The incredible skill of Indian weavers, embroidery craftsperson, the textile traditions, have long been leveraged by global luxury brands and designer labels for that ultimate luxury element, sadly never really highlighting the source. The Indian fashion designers have had easy access to this heritage in its entirety, yet did not cut the grade on the global playing field, barring a few names that briefly twinkled in the spot light. What was it that was missing? The originality of design? Cut and finish? Glamour quotient? Finally, at the recent phygital India Couture Week 2021 organised by the Fashion Design Council of India, of all of the 19 brilliant designers who participated, 12 stood out. We bring you the list drawn out by Meher Castelino, the renowned and most experienced fashion journalist in India.
By Meher Castelino
The 12th edition of the Fashion Design Council of India’s India Couture Week 2021 for the second time in a digital format from August 23 to 29 was a cornucopia of exquisite embroidery that proved that Indian master craftsmen are artisans par excellence and the best in the world. Indian couture has always been associated with bridal wear; hence 19 designers unveiled their magnificent collections. While some moved away from the beaten path they brought an amazing degree of freshness to the surface ornamentation, which was world class. The noteworthy aspect of the creations was the immaculate finish of the ensembles, which proved that quality control plays a major role in bridal couture. It is no wonder therefore that this has made Indian wedding trousseaux so desirable for bridal couples worldwide. Silhouettes were adventurous for both men’s and women’s wear with some experimental touches brought in for both buyers. While the lehenga, choli, trio stayed firm on the fashion charts for many designers, it was the ball gown and fusion directions that have made inroads into the Indian wedding wear market.
VARUN BAHL – REDEFINING COUTURE
The fashion directions for bridal wear have always been partial to OTT looks with dramatic, dazzle and glitter. Varun Bahl prefers to rebel against conventional wedding norms with his collection “Memory/Mosaic” that has shades and hints of rustic, rural touches, which turn his version of bridal wear into a fun collection. The ensembles have interesting segments of embellished pieces juxtaposed to present a visually appealing haute couture line. The draped skirts, power shoulders for jackets, bralettes, peplum blouses, tone-on-tone embellished lehengas, capes, slip dresses, trousers and saris are dreamt up in organza, silk, satin, tulle, velvet and even denim for a hint of causal chic. Keeping the festive fervour in mind the colours run riot with black, red, ivory, green and blush pink. The embroidery that shimmers with touches of mirror work features thread and resham in multi or monochrome hues. Keeping sustainability in mind Varun has upcycled parts of the garments and turned them into timeless pieces.
PANKAJ AND NIDHI – CRAFTED BY HAND
The designing duo Pankaj and Nidhi believe in moving away from convention and although predominantly western wear designers, their foray into Indian bridal wear does not reveal the traditional touches, but creates an almost rebellious offering that will appeal to an international millennial audience. Their statement pieces include jackets with stylish trains, floor length skirts, blouses with voluminous sleeves that make their “Afterglow” collection a shimmering couture presentation. The colour story has marked metallic overtones that are at times tonal has gold, pearl pink, dove grey and ruby red, which add to the grandeur of the creations. Enticing touches like the floor length fringes on long-sleeves, bead encrusted gowns and regal sweeping creations are all part of the look that heralds a New Age appeal for the 3D embellished bridal wear.
SHANTNU AND NIKHIL – FASHIONABLE CEREMONY
The Ceremonial Couture Collection called “Oasis” by Shantnu and Nikhil brings a marked emphasis on men’s wear for the groom, while for the bride they offer a strong line that reveals great construction dimensions. Working with striking colours like gold, navy, red and black with hints of khaki, the multi prints are on luxurious fabrics. Silhouettes have played a major role in the SN collections in the past so men’s wear has rigid bundies, almost regimental like black bundgala jackets, cowled trousers, short jackets, but extra-long sherwanis, which will set trends during the coming months. Completing the masculine wardrobe were stoles and turbans along with a wide array of dazzling gold hand jewellery, brooches and accessories. Drapes accentuated women’s wear with leather appliqués, while the lehengas moved onto 21st century silhouettes with visually arresting hand embroidery.
SIDDARTHA TYTLER – OFF BEAT VISION
Siddartha Tytler does not believe in staying on the tried and tested path of fashion. His “Ambrosia” couture 2022 collection is an ivory and gold fantasy for men and women. He stays far from the conventional paisleys and buttis motifs and instead plays with metres of fabric. There is a marked push on volume whether it is for the 40-kali lehenga or the men’s sherwani with a plunging neckline and 50 kalis. Even his dupatta styles speak of access when 60 metres of fabric are ruffled and dappled with gold threads. Selecting luxe Chanderi, silk Taffeta, organza, tissue and georgette, the collection is a paean to fashion that is unconventional and aimed at both genders who love to wear ensembles that are neutral in fashion sensibilities. Detailing from the designer zeroes in on sequins, crystal bead and thread work, while laser cuts and quilting play a major role.
GAURAV GUPTA – UNABASHED GLITTER
A Gaurav Gupta collection has to have sculpting, moulding and wire manipulation because he is a master of this craft. So his “Universal Love” collection for both sexes gave men, women, plus size wearers gender less fashion on a stylish platter. The leitmotif of the ensembles is the galactic embroidery that brings the inspiration of the majestic planets down to terra firmal as muted tones are embellished with splashes of shaded glass in blue and gunmetal. Showers of embroidery highlight the almost futuristic gowns and fusion wear for women; while for men’s wear, Gaurav is far more restrained as his tuxedos and bundgalas in black, white, deep blue and teal are created from velvet, wool as well as Egyptian cotton. There are discreet strains of surface ornamentation on the jackets that will appeal to the masculine or neutral sensibilities of the buyers.
