Over the years, the format of the Lakmé Fashion Week has become rather familiar to industry insiders. From the Gen Next designer showcase that starts off the event, to Day 2, earmarked as Sustainable Fashion Day, and the super glamorous grand finale (a phenomenon only seen at Indian fashion weeks) that ends with Lakmé brand ambassador Kareena Kapoor-Khan taking the runway along with models, certain shows have become a tradition for the bi-annual event.

In its latest edition (22-26 August, marking Winter/Festive 2018), the schedule stuck to its signature events, showcasing a mix of handloom labels, bridal ensemble and party season garments. Blame it on the perennial spotlight on Bollywood showstoppers and reiteration of the same silhouettes, fashion week doesn’t always score on fresh ideas. There are only so many handloom dresses and bridal lehngas one can admire without growing just a little tired.

So why do we keep going back? Despite a sense of sameness, there was plenty to love. A number of notable labels, old and new, made their debut, designers signed up for cool collaborations and new looks promised to make winter 2018 brighter. Here are the shows and trends that caught our attention.

3 ways of winter layering

What do we love most about winter? Layering, of course. But that’s easier said than done in our warm climes. That’s why this season’s layering ideas hit our sweet spot. Take cues from Rina Singh’s Eká, with its trans-seasonal style and layer warm knits over a sheer dress. For a classic pattern, try Naushad Ali’s checked jacket. And if you are feeling dressy, Abraham & Thakore’s beaten gold kimono jacket-and-pants is failsafe.

Subdued shine in the spotlight

With the season focused on festive designs, it was hardly surprising that a number of collections were about wedding and festive ensembles or party wear. But in the midst of conventionally shiny occasion wear, there was also a noticeable movement towards restrained shine inspired by vintage craft techniques. Understated shimmer made its first appearance at the showcase of AM:PM. Inspired by the world-travelling gypsy, the collection offers modern Indian silhouettes in shades like sand, tan, burgundy and forest green with eclectic prints and the horse as a hero motif. “It’s a winter-festive collection, so we have embellished with silver metal sheets," Priyanka Modi, co-founder of the label, said before the show. “We have also highlighted some designs with coloured stones, which we haven’t done before. These are not sparkling, but dark and subtle."

Another highlight was lifestyle label Good Earth, which made its fashion week debut this year with a couture line titled The Miniaturist. All the 27 ensembles in the collection were adorned with gold and silver gota. The jewellery too was crafted using gota and combined with precious stones. Created to resemble the detailing of miniature paintings, the embellishments on the garments are so intricate that each item will be made to order, in true couture tradition.

Blurring gender lines with Chola

Mumbai-based stylist and designer Sohaya Mishra picked a gender-inclusive theme for her label Chola’s new collection, Bye Felicia (a drag term for dismissing the irrelevant), dressing up models in Victorian-chic dresses, ruffled blouses and asymmetrical shirts. We spoke to Mishra on her inspirations and celebrating queer fashion. Edited excerpts.

Why did you choose to showcase this collection at fashion week?

Fashion week is as mainstream as it gets. This showcase wasn’t about being angry or aggressive, but showing the community’s happy side.

How did a collection so heavily inspired by drag fashion come about?

I watched a lot of (TV series) RuPaul’s Drag Race and it was inspiring to see how talented and happy people on the show were, though they had to go through a lot to reach this place. I also got members from the drag community to walk in the show.

Gender-neutral designs are often fluid. What made you create more structured silhouettes?

I do a lot of anti-fit clothes in general, but I didn’t particularly think of whether these designs would be for men or women. A lot of men walked for the show and they felt good about the clothes they were wearing.

How did you conceptualize the looks and accessories?

I’d told (hair stylist) Adhuna (Bhabani) about my collection and she offered to do the hair. (Mumbai-based make-up studio) Fat mu took on the make-up, while Roma Narsinghani made these headpieces and face jewellery. Drag is so much about make-up and clothes, and we wanted to bring that attitude to the ramp.

New fabrics in Indianwear

Nachiket Barve created a line of contemporary festive ensembles for his collection Millennial Maharani using R | ELan FreeFlow, a fluid new fabric, combined with beading, resham embroidery and lamé appliqué. “The easy fall, the way it travels and its lightness work well, especially for drapes and kalidar silhouettes," says Barve. “The hi-tech manufacturing marries wonderfully with the use of traditional techniques that have been fused to create design that is modern, beautiful and functional."

Rajesh Pratap Singh too showcased an Indianwear collection, Welcome To The Jungle, using Tencel. Known for his expertise with fabric engineering, Singh combined the fibre with Indian Chanderi, Banarasi, Jamdani and hand-block prints to create a line of festive ensembles that pay homage to other trends like androgyny and sports luxe.

Fashion meets branding: hits and misses

This season abounded in collections presented in association with sponsor brands ranging from accessories to drinking water. The results were mixed.

Take, for instance, Urvashi Kaur’s collection Akara. It was presented by audio brand boAt but the gadgets were mere accessories for the ensembles. Accessory brand Caprese teamed up with Nimish Shah and Arpita Mehta, and the pairing of bags and clothes didn’t always seem in sync. The lack of coherence also showed in the show where labels Kanika Goyal, Shanti and Poochki created designs inspired by drinking water brand smartwater’s core theme, “inspired by clouds".

Successful collaborations included TRESemmé hair show with Ashish Soni, who created reversible designs to compliment the hairstyles, and Amit Aggarwal’s futuristic collection inspired by the designs of automobile brand Nexa.

Handloom’s bright ideas

Designers in India employ handloom frequently now, but the focus must shift past minimal designs in order to sustain the movement.

Karishma Shahani Khan, founder of the label Ka-Sha, makes handlooms look effortlessly cool. She collaborated with women weavers to reimagine Kota Doria as bohemian separates with ruffles, polka dots and 3D appliqué. She says, “Kota is common in saris but surprisingly few other designs. This collection highlights the fabric’s sheer quality."

Designer Gunjan Jain’s innovations with Odisha weaves culminated in intricately woven saris. “I wanted to highlight the state’s Ikat, which is very distinctive from other regions," she says. “And our Tussar saris are treated to be softer and more functional."

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