The Ork high commander of Sauron’s army fell in love with a shimmery space alien. Their spawn was discovered in an unlikely home—the air-conditioned tent in which designers had set up their stalls at Lakme Fashion Week (LFW).
Outlandish romances aside, designer Kanika Saluja’s “Space Age” helmet did look like something Middle Earth forged in partnership with outer space. The black egg-shaped helmet mounted by a pair of headphones covers the neck and part of the chest, extends into shoulder epaulettes with dinosaur-like spiky protuberances and is completely studded with hardware pieces.
More bang for your buck: This necklace by Ahluwalia can be dismantled and worn individually as rings, a scarf and a pendant.
Saluja, a New York-based designer, sells out of Ikram in Chicago (a boutique owned by Ikram Goldman, US First Lady Michelle Obama’s wardrobe consultant) and Henri Bendel in New York. She says the helmet is more an installation piece than an accessory, though she does admit she received two orders for it after she showcased her six-month-old accessory line at a stall at LFW earlier this month.
She’s received a lot more than two orders for her other pieces though. Her brand Anaikka has pieces that can be described as harnesses, collars, neck braces and bibs—not really run-of-the-mill accessories, but edgy eyeball grabbers and surprisingly, all very wearable.
This is a new accessories movement; an antithesis of sorts to the craze for logo-covered handbags with six-figure price tags and luxury shoes. Here, simple, everyday or bizarre materials are used to fashion bold, striking accessories. The pieces need not be pretty or even attractive; whimsical, quirky or masculine works just fine. And unlike accessories as we knew them, these pieces don’t just enhance an outfit, they are the outfit.
Nitya Arora, who creates chunky neck pieces for her label Valliyan, thinks of her accessories as the focus of the ensemble. “You decide what clothes you’re going to wear around the accessory, not vice versa,” she says. Kolkata-based accessories designer Eina Ahluwalia feels that clothes today look too homogeneous to set people apart. Her textile-based accessories allow her to make a statement that her simple dressing style does not.
Suhani Pittie, a Hyderabad-based accessories designer, sees this as a result of Indian women undergoing changes in their traditional roles, and partly as a consequence of the economic slowdown. “Most women are working and are looking to simplify their lifestyle; there’s no time to open lockers and take out precious jewellery. They’re opting for fuss-free garments with clean silhouettes. That way they can pay for one garment and totally transform it with fun accessories,” she says.
Model Bhawna Sharma, one of the fashion industry’s most experimental dressers, says she only wears crazy accessories. She sports headgear by designer Little Shilpa when she’s going out: “They’re not just hidden in my wardrobe.” Her current favourite is a brocade headpiece which falls like a corsage on the forehead. “It shows that you’re free minded. I don’t think anyone should take fashion or style too seriously,” she says.
Pradeep Hirani, founder of Kimaya, a chain of 15 stores in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Gurgaon and Dubai, says, “Fashion is all about change and renewal.” Which is probably why his brand will now be stocking Saluja’s line. The nuts and bolts on her pieces are a world removed from Kimaya’s usual offerings of crystals, feathers and satin and bling. “Clients are always looking for younger stuff filled with energy,” says Hirani. He plans to stock Anaikka at his Mehrauli store near the Qutub Minar in New Delhi, which is frequented by international travellers, and at the duty-free Kimaya store that will open soon at Terminal 3 at the Capital’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.
New body language
A new breed of accessory designers are letting go of earrings, pendants and cuffs, and choosing to highlight body parts that weren’t conventionally covered by accessories. At LFW, Shilpa Chavan’s focus was shoulders, ankles and the head. Her accessories label Little Shilpa had epaulettes featuring brightly coloured, spiky acrylic protrusions or bunches of feathers. The ankles had simple, colourful acrylic cuffs worn over white shoes and stockings. Chavan, a trained milliner, also designed headpieces that were fantasy creations in feathers and acrylic motifs; the finale piece had a city skyline recreated out of acrylic.
Next generation: (clockwise from top left) Bhawna Sharma sports a corsage headpiece by Little Shilpa; in Pittie’s latest Lakme Fashion Week collection, zippers were fused with Indian pendants; Saluja’s ‘Space Age’ helmet; and Ahluwalia’s series of tussar necklaces called ‘Chest Warmers’.
