In 2012, fashion went from the clothes rack to the book rack; from ramp to museum. January’s Jaipur Literature Festival saw designer Wendell Rodricks launch Moda Goa: History and Style, a history of Goan costumes that took him 11 years to write. The first such book after Ritu Kumar’s 1999 tome Costumes and Textiles of Royal India, Rodricks’ work re-instilled our hope in Indian designers as chroniclers.
The very next month, an Abraham & Thakore sari was chosen to be part of the permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. A piece of vernacular dressing in charcoal silk with an inlaid cycle rickshaw, worn high and short with an appliqué tunic tucked into the waist, a slim leather belt and mojri wedges, it was from the first collection designer duo David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore showed in India (Autumn-Winter 2010) after 18 years in the industry. Symbolic both of retro-modernism that dominates our fashion movement and the world’s deepening curiosity in Indian design, the sari is our inheritance of gain.
February may be a fun month for fashion every year but an unusual spectacle unfolded this time when Uggie, the adorable canine actor, stole the thunder from Hollywood’s best dressed at the 2012 Oscars. As the thoughtful 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier posed on the podium with director Michel Hazanavicius, the cast and crew of the much-awarded The Artist, his 18-carat bone bow tie, custom-made by Swiss luxury brand Chopard, stood out as the most distinctive accessory. Designed by Chopard’s co-president and artistic director Caroline Scheufele, the dog bone-shaped charm was personalized with Uggie’s name on it.
Personas ruled red carpets. “I don’t want to be boring,” said designer Marc Jacobs, also creative director at Louis Vuitton, when he passed over a tuxedo for a black lace tunic, white boxer shorts, black socks and pilgrim shoes for The Costume Institute Gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in May. A Comme des Garçons ensemble from Rei Kawakubo’s gender-bending Fall-Winter 2012 collection, it was sold out after Jacobs’ nonchalant indulgence. Fashion is an acceptable vehicle of protest, so full marks to Jacob for upholding boredom as a real problem in style.
Style though seemed to be the least of problems for the Duchess of Cambridge. If princessing were a course at a finishing school, she could teach it all by herself. Last year, her lace-sleeved Alexander McQueen wedding gown by Sarah Burton put her in global fashion consciousness and this year she consolidated her rank as the Princess of Ease. Smiling (never giggling), slender, prettily attired with a tamed version of the Fawcett Flick or hair delicately put up, she erred right each time, disallowing gossip to perturb her elegance.
Issa and Jenny Packham may be her favourites for evening gowns, but Kate Middleton is a dress girl, favouring British brands like Barbour, Jigsaw, Temperley London and Topshop. Also, she is a fashion celebrity who doesn’t fuss over statement bags.
As far as statements go, couturier Anamika Khanna made a big one this year combining—at least for the press release—romance, power, royalty, India. Four clichéd mood board words that could almost be blamed for everything that stands for Indian couture. But you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. So it seemed after Khanna’s stunning couture line—A Love Song To India—walked out at an off-site show for Delhi Couture Week this August. Indian drapes were coupled with trousers and dhoti pants; the lehnga came perched on short capes. The Calcutta Chromosome—symbolic in fashion of artisanal mastery—blazed as wearable art on silk, organza, chiffon and tulle in ebony-ivory, bursts of royal blue, muted red and unabashed gold. Couture is not just about wearing; it is also a heady spectator sport. Khanna proved why.
So did Jean Paul Gaultier, the enfant terrible of French fashion, but for entirely different reasons. “Gaultier once dreamt of creating...a gender crossing, religion marrying, race-defying, border erasing hodgepodge from which men and women would be free to choose,” quoted Stephen Gan in Visionaire’s Fashion 2000. These words could describe From The Sidewalk to The Catwalk, a travelling retrospective of 35 years of Gaultier’s work that opened in the US this year. Bathed in blue and white lighting with animated mannequins, chromogenic prints and photographs, the exhibition quaked with erotic urgency at San Francisco’s de Young museum. Memories of Madonna’s Like a Virgin leapt out of her corseted body suit while another corner pulsated with Gaultier’s unique blurring between sexes and multicultural societies. “Except the medieval codpiece and the bra, garments have never had a gender,” noted the designer. If fashion is indeed the most dressed up form of sex, this exhibition told us why we need both—sex and fashion.
Will Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango agree? Best known for reinterpreted Chanderi weaves, this year he introduced luscious, printed petticoats in chintz and satiny mashru that play fantastical hide and seek through diaphanous saris. Sunny yellows with ink blue flowers, ivory whites with lime green edges or multicoloured striped mashru with red draw strings, they come with a mind of their own as sexy separates.
Adult themes weren’t the only blazes in our enchanted forest. Armani Junior arrived in India this September at Delhi’s DLF Emporio with some ado. It also raked in a risky but interesting proposition: A limited edition Armani Kurta for boys to coincide with the India store opening. Risky? Well, why would anyone want a kurta made in Italy? Interesting as it shows how new markets influence global design decisions. Priced between Rs.6,500 and Rs.7,500, it stood out in the 2,000 sq. ft store, billed as one of the largest Armani Junior stores in the world, also the second-largest in Asia after China, charmed here by veteran designer Suneet Varma.
One of the most significant initiatives this year was a pact between the ministry of textiles (MoT) and the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI). Having eyed each other for years—in an unresolved mix of envy and scepticism—the two finally blinked. The MoT sponsored the North East Show by Naga designer Atsu Sekhose at the FDCI-organized Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in Delhi this October.
Alongside, an exhibition displayed wares from North-Eastern designers made from local materials like eri and muga silk, loom-woven mekhlas and tribal fabrics fused into new silhouettes, water hyacinth bags and rhinoceros poo paper. All within the square gaze of another government-sponsored Orissa stall right across. The MoT is in fashion, folks.
And so are small towns which nurture India’s new gene pools in entrepreneurship, ambition, innovation and trendiness. Little wonder then that Huma Qureshi’s unapologetic sexiness in Gangs of Wasseypur 2 had fashionable resonance.
The consummate Missy Messy Sexy of 2012, her untamed tresses, loose side plait, aviator sunglasses, fuchsia lips and gaudy salwar-kameezes showed what trends alone can’t: style chutzpah. Her “Phaizal” may be the “Electric piya”, but she was the livewire.
Liveliness is perhaps why Satya Paul, one of India’s oldest aunty brands, recently announced its collaboration with the young and edgy Masaba Gupta. It’s the most promising repositioning of 2012 also because it will be exciting to see how the young influences the old. That is if it really can.
My fashion bubble—real girls, going beyond bags.
u India’s top couturiers referencing street fashion. Sabyasachi creating a bike helmet-like headpiece; Tarun Tahiliani a chikankari turtleneck; JJ Valaya fluid dance clothes in woven jamawar.
u O fashionistas, give up the status handbag, it’s boring beyond belief. Try a designer walking stick if you must depend on something.
u Raw, un-Photoshopped photography; bold, dressing subcultures among the youth coaxed by avant-garde designers like Aneeth Arora, Kallol Datta, Arjun Saluja and Amit Aggarwal; gorgeous real girls on fashion magazine covers and multi-utility wedding garments overwrite my plea.