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Sabyasachi Dreaming

A selection of images from Sabyasachi, Dolce and Gabbana and Aashni and Co.

Aashni and Co, the London-based destination for all that is uber cool, ultra-luxurious and cutting edge in Indian fashion is now stocking Sabyasachi headbands.

…the word ‘headband’ may conjure up images of those black velvety Alice in Wonderland numbers that frankly can look a little…prissy…and not in a good way

A Sabyasachi headband is a different kind of head-band all together

It’s really more like a tiara! When ever I’ve worn one of these beauties they simply make you feel more graceful and as though walking taller. These headbands are part of Sabyasachi’s signature look, which first started appearing as part of the styling of his catwalk collections in 2011. See the two pics below from his show at Lakme A/W Festive.

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This rich, decadent mood was also prevalent on international catwalks. In early 2012, Dolce and Gabbana‘s AW/12 Italian fantasy that borrowed from religious  imagery, Italian architecture and painting was a notable example: and headbands were also being given a new twist as ultra-covetable accessories.

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Along with the rich brocades Dolce’s headbands, were decorated with pearls and crystals rather than the traditional Indian embroidery technique of Zardosi (gold thread embroidery using beads) and the intricate flowers that are a signature of Sabyasachi’s bands. Dolce’s signature over the top styling included huge earrings and statement necklaces, whereas in Sabyasachi’s pieces the embroidered collars on the blouses were left to speak for themselves.

The very best designers sniff the winds of change, place a finger on the socio-cultural pulse so to speak, and manifest whole epochs in the small details of fashion. The Sabyasachi headband is one such example. A perfect expression of the regal, proud and patriotic mood of India resurgent expressed through a crown-like accessory replete with heritage luxury of traditional craft techniques.

Perfect when styled up to the nines with ethnic chic, I’ve also realised that one of these Sabyasachi beauties looks rather fetching with a vintage Alexander McQueen tuxedo suit in black I own. The jacket from the suit which has beautiful lace-inset detailing that curves from back to front  is pictured below, and imagine this with tapered tuxedo pants, smart black heels and a jewelled clutch, topped off with the Sabyasachi headband.

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Holy Holi: Manish Arora

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Adoring re-watching the Manish Arora fashion film, first showcased at Paris Fashion week in September 2013 which went on to win the Grand Prix at Diane Pernet’s A Shaded View on Fashion (ASVOF) film festival in Paris in October. Arora dedicated the atmospheric fashion film to the widows of Varanasi, who for the first time in 2013, broke convention that widows should wear only white and celebrated Holi. The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack is provided by the British singer Bishi Bhattacharya who also stars in the video. Kudos to her for wandering around the streets of Varanasi in towering heels and classic Arora creations such as the style of dress first seen in his AW/09-10 catwalk show, which mixed eighties Thierry Mugler style shoulder pads with exotically shimmering lions and a futuristic sci-fi sensibility yet all lent seamless composition by Arora’s gift for structured, ultra-feminine silhouettes- utter, surreal splendour…

Manish Arora AW/09-10

Manish Arora AW/09-10

Neo Drape

Swati Rao who along with Shalini Sud will be presenting a paper on the sari as Neo Drape tomorrow at the second non-Western fashion conference at the London College of Fashion, posted a rather cute video by Vogue India on the conference website here

The video (see below) features Vogue India Fashion Director Anaita Shroff Adajania talking about the constant reinvention of the sari, fusing this traditional uncut length of fabric with global trend concepts including print clashing, pairing with trousers, denim or a leather jacket and printed with just about any kind of funky design you could imagine! As Anaita says all ways in which the sari can be ‘fun, super cool and experimental’.

I am particularly taken with the sari drape and palazzo pants combo. In look two of the video the combination of the floral print Mary Katrantzou corset top and Yogesh Chaudhary printed chanderi sari, on which traditional buti-like motifs turn out on closer inspection to be hand printed Pac Man symbols is also rather beguiling.

…just goes to show how the dichotomy between ‘traditional’ clothing and ‘global fashion’ continues to produce some of the most interesting non-Western fashion.

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.”

City Retreat- The Imperial Hotel, Janpath, Delhi

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Reservation signs lined-up ready for eminent guests at The Imperial’s Spice Route restaurant.

A real retreat from the heat and noise of Delhi are its grand hotels. I love the Leela for its  opulence, the Oberoi for it’s hushed and gleaming black marble foyer and Hermes store inside, and the Taj Ambassador for the times I have spent cocooned in its apartment-sized suites soaking-up its charming 1940’s ambience or meeting friends for cocktails at its Art Deco bar straight out of a Scott Fitzgerald novel.

But I also have a special fondness for The Imperial on Janpath. From the moment I step inside there is a sense of entering another world, a story told by the walls covered with paintings and engravings steeped in the history of the Punjab. It’s linear Art Deco influenced architecture provides the backdrop to a succession of spaces, from  its iconic entrance path flanked by twenty-four palms planted when it first opened in 1945, the airy Atrium with its 1930s ambience to its lush green gardens and azure pool. Its wonderful French patisserie and range of restaurants also means its easy here to switch from a relaxed afternoon high tea to evening drinks at its 1911 bar.

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One of the private suites in the spa at The Imperial

In the rooms there are always so many special touches, from the pretty silk dressing gowns to complimentary boxes of Forest Essentials toiletries, Porthault bed linen and lovely-light filled suites with huge marble bathrooms. The hotel has been undergoing some updating so when booking ask for one of it’s newly renovated rooms.

