The Changing Seasons of Indian Fashion
Its impossible not to acknowledge the dynamic versatility of Indian fashion For decades it has managed to encapsulate the diversity and the very soul of a nation brimming with culture and traditions
It's impossible not to acknowledge the dynamic versatility of Indian fashion. For decades it has managed to encapsulate the diversity and the very soul of a nation brimming with culture and traditions.
The often-contrasting territories and their people bring about a certain uniqueness to the country, expected from the world's largest democracy. From the valleys of Kashmir to the backwaters of Kerala, there exists an intense vibrancy of languages, ethnicities, food, and fashion making India's heritage a myriad of colours, dances, costumes, tastes and stunning natural beauty.
Regional fashion has long been an integral part of the country's persona. Each state has its characteristic dresses and materials that form the local ethos. A reflection of the people, the weather, the landscapes, cloth making techniques and styles have been passed down through the generations, keeping the traditionality of the regions alive.
The juxtaposition of Indian fashion exists in perfect harmony between the conservative thoughts and the complexities of the dresses. Take the saree which is a piece of cloth sensually wrapped around the female body. In a country where even talking about sex can be taboo, the saree covers more than 1/3 of all apparel sales. It is the sheer range of the saree regarding style based on the region, the cost, and the materials that make it so accessible, even though at times it is not the easiest to wear.
India has come a long way since it refused foreign-made goods during the Quit India Movement of the 1940s. With independence, time, and expanding beliefs came a new desire to experiment with clothes. While the rural areas stayed true to the locally produced designs, a significant change came about in metropolitan cities, where fashion was considered a sign of progress.
A diversification in manufacturing was also evident and slowly but surely handmade Indian dresses were taken over by those made on machines. Increasing demand led to innovations. Machine-based manufacturing speeded up the production. As a result, consumers had a much greater variety at half the cost. Handlooms became a novelty with prices going up. Thankfully, the last three years have seen a rebirth of India's clothing heritage with emphasis placed on khadi products and a general boost to the homegrown ancient methods.
It wasn't till the late 1980s that Indian fashion finally started to make a mark on the international stage. Designers like Rohit Bal, Tarun Tahiliani, and Rina Dhaka carved a path for India as a modern fashion destination. Spearheaded by this class of out-of-the-box thinkers, a Western way of life comprising of fresh, sometimes risqué, garments became mainstream fashion.
However, it was not just the designs that stood out. Instead, it was the use of eccentric Indian materials and prints that the world noticed and valued. The perfect amalgamation of classical values and a current outlook, these designers brought about a season of change that eventually revolutionised the fashion industry as we know it.
Varying trends and an ever-increasing population in India have led to a fashion market that boasts a whopping INR 20,000 crore size. But that's peanuts when compared to the worldwide sales of apparel. Nevertheless, with approximations of a 10% growth every year, the industry is profitable and becoming a viable business. Add to this the cheap labour and the exports that have taken the "Made in India" label into some of the most prominent department and clothing stores of the world, and it's easy to see that the country is on the brink of something great.
Indian fashion, on the whole, has altered tremendously over the last two decades. It has become bolder, intricate, and no longer afraid to experiment. Social Media has been significant in this reinvention. On the one side, young influencers are confidently posting the latest in fashion on Instagram. Alongside them, trends like #lovesaree are reigniting a cross-generational affection for the national garment. This undying love for the new and the old is remarkable for the business, opening doors for entrepreneurs to start up their fashion dreams at the very base level of the industry.
This revolution is not limited to women's clothing. Men too are testing the parameters of fashion — the androgyny of style, best depicted by movie stars like Ranveer Singh who wore a "man skirt" as early as 2015 and yet again made news recently by wearing a ghagra to his wedding reception, is common among the metrosexual male. But, looking at the home-based Indian fashion, this is nothing new. Men in Rajasthan and Gujrat have long been wearing Anganrkha which has characteristics that fall straight into the flexibility of Indian dresses.
On a completely different level, weddings in India is as astronomical INR 33,000 crore industry, second onto to the US, and growing at a rate of 20% per year. Once again, fashion plays an essential part in it. Capturing the market and the rising middle class of the country, who now has the disposable income to indulge in luxury products, fashion designers have created a separate genre that focuses on elaborate and expensive wedding couture.
It is the same fashion designers who have entered the Indian film industry and completely remodelled the depiction of fashion in films. Manish Malhotra is considered as the one to make Bollywood take style seriously, giving it as much importance as the stars that turn movies into blockbusters. Unsurprisingly, as the stories got bolder and contemporary on the silver screen, depicting life in a raw, unflinching manner, the clothes followed suit.
Directors like Karan Johar with his larger-than-life characters required a particular type of fashion. He took to branded wear that his actors proudly wore while dancing around trees in Switzerland. In a classic case of life imitating film, the trends featured in his earlier films have become a norm, and branded clothing has prominently entered the Indian clothing market.
Even with the constant change that has taken place in fashion, the customary Indian dresses remain undamaged. Sarees presently feature in a new avatar, with backless cholis oozing the type of sexuality lost for a few previous generations. The lehenga is as popular now as it was when kings and queens ruled the states.
Designers and filmmakers have taken modern philosophy and merged it with the ethnicity of India's active lifestyle. This is where the exclusivity of Indian style lies, that it is as adaptable as it is sundry. As India prepares a new class of designers through its esteemed universities, we can expect the changing seasons to bring about another transmutation. One that will push the boundaries even more, while keeping the sanctity of the national heritage in place.