Looking back and forward: Inspiration India

Whilst archiving my work as luxury editor for an Indian business newspaper I came across this one that I wrote reviewing Chanel‘s Paris:Bombay collection shown in December 2011. The article had to of course be written in suitable “journalistic” style for the newspaper, but captures many themes incredibly pertinent for issues of how design creates dialogues and practices grounded in ideas of national identity and an “intrinsic” cultural aesthetic. The aesthetic economy of India fashion now overlaps with a global regime of value where international luxury brands take inspiration from India, but also hope to capture its lucrative and growing luxury market. Inspiration India indeed!

Article available at:http://www.mydigitalfc.com/fashion-and-style/inspiration-india-635

Inspiration India

Karl Lagerfeld paid tribute to an ‘India that is an idea’

Much attention was attracted last week when Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel— the famous French design house – sent models down the catwalk in a collection named Paris-Bombay. The models were styled with elaborate tikkas cascading down their foreheads. This, said Lagerfeld, was a tribute to India. So far, so good.

He inevitably invited raised eyebrows, however, when he spoke of how inspiring he found India — where, he assured us, even poor women look good, even poor women have dignity, and even poor women will be adorned with three gold bangles. This invited rapid debate across sections of the international media, which tut-tutted at his faux pas of painting the poor as a source of fashion inspiration. But they should know better. Fashion designers of Lagerfeld’s magnitude are frequently on a different planet by default.

“India for me is an idea, I know nothing about the reality, so I have the poetic vision of something,” Lagerfeld declared. The designs shown as part of the Paris-Bombay collection were a rich expression of a coffee table book vision of India. This was a vision of imperial grandeur given a masala twist. For example, some of the models sported regal polki tikas woven into their hair, which was styled into matted locks reminiscent of wandering ascetics.

Particularly sumptuous were the jewellery pieces, which blended the signature Chanel necklace, its long chain and pearls with polki diamond pendants set in white gold. In fact, it was these pieces, coupled with the huge tikas, which most obviously signalled inspiration from India.

Other influences drawn from India in the collection were the silhouettes and drapes. Some worked and some didn’t. Some of the heavily beaded pieces on metallic drapes looked too much like over-wrought bridal wear that pervades the Indian designer market. A sherwani inspired dress suit, given a slim masculine edge, looked derivative rather than re-inventive. The use of a shocking pink on a woollen jacket seemed gaudy rather than vibrant. For someone used to the creativity of Indian designers who consistently draw upon India’s rich and diverse sartorial heritage, some of the Chanel pieces seemed a little uninspired by comparison.

Nevertheless, Lagerfeld did triumph in the way in which he made use of contrasts in unexpected materials. Rich silk sari-inspired drapery forming skirts over leather churidars were one notable feature. As was the play between a soft white mohair sweater and sharp-edged crystal beading on a full black skirt.

When the combination betw­een Indian inspired silhouettes and beading and the severe but opulent signature style of Chanel successfully came together, the large part of the collection touched upon something different. It signalled how the future of the rather tired notion of indo-western wear could be given fresh direction.

As Lagerfeld himself noted to the press afterwards, if there isn’t a modern touch, then it’s just a costume show. He also emphasised that Indian women — the kind that can buy Chanel — “always mix it with something from India, they don’t have to renounce their own style because they have a strong one, they can add something, but they always stay Indian.”

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