jackets already, albeit to a small clientele. But when he sent out one of his famous digi-printed military-style jacket on a sari, his statement was made.
As the world becomes flatter, our fashion choices align themselves to an international wardrobe. Our new experiments with tailoring are a way of playing in a global field and this new love of refined handloom fabric is what sets us apart.