From India to Japan With Love…

Shibori dyed jacket and oh so sinuous trousers


This was Narendra Kumar’s tenth year as a designer and his show at August 2010 VHMFW was a celebration of this, centred around a recent extended trip to Japan. Here Kumar had taken his inspiration from the Japanese Samurai, with particular influence from Kurosawa’s 1980 classic “Kagemusha” (Shadow Warrior). The show opened with a hazy vortex of red light from which emerged a troupe of Japanese martial artists who came onto the catwalk in formation and bowed as one to the audience. Underscored by a modulated drumbeat, the models then walked very slowly for a catwalk show, they wore traditional Japanese wooden Geta (a rigid platform clog), which made their movements a little stiff and cautious (notice for the final line-up they all came out bare foot- those stiff wooden clogs just weren’t working). There were 34 ensembles in all, models in sharp suits cut straight as arrows in metallic fabrics, contrasted to other models dressed in flowing kimono sleeved jackets and trousers which flared out in wide sinuous, swathes of fabric. The effect of these flared and flowing cuts wasmajestic, soft, yet eminently sexy, all these contradictions making for a brilliant play between the structured and unstructured that gives a new form to formal or smart menswear; which usually stays within the straight lined confines of conventionally tailored suits, or the smart casual flirtation with softer versions of this basic template.

The audience collectively clapped in approval as models came onto the catwalk wearing formal shirts given a completely different life sans collar and with fluid folds of fabric forming scarf-like drapes around the neck. I think this could be interpreted as a sari draping influence coming into men’s’ fashion and in a completely unexpected way. In contrast to this soft fluidity, there were jackets whose steely metallic and sharp cuts were pushed to the boundaries with detailing in the form of an asymmetric razors edge of a lapel which NK later said was a reference to the shape and power of the Samurai sword. (I will never cease to love designers and their imaginative reinterpretations of element and form).

Even though the Samurai influenced silhouette was so radically different from the sharp suits cut to a hair’s breadth of the body, the collection felt very holistic, perhaps due to the monochromatic palette as well as the excellence of cut and detailing such as embroidery on some of the jackets- and maybe because the play between fluid drapes and structured metallic’s made such sense somehow.

At the after show press conference Kumar noted how part of the collection was dyed using natural, herbal dyes working with a community based organization of slum dwellers in Mumbai who have learnt traditional Japanese Shibori dyeing techniques as part of a project to create sustainable livelihoods. One of the journalists joked, perhaps the show called could be called “…from India to Japan with love”. This was a fresh perspective on contemporary Indian design, looking towards the wider Asian region, as many designers in Indian currently are, for design inspiration.

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