Indulge 14th Anniversary Special: How the pandemic changed fashion for Chennai!
The lockdowns changed the way Chennai looked at fashion and purchasing patterns led to a reinvention of sorts. We track the hottest trends that defined the city’s fashion scene
Renowned French haute couture and prêt-a-porter fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier decided to present his last ever couture collection with a runway that was a celebration of sustainability in 2020. Ever since, the buzz words that have driven most designers globally have been upcycling, sustainable fashion, slow fashion and more recently capsule edits. These conscious moves towards a more eco-friendly fashion industry have been celebrated the world over by responsible designers and conscious consumers, and many designers in India have also jumped onto the bandwagon. Brands like Nicobar and Anavila have upped the ante and are now focusing on whole collections that are sustainable and eco-friendly, from fibre to completed fabric. Other trends that popped up during the pandemic were the switch from couture to loungewear, or rather a sort of fading from one into another and slow fashion. Globally, we know of brands like Juicy Couture that focus on fashionable loungewear; but the pandemic also saw brands in India like Ritu Kumar, for instance, that launched Label Basics in April, earlier this year, focusing solely on fuss-free dresses, relaxed bottoms and, easy-to-wear co-ordinated sets in muted colours which could be worn for virtual meetings.
This shift has been felt all across the world and has found its way into the Chennai fashion scenario too. We catch up with a few popular designers from the city to see how the pandemic nudged them into slow fashion, loungewear and capsule edits — for better or for worse.
The capsule edit trended globally during the pandemic and why not? It allowed for designers to make smaller edits with a fewer garments and more often than not, this led to an assurance of the pieces being bought. “The pandemic forced us to rethink the way we viewed our collections. Initially, we were forced to do smaller collections as stores were being shut and most people were going online to buy, but as we settled in we realised that it actually allowed us to put out smaller, more sustainable collections, more often and most people were willing to shop, irrespective of how close the release of each edit was,” explains Kaveri Lalchand, owner of the eponymous label Kaveri.
“A capsule edit just makes more sense these days. There’s a better chance it will get sold and also you’re giving the consumer a smaller number of clothes to focus on. Plus, you’re able to create edits in time and reflect the requirements of your clientele. We used to do big collections of 40-50 pieces before the pandemic hit, but now we’re doing a more focused 10-12 piece capsule edit,” agrees designer Vivek Karunakaran who helms his own eponymous label.
Designer Ashwin Thiyagarajan, who runs an eponymous label in the city however says, “I’ve always done capsule edits, it’s not a new trend for me. My smaller collections really seem to make a bigger mark on my clientele. I recently launched a capsule edit of banarasi kurtas, just six, and it got a lot of traction. I mostly cater to brides and grooms and the pandemic hasn’t really had an impact on that clientele to a large extent. The number of weddings has definitely reduced and the number of events at each wedding might now be reduced to five or six, but we’re still surviving and I’m sure we’ll bounce back soon.”
Another big trend that popped up in Chennai was a switch from couture to loungewear, a section that most serious couturiers avoided with a bargepole. The trend was based on the need of the hour and while a lot of designers felt pressured to switch, many chose to stay far away from it. The trend also allowed many designers to experiment with more sustainable fabrics that were better for the environment.
“I’ve always been a bespoke designer and my collections are never seasonal. My clientele therefore approaches me when they want something from me that is uniquely me. The pandemic however saw a sudden change in purchasing patterns and I was suddenly asked by many of my most loyal clients to create loungewear pieces for them. I initially hesitated, but then said to myself that I could do this by adding my own element of couture into it. I thus created bespoke loungewear collections in premium sustainable fabrics that could also be used outside the house,” explains designer Shilpa Vummiti, who helms her own eponymous label.
“My clothes have always been about comfort that is also fashionable. The pandemic gave me the opportunity to release a whole new section of co-ord sets in sustainable linen that could be worn both at home and outside and I think, looking at how popular it got, it will remain as a mainstay with the label,” adds Kaveri.
Designer Rehane Yavar Dhala, who helms the label Rehane, however, predicts a big change soon. “The days of loungewear being accepted outside the house are soon to end and I predict that by the end of the year, the focus will shift back to bodycon and figure hugging silhouettes. This trend was long due as we’ve seen a whole decade of body positivity and acceptance lead up to more comfortable fashion for all sizes. But, people are looking after their physiques and hitting the gym with revenge post the pandemic lockdowns and so, I really think the loungewear phase will die a death soon,” avers the couturier.
Taking it slow
The last trend that we tracked was slow fashion with a twist, where designers attempted to recreate or refurbish their own pieces, when requested by their clientele. A surge in these numbers across labels reflected a change in buying patterns and echoed the need for more conscious buying.
“We’ve always been repurposing our garments for quite some time now and I’ve always been influenced by my mom who repurposes almost everything she wears. I’ve had clients coming to us with requests for a repurposing of an anarkali that we made into a set of trousers and also into a crop top. It’s normal for us,” explains upcoming designer Suresh Menon, who helms his own eponymous label.
“This is normal for someone like me. I love it when people come back to me with one of my old garments and ask me to reimagine it, repurpose it, refurbish it — call it what you want, but it gives me a high, as I see it as a living testimony to the garment and its quality. You must really like what you bought from me to want it to be repurposed, just so you can continue to wear it, no?” enthuses designer Chaitanya Rao, who also helms his own eponymous label.
“There was definitely a surge in the number of requests for the repurposing of old heritage saris and it was absolutely fun to work on some of those requests. But is it a trend, will it continue being a popular thing? I guess as long as people want to wear their favourite clothes, albeit with a more contemporary twist — this demand will stay intact,” concludes Rehane.