Ahluwalia’s label Breathing Space showed what she calls “chest warmers”. These are bib necklaces made of felt, a warm fabric.
Anaikka featured a Cleopatra-style collar necklace and hardware-encrusted straps which went around like a harness on the shoulders, while Pittie extended the bib necklace to create a broad U-shaped neckpiece that reached the waist.
Saluja feels Indian women are exploring their masculine sides as they grow and evolve. “Our accessories are body pieces, they wrap around the body to make the outfit,” she says.
For the designers, the materials they use are as varied as their inspirations. Pittie, who has realized that India is “in my DNA”, takes core Indian objects and jazzes them up with contemporary elements. Carved wooden blocks used in block printing, jhumkha earrings, ghunghroos (dancing bells), or thin coins used to make necklaces in south India, are the materials she has used this season, while zippers, cycle chains and hanger pins are used to funk up the Indian elements.
Chavan’s materials are even more eccentric. She draws inspiration from everyday life and the street, so it’s not unusual to find stainless steel utensils, plastic dustpans, tea strainers, children’s toys and other household items on her accessories. This season she used feathers and shapes cut out of coloured acrylic sheets.
Arora uses “everything from glass, acrylic and fabric to wood and metal. The craziest things I’ve used in a necklace are electrical plugs.”
Ahluwalia is trying to elevate India’s indigenous fabrics from the functional to the ornamental. Her latest collection has sheer silk stoles in sunset and oceanic colours, which are strung with silver pendants and shell accents to make attention-grabbing neck pieces. Similarly, gamcha patterns woven in silk with a touch of lycra are also used to thread pendants. Shibori, the Japanese art of dyeing, has been used on tussar bib-style neck pieces. They are adorned with silver embellishments. “I’ve turned it around by using silver only as an accent, instead of the focal point,” says Ahluwalia.
Saluja is inspired by industrial architecture, so her pieces have a rough, jagged-edge quality to them. Screws, nuts, bolts, scissors and cross-sections of pipes made of brass and aluminium are all sewn on to a skin-friendly base of silk or leather. Saluja also juxtaposes the fragile with the tough—a lone metal rose will bloom in a jungle of nuts and bolts, portraying something fragile stuck in a harsh environment.
Designers are also aware that their clients are looking for something which gives them more value, so creating pieces that can be multitaskers is also a focus. Ahluwalia’s pendants can be slipped off the scarves and worn on chains, or as rings. The scarves also serve as, well, scarves.
Last season Pittie put out a collection where earrings could double up as brooches, brooches could become rings, and rings also served as pendants. “If I’m paying Rs3,000 for a ring which I can also wear as a brooch, I’ll be a fan of the brand. So I believe in giving the client value.” Arora had done a collection in which her signature neck pieces can be worn even after being reversed.
WHERE AND HOW MUCH
• Anaikka by Kanika Saluja will be available at Zoya, Bandra, Mumbai, and Kimaya and Ensemble stores in Mumbai and New Delhi. Prices range from Rs4,500 to Rs20,000.
• Suhani Pittie is available at Bombay Electric, Ensemble, Muse, Aza and Zoya in Mumbai; 85 Lansdowne in Kolkata; Evoluzione and Amethyst in Chennai; Ffolio in Bangalore; and Elahe, Also, Anonym and Suhani Pittie in Hyderabad. Prices range from Rs1,000 to Rs9,000.
• Valliyan by Nitya Arora is available at Aza, Ensemble and Oaktree in Mumbai; Ensemble in New Delhi; and Anonym in Hyderabad. Prices range from Rs1,500 to Rs20,000.
• Little Shilpa by Shilpa Chavan is available at National Permit, Morjim, Goa (open from October to April); Anonym in Hyderabad; and at email@example.com. Prices start from Rs5,000.
• Breathing Space by Eina Ahluwalia is available at Ensemble, Melange, Zoya and Samsaara in Mumbai; Ensemble in New Delhi; Araliya in Pune; Anonym in Hyderabad; Amethyst in Chennai; and Weavers Studio in Kolkata. Prices range from Rs1,000 to Rs15,000.