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Is Brown The New Black?

Is Brown The New Black?

October 03, 2009

At London Fashion Week, it looks like Indian designers are breaking free of showcasing only dhotis, saris and bridal wear.

As part of London Fashion Week, there’s a buzz that fills London. Tents seem to pop up everywhere, there are shows and parties and after-parties and more shows. Everyone I know who is connected to it goes on high-alert – when suddenly it seems like London is full of very thin, and very stressed, bomb-defusal experts. Naturally, most people are glad to be involved with as many shows as they can, and usually the best way around this is to view the work of up and coming designers through lesser known shows. Reports are made and trends are watched – and so the cycle continues. Sometimes this seems like an alternate universe to me, as I feel like a spectator outside the fish-tank, when the inside is clearly the place to be. Although they will tell you it’s different, they will tell you it’s frenetic and not worth the hassle, but they’ll carry off the glamour and clearly seem to be enjoying themselves the rest of the time.

So, I always find it fascinating how I now have peers that wonder in these circles. It makes me think back to about five years ago, when I was off in some far away city doing an academic degree – when others much like myself were fashioning away in London. How did they do it? What was there story – and more importantly – what did their parents say?

I catch up with a fellow NRI friend of mine, who we’ll call D for now. D has filtered his way through Central St Martins, into the world of PR and spreading his fashion gospel. He usually has his finger on the pulse and keeps abreast of the right sorts of contacts. D and I are both in touch with a fellow designer who heads up LALL fashion. Gurdeep Lall has worked hard to put his signature together. His creations are reminiscent of jelly fish in dark waters, or stars in a sky. His palette is often understated and most of the work has a futuristic vibe. What I find most inspiring in all of Lall’s achievements and the work of fellow designers, is that at no point has any one had to play the race card. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. They’ve managed to create an identity all themselves - which isn’t heavily reliant on investors hoping to buy into an ‘Indian’ motif or style. I find this to be an incredible progression from what emerging designers in international cities may have started off with.

There would have been a time in recent fashion history when Indian labels would have only represented dhotis, saris and bridal wear. They would have harped back to an embroidered way of being and wouldn’t have reflected the progression of modern Indian design, art and architecture. I think of Ritu Beri, Lakme and perhaps to some extent Manish Arora as examples of this canon. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, more of an observation. By contrast, I am then struck by the evolution in the work of Lall - which is otherworldly. Of course you could argue that the evolution begins with Arora and that to take inspiration from what is native is no sin.

This argument does transcend fashion: individuals are being recognised for what they do, rather than being Indian as such. Which profession will lead to more renown is always difficult to say. Looking at the art of Anish Kapoor, we see that it’s recognised purely for what it is: sensuous shapes and formidable concepts which have come to life in extraordinary form. If I went back in time and became a fashion designer, whether or not I’d have gone in a new direction is something I can’t forecast. Would I have played the race card and relied on positive discrimination?

People say that nothing is original any more, but the closer we can get to originality the more profound the result. The world wouldn’t be quite the same if Norman Foster kept re-designing the mock Tudor home would it - simply because it could be deemed synonymous with his identity.

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