One would be forgiven if they left the India Couture Week 2018 unable to tell couture apart from bridalwear. Over five days at the Taj Palace in Delhi, where the 11th edition of the annual couture extravaganza took place, most designers focused on bridal ensembles and occasion wear. There was some effort towards lighter silhouettes, understated colours and bold surface engineering. But was it enough?

With the bride and her entourage on the minds of every designer, the air was heavy with palatial references, floral motifs and the romance of bygone days. Anju Modi took a Victorian detour for her collection, including white wedding gowns. Pallavi Jaikishan reinvented some of her archival designs while fairy-tale princesses seemed to be on the minds of Shyamal and Bhumika, who showcased tiered lehengas and trailing gowns.

Suneet Varma, ever a maximalist, incorporated mirrorwork, ruffles and glittering patterns in his collection. Falguni and Shane Peacock too leaned towards high-shine glamour with metallic textures and feathers. For the final show, Rohit Bal revisited his signature palette of ivory, black and reds, creating lehengas and gowns layered with capes, and jackets with embroidered flamingos, poppies, tulips and peonies that resembled Renaissance period paintings.

The challenge with Indian couture is this: much of it is extremely ornate and embellished, but little else. Designers naturally emphasize on the subcontinent’s rich textile and crafts traditions, but this forte can also be a weakness. There are however attempts to break out of the mould. Tarun Tahiliani showcased bridal and occasion wear, but made a visible shift towards weightlessness with fabrics like sheer silk, resham, Bandhini and tulle. Rahul Mishra, who only showcases couture in India now, showed how a collection heavy on embroidery and 3D detailing can be restrained. Amit Aggarwal made a case for experimental design, combining lace and ari embroidery with cording, and industrial polymer to create unconventional saris and lehengas, as well as suits and dresses (see sidebar).

Internationally, couture today finds inspiration in minimalism, humour, current affairs and street-style trends, with ornate pieces sharing the runway with functional designs. Indian couture seems confined to a framework of festive ensembles. It offers glimpses of brilliance, but there’s ample room for experimental, forward-thinking design.

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