AMIT AGGARWAL – ODE TO ELEMENTS
Paying homage to the elements – earth, air and water, Amit Aggarwal’s “Metanoia” collection will be a surreal experience for the buyers who need a personality as strong as the designer’s vision to do justice to the ensembles. All the Amit Aggarwal characteristic elements are present in the collection. The metallic polymers, high light the complex pleating on the tulle and silk; while hand painting with marbling designs adds an imaginative touch. The discarded PVC 3D thread embroidery and metallic cording brings amazing visual appeal to the garments. The silhouettes revolve around gowns, capes, dresses, lehengas and saris but never in the conventional traditional format since the fabric base boasts of a list of glass fibres, raffia palm and optic fibres in hues that move from moss and sage to mulberry, fuchsia and eggplant with green, rosette, taffy and azalea adding variety.
AMIT GT – RED CARPET VISIONS
Indian designers have come a long way in the last three decades. From designing the popular lehenga, choli, dupatta trios their creativity has moved to glamorous Red-Carpet splendour, which appeals to international audiences. Amit GT’s “Scintilla” collection will thrill celebs that traipse down the Page 3 path. The focal point of the form fitting gowns is the embroidery that is inspired by blooms, birds and linear brush strokes. The splendid, voluminous gowns with never ending trains and bustles bring a hint of old world charm to the line of ball gowns. Amit’s offering to the traditional bride is in his stylish vision of the lehenga, choli and dupatta with heavily encrusted floor sweeping skirts. The added highlights of the collection are the detachable trains with large bows, which the wearer can eliminate should she opt for a more sedate look.
FALGUNI SHANE PEACOCK – SAGA OF LOVE
For Falguni Shane Peacock the “Love Is,” collection filmed at the Taj Mahal Agra has inspirations of minarets, domes, filigree of foliage motifs to highlight their very extravagant bridal offering. The never-ending trains at the end of the voluminous lehengas bring back an era of elegance long gone by. From Ivory and beige, the collection sways to emerald, rose, mint all drizzled with the intricate embellishments. Setting a great bridal trend are the jewelled facial veils that matched the glitter and splendour of Swarovski crystals, pearls, mirrors, sequins, beads and feathers that shimmered on the wedding wear. From Cinderella ball gowns to creatively designed lehengas, cholis and dupattas, the trousseau wear with an emphasis on veiled faces brought a hint of demure styling but with opulent touches.
ROHIT GANDHI + RAHUL KHANNA – DEBUT COUTURE
Making their debut at couture week, the designers Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna unveiled “Alchemize” – a line of exquisite western wear for the bridal couple. Cutwork was the focal point of the ensembles, while layering added a dramatic appeal. The form fitting, figure-hugging gowns have immaculate finish with beads and bejewelled accents that include feathers. Sheer fabrics like tulle and organza are the luxe base, while the latticework adds and eye-catching interest to the layers. The rich gem hues highlight the array of evening glamour as ruffles and cascades of fabric bring to centre stage some high-octane feminine drama and elegance in couture creations. Men’s wear is daring and different as tassels and fringes vie for attention on the velvet tuxedo ornamented jackets. Duchesse satin, a favourite with most couture designers is added to the chiffon and velvet options with tonal or floral embellishments.
TARUN TAHILIANI – INDIA MODERN
Tarun Tahiliani unveiled a sumptuous feast of bridal wear called “Artisanal Couture” that emphasises the various craft skills of Indian artisans. His capsule lines in Chikankari, Pichwai, Rangrez Pakeezagi cocktail Goddess and Bridal, offered a look that moves effortless through the various wedding festivities. Each segment has a traditional craft base that is interpreted in a contemporary mode. Showcasing a variety of hues and textures, the line brings to the forefront an unbelievable fantasy of woven metres of brocades and fabrics. Each section brings forth the characteristic specialty of the region it is inspired from. Peacocks, cows and lotuses are the centre of the Pichwai line, while latticed inlay work brings Chikankari to life. Everything that brides dream of in a Tarun Tahiliani collection is visible in traditional and contemporary silhouettes, while Tarun the master draper offers fashion comfort with his imaginative drapes. Tiny boleros with jumpsuits and shararas with off-shoulder kurtis reveal a marked trendy vibe for women’s wear.
ANAMIKA KHANNA – AN EMOTIONAL OFFERING
Unconventional bridal fashion trends are evident in Anamika Khanna’s line that paid homage to the many crafts of India. The major style statement from the designer is the pearl encrusted headgear and beaded veils that are favoured at times instead of the dupatta or odhanis. Long, heavily, embellished coats have a marked mix and match appeal; while a mix of embroidery from different parts of the country, keep the mood of the collection upbeat. Some 3D appliqués and hints of glitter with resham are merged to offer a 21st century wedding wear tale. Men’s wear reveals splashes of embroidery for kurtas over loose pyjamas along with a mix of prints and crafts that keep the silhouettes basic with attention to comfort.
RAHUL MISHRA – FASHIONABLE GARDEN
Rahul Mishra’s “Kam-Khab” collection is all about the beauty of flora and fauna in myriad hues and forms that cascade down his vision of bridal lehengas, tiny off-shoulder cholis and splendid dupattas. Aiming at offering weightless couture bridal wear, the designer stays away from kilos of stiff umbrella lehengas and instead dreams up flowing, fluid, feminine skirts with imaginative embroidery placements. Silk, organza, crêpe, georgette and tissue are merged with Banarsi cutwork, Chanderi for the wedding wear. Men’s wear is less opulent but offers a vibrant colour palette, as well as matches the embellishments of the bridal collections when bundies, kurtas and Sherwanis exhibit great options for the grooms.