Eliza- grand heritage

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Flying the Flag

Aquascutum and Barbour

In Brighton, India is eternally present in the Indo-Saracenic flight of fantasy that is Brighton Pavilion, an erstwhile Regent’s pleasure palace. Inspired by Mughal architecture, it stands like a footnote to fantasies of an exotic East. Its bulbous domes and spires rise amidst the bare coastal sunshine of South East England, seeming to hover like a mirage within the grounds of its restored Regency gardens.

Former stables built in the same grand style as the adjacent pavilion now house The Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, and a costume collection!  Currently there is an exhibition Fashion and the Flag, curated to celebrate the year in which Britain enjoyed a supersized jamboree of a diamond Jubilee and hosting the Olympics, it started back in the summer and ends November 25th. It’s small, around 20 pieces in all including accessories, but an interesting slice of heritage-inspired British fashion. Apart from the Barbour jacket which was made especially to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee, none of the pieces on display were created especially for 2012 or the exhibition, but represent the place of the Union Jack as an enduring reference point for designers.

It seems particularly fitting that within the spaces of the Royal Pavilion, inspired by the splendor of Mughal architecture and the taste for an imagined exotic East, that an equally exotic aesthetic is expressed through the Union Jack inspired designs. As much as anything, this collection seems to represent the way in which British fashion has absorbed the influences of sub-cultural movements and street wear so these markers of rebellion are now part of the language of luxury brands, and as much a part of heritage as the symbols of tradition which they sought to rail against.

…and the Fashion and The Flag exhibition provides much sartorial food for thought. With Union Jack inspired pieces including those by John Rocha, Alexander McQueen, Jasper Conran, Alice Temperley, Barbour, Aquascutum and Vivienne Westwood. What this exhibition is about at a more profound level is British-ness as a form of “dressing up” and the eternal preoccupation with status and belonging.

All of the designs in this small but incisive collection are about making a statement, although iconoclasm is a departure point in some whilst others are more an exercise in a very jolly sort of British patriotism- hence the Barbour and Aquascutum jackets which tick all sorts of boxes about British eccentricity. The Jasper Conran piece is suitably stately, making use of two flags to create a gown with flowing train. The Dr Martens indicate the way in which the flag once subject to punk-rebelliousness, has been appropriated back into mainstream fashion through mass market street wear.

A deconstructed flag forms part of a complexly constructed shirt by John Rocha. The accompanying exhibition label notes that Ireland-based Rocha’s Chinese and Portuguese heritage and international career, makes him well-placed to understand British fashion and design. This points to the way in which symbols of Britishness such as the Union Jack have entred a global language of contemporary fashion and commerce since the late 1970s. In turn, bombast and satire sizzles from the McQueen and Westwood designs, highlighting the alternative sub-cultural history of reinventing symbols of Britishness.

Alexander McQueen especially, played on the ideal of the artist as a unique creative genius to create and sell fashion, deliberately iconoclastic whilst building highly successful commercial business. McQueen is represented here by the knitted intarsia dress, not exactly an outré piece, but like the immensely popular knuckle-duster topped McQueen clutches, one way in which the reputation built by the high-art of his out-of-this-world catwalk creations distilled into highly marketable and covetable product.

Westwood is represented by one of her evocative draped distressed flag dresses which deploys her signature techniques of frou and tailoring. Here, punk iconoclasm merges with and then gives way to Romantic historicism; the kick of rebellion gives way to the poise of sophisticated appropriation in what has been dubbed a post-punk aesthetic.*

The one pictured here at the exhibition takes the form of a flag draped over a voluminous tutu, the folds and swathes of which suggest air and luminosity, suspending the wearer in a cloud of tulle. Westwood’s Union Jacks (made especially for her collections from silk) look hand painted and aged, suggesting ancient lineage battled out on a horse in a field somewhere; often parody literally rips through the very fabric of her designs. Her use of quintessential symbols of Britishness plays with the hierarchies of pomp, ceremony and unspoken sumptuary laws upon which they rest. Throughout, the tension Westwood creates between form and symbol underscores the “inventedness” of tradition.

Within the space of the Royal Pavillion, it is impossible to ignore the dialogue they create with this wonderful piece of Indo-sarancenic architecture. The Mughal-inspired Pavilion and Union Jacks may seem disperate, but both are seeped in the aesthetics of English heritage, provoking a sense of familiarity through the exotic.

In the splendour of the surrounding Pavilion, the Union Jack emblazoned designs feel much like an ode to an imagined exotic West.

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*See the brillant chapter by Rebecca Arnold ‘Vivienne Westwood’s Anglomania,’ in The Englishness of English Dress, Christopher Breward, Becky Conekin and Caroline Cox, eds, (Berg, 2002)

Aquascutum, Barbour and Thomas PInk all fly the flag

John Rocha’s deconstructed flag shirt

Temperley’s monochromatic flag dress

Jasper Conran

Alexander McQueen

Tutu and shift by Vivienne Westwood made in 2009

Side-view of Tutu and shift by Westwood

YSL to Saint Laurent Paris?

Burberry lost the s and Dior lost the Christian but the news that Yves Saint Laurent is unceremoniously dropping the first name of its eponymous founder does come as a bit of a surprise. Yet as the drive to rebrand old fashion houses into lucrative money spinning machines continues, a pared down brand name is considered part of the formula for success. The extent of the rebranding across product lines and difusion collections is unclear, and as yet, rather confusing.

The other twist in the YSL to Saint Laurent Paris story is of course that it comes as part of the appointment of Hedi Slimane. Its been reported in the fashion press as a bold gesture, aka the King is dead long live the King. But given the frequently short-lived relationship between designers and luxury fashion houses