Indian designers define new-age new-age couture ahead of festive and wedding season
We talk to India’s leading couturiers on how a shift in choices pertaining to innovation, sustainability, functionality, comfort and more is shaping couture of today
The world dates the history of couture back to 1858 when English couturier Charles Fredrick Worth established the first haute couture house in Paris. He mastered luxury fashion that was exclusively crafted for the upper class. Soon, the term haute couture was coined in 1908 to define the craft of ‘high dressmaking’ in French. By 1945, a body of Parisian couturiers named The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture were engaged in rigidly defining what exclusively comes in haute couture fashion by laying certain specifications.
It said that only those houses can be deemed as couture labels whose designs are made-to-order for private clients, where each atelier has more than 20 staff members and creates at least one collection per season with 35 runway looks in both daytime and evening wear. With the bar set fairly high, the world has meanwhile been discovering new ways to identify and individualise the concept of couture.
Back in the Indian subcontinent, the region is already abreast with the culture of high-dressmaking since time immemorial. Take for instance the couture cultures in the Medieval age (700 AD-1857AD). For Mughal aristocracy, velvet and silk were part of ceremonial savoir-faire. For the Rajputs, the royal ensembles included bejewelled pagdis(headress), embroidered angarkhi (short jackets) and ghaghra-cholis (bright flared skirts with intricate embroidery work.) In the Deccan, the Nizams of Hyderabad patronised achkan, sherwani, dastkar and anarkali suits meshed with zari and brocade work.
Meanwhile, the Nawabs of Awadh who came from Persia were connoisseurs of fine fabrics like mulmul and velvet. They patronised zardosi and chikankari work for their opulent robes, tunics and jackets. Like that, every cultural influence in the Indian subcontinent had contributed to the weaving of its couture culture. That makes the region a sumptuous laboratory of experimentation with variegated weaves, styles, embroideries, sartorial innovation and craftsmanship.
In the present time, this elaborate display of fine dressmaking comes out in full splendour during the Indian festive and wedding season. At that time, the Indian buyer wakes up to the glittery line-up of occasions with dreams, and fantasies to dress to the nines. Corresponding to that, the designers sync their design vision with new age demands. We talk to the ace couturiers of India to understand the heart of Indian buyers. They tell us how they are factoring in innovation, creative storytelling, sustainability, functionality, comfort and aspects such as mindful spending which is proving to be a breakthrough moment for Indian couture that is evolving in tandem with the demand.
“After the pandemic, people have developed an inclination toward clothing that holds values of cultural heritage, social responsibility and longevity of design. They’re more conscious of the impact fashion makes on the environment and how it may enable employment and engagement for communities around the world. And beyond all that, we’ve learned to value our personal relationships and moments together, more during the pandemic. This enables the consumer to want to invest in luxury that is mindful, and sustainable and that will stay relevant in their wardrobe for years to come. The consumer expects from couture, the likeness of their family heirlooms, and they wish for it to become a part of their personal moments. At my label, we intend to design clothing that is classic, versatile and touches the values of art just as much as it does fashion. So in our experiences with the buyers, we’ve observed that there are less frivolous buys in couture and more well-researched investments after the pandemic. In terms of innovation, it is a very exciting time for fashion around the world right now. With more and more Indian brands reaching new markets recently, and the foray of strategic investments by conglomerates, there is a new inflow of resources that we’re experiencing. Fashion and technology go hand-in-hand, and there is so much to pick up from around the world. We have designers exploring optic fibre and mushroom leather alongside 3-D printing and virtual fashion. We have ongoing research in several domains in this regard and there is a lot more to watch.”
“I feel the couture has not evolved, it’s the choices of the people that have led to new trends. Previously couture was seen as a theatre ensemble where people loved to appreciate it but thought twice to wear it around spaces. In simple words, it was only for the niche luxury market. Currently, the scenario is entirely different, where couture is about being able to meet every single customer’s needs rather than just catering to a certain class. It is all about practicality combined with trends and sustainability. Moreover, with India being the cradle of perhaps the earliest civilisations, it has embraced various cultural influences. Time and again, it has honoured the rich traditional crafts with a dazzling array of styles, shades and designs that have left people spellbound with couture.”
“India’s couture sensibilities are very different from international couture. For other countries, couture is just about the product and its craftsmanship whereas in India, we associate our feelings, rituals, heritage and life altering events like nuptials with it. Since our couture is more around weddings, any changes in the style of weddings will influence couture choices here in India. For instance, after the pandemic, weddings have become more intimate. So now brides are looking at bridal couture as a lifetime investment. Also, couture is more about the bride now than the entire family’s opinion on costumes. Yes the family is consulted but the bride has taken full charge of what she wishes to wear and has a vision in her mind. She prefers something that she can treasure for her lifetime, has a heritage value, is sustainable, stylish and yet can be passed on to the next generation. So in totality, Indian couture encapsulates the feeling of nostalgia and value of emotions that transcend generations. It’s more than just a product for us. It’s a keepsake of time, tradition, hierloom and values. Also I feel, since the charm of weddings will never fade in India, couture in India will survive the test of time despite unprecedented changes.”
Rohit Gandhi & Rahul Khanna
“After the pandemic, everyone has become more conscious in terms of what they buy. We believe everyone keeps comfort as their priority now. With events and weddings becoming more intimate, the bride and groom want outfits that they are comfortable in. Moreover, people are more accepting of newer styles and designs. They come to us with a specific vision in their mind about how they wish to dress for a certain occasion. This is enabling a lot of scope for experimentation.”
Pankaj & Nidhi
“Indian couture has always been synonymous with grandeur. In recent years, its definition has evolved in terms of social, cultural and environmental consciousness. Designers are making progressive strides and catering to people’s desire for being sustainable in their production process while incorporating individualistic styles and comfort in their designs. At the same time, they are unwavering on Indian couture’s experimental progression and unparalleled artistry in the process. Today, Indian couture is no longer confined to traditional bridal wear. As the younger generation is entering the market and gaining wider exposure to global trends, experimental designs are becoming valued. Innovation is leading the paradigm shift in the country’s luxury industry, and there is a longing for uniqueness. Catering to new age demands, designers are working with avant-garde styles while being rooted in Indian culture.”