India was once known as the 'land of the unstitched cloth', highly regarded for its drapers rather than pattern-cutters and designers. But all that has changed in recent years as the country absorbed Western influences and reinvented its fashion industry with an eye to the modern woman.
Last week, India's best and brightest lights in design showcased their latest creations from couture bridal wear to edgy separates at Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2011, which ended on Sunday. Glitz, glamour, Bollywood starlets, and live music and dance performances were all part of the fun at the six-day event, which is held twice yearly in Mumbai.
While the most recent event welcomed a roster of India's most celebrated designers, including JJ Valaya, Rohit Bal, Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi Muhkerjee and Wendell Rodricks, it was the country's emerging talent that really shone.
'In the past few years we've seen a transition as younger designers have gone to study abroad,' says Bandana Tewari, fashion features director at Vogue India. 'Before that, Western wear was very awkward and featured heavy embroideries - now it's about shape, layers, wearable clothes and cool concepts.'
This was most evident at the Gennext show, which kicked off the week and featured eight young designers tapped to be the next big things. Canadian duo Theresa and Roger created a unisex collection which played on proportions with an unstructured silhouette and an energetic street vibe. It was about bold, vibrant colour as native American and African batik prints decorated wrap blouses, fringed blankets and knee-length shorts.
Also going for something cool and casual was menswear brand Ex-pression-ist, where designer Mohammed Javed Khan sent out loose layers of long sweater coats, pullovers and military shirts belted at the waist and worn with turn-up trousers. Other highlights included Vivienne Westwood alum Farah Sanjana with her all-white collection of origami-inspired and architectural shapes that were a cool mix of feminine and futuristic.
On the catwalks elsewhere, several other designers unveiled different visions of femininity. Deepti Pruthi's dresses are closer to couture and feature intricate silk bead cording, tufts and other embellishments on soft layers of silk and organza. The collection, she says, was inspired by grandma's vintage dresses. The look, however, was more sexy than frou frou with structured shapes and murky palette of nude, beige, white and soft pastels.
Also playing with techniques was Sougat Paul for his label SOUP. The Spanish-inspired dresses featured geometric embroideries that resembled complicated basket weaves. Tasselled and fringed hemlines and skirts provided a modern Spanish touch. The modern glamazon was represented at Vizyon where evening gowns in jewelled tones of sapphire, emerald green and gold were given a modern look with art deco-inspired geometries and drapes and pleats reminiscent of Lanvin.
Futurism was also the theme of Swapnil Shinde's show, which was the most-talked about of the week. Inspired by the speed of sound, he showed structured dresses covered in transparent PVC rolls that imitated sound wave ripples (or, to some, paper windmills). The colour palette of yellow and grey was super modern and he also mixed in men's fabrics on tailored dresses with see-through PVC cut-outs. Every editor in the front row was clamouring for the vertiginous heels embellished with sharp cut-outs of PVC.
Sharp tailoring may not be a strong part of the Indian fashion vocabulary but London College of Fashion graduate Ruchika Sachdeva is hoping to change that. Her newly launched Bodice line is structured, dark and sophisticated with androgynous silhouettes and plenty of menswear tailoring techniques.
Knitwear is another trend you don't often see on India's catwalks, but Raman Vij is hoping to make it more relevant to modern women. Developing his own textiles and yarns, he created a line inspired by Japanese warriors with structured pieces with chunky folds and thick ridges on the arms and shoulders.
Also one to watch was Shift by Nimish Shah, which brings to mind Parisian labels such as A.P.C, Paul & Joe and Chloe (he worked at the latter for a short time). He focused on casual, comfortable separates with vintage-inspired 1970s dresses and tees and tailored jackets in brown, beige and rust. Paisley and floral tapestry prints added to the retro feel.
Closing the week for emerging talent was the Berlin Calling show, where two designers were selected to represent India at Berlin Fashion Week next year. Pero by Aneeth Arora showed effortless, easy-to-wear silhouettes made from handmade Indian textiles and fabrics such as cotton, linen and wool in shades of lilac, plum and military green.
At the other end of the spectrum, Central Saint Martins graduate Kallol Datta's collection was more conceptual. Known for his quirky yet striking prints, there were loose shifts in black and white printed with instructions on how to make a paper plane, while more edgy looks included cropped futuristic tops decorated with fringes of faux hair and dark separates with unfinished white stitching.
An homage to the changing colours of the still image, there were digitally printed saris contrasted with colourful, heavily embroidered skirts to match tailored evening jackets.
It was all-out glamour from this Bollywood favourite. Rich fabrics like lace, chiffon, silk, net and velvet were fashioned into body hugging gowns with panelled opulent skirts.
Spanish-inspired gowns, multitiered skirts and floor-length velvet coats with intricate floral embroideries and embellishments.
A restrained yet beautiful East-meets-West collection of beige, khaki and black voluminous trousers, jackets, waistcoats and long-sleeved tops with understated silver antique and thread embroideries.
Taking inspiration from the Himalayas, it was all about loose, fluid resort wear in natural dyed cotton linen, pure silk and pleated fabrics.