The past decade has seen a gradual shift from "wedding wear and trousseau," which masqueraded as "Indian couture," to "haute couture" as the world knows it. Among the voluminous and heavily embroidered lehengas, there are also silhouettes and styles that go beyond the Indian trousseau. With the millennial taste biased toward a utilitarian sensibility, the couture has been stripped down to the basics ï¿½ wearable, customised and timeless.
Sunil Sethi, President of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), is credited with making fashion the burgeoning segment that we see today by spearheading fashion weeks and working endlessly for the revival of textiles and crafts. He also known to barter peace among foes in the business. Courtesy the recently concluded India Couture Week, 2019 IANS Life spoke to Sethi about all things "couture".
"The couture shift is not something new, the transition has been gradual and steady since 2008," says Sethi. " We have had designers like Ashish Soni and Monisha Jaisingh showcasing gowns and contemporary silhouettes in couture since 2008. Designer Shahab Durazi made moves to contemporise the market in 2010," he adds.
But maturity, according to Sethi, comes with time and so it's only in the last three decades or so that the fashion industry has formalised itself. "It is attempting to age gracefully. More and more designers are experimenting with silhouettes, textiles, embroidery and surface embellishments and introducing modern ethos to traditional craftsmanship," says the FDCI head.
"Today we've got Amit Aggarwal, Gaurav Gupta and Pankaj & Nidhi, who fashion modern couture in their own unique ways. They have an entirely different representation of it. Rahul Mishra has never aligned himself to bling, but that never meant and still does not mean that his ensembles are not rich and luxurious," he insists.
So for a few veterans who prefer to experiment marginally what does Sethi have to say? "There are still some names in the couture space who prefer to stick to their design graph and fortunately they have a steady following of clients who are loyal to them for that very reason. For them if it ain't broke, why fix it? And more power to them. One can't begrudge them or the bridal market and these are names that must be appreciated for standing the test of time and building a legacy for themselves," explains the industry leader.
Is the couture space, where it's never easy to build a brand but some seem to succeed while others can't hold on to the success they achieved, ruled by talent, hard work or plain luck? "Some names are legacies because the customer only wants what their signature style is, even over the years. There is no lack of talentï¿½ it is just while the cash registers keep ringing and there are repeat customers, collections will cater to their needs. I doubt if these labels will change, maybe they will add a few lines. But everyone must be prepared to take on the market. If they don't show, a pret collection every 3-4 months plus a couture line, they are aware that the sales charts may dip. The prices at which they retail their pret lines is important. It helps reach the masses and build a brand. But when it comes to couture the more exclusive you are even with big stores in 2 or 3 major cities, the more clients you will draw. But to show things from the past, everyone knows the market is unforgiving," he replied.
Sethi, who recently travelled to Bhutan for a "hush hush project", reveals that couture has very specific rules and qualifications. For instance, its members are selected by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and is it not a free for all, not when Indian Couture is not even clearly defined.
"We all know that haute couture has specific qualifications, but in terms of India's couture, the future is very bright and promising. Mix is the future of Indian couture. The silhouettes may tend to be traditional, but there is experimenting with colours and textiles. Couture is no longer being dictated by the Indian bride, but it is catering to the modern Indian customer. Today Indians may get married more than once, go to hundreds of parties, red carpet events and are invited to numerous occasions where they chose to wear their Indian couture. There is this concept of overconfidence, and the customer knows exactly what he/she wants," replied the veteran, who is known for his own elegant style.
Celebrities and the social media influence young Indians to a large extent, but millennials are known to have a mind of their own. How can a designer navigate this juxtaposition? "Contemporary customers want to make couture bespoke as to what they dream of. What you see is not what you buy today, it's how you tweak it and customise it to cater to a client's preference. Paris haute couture is still a far fetched dream for us, but there is no one else in sight and Indians can take on anyone or anything. We are one of the leading couture weeks in the world and with a rock steady ambition, high quality and creative designers, we can aim to get there," he said.
All in all, customisation is the key to Indian couture paving the way for some of its brightest stars to be coined as "haute-couture" some time in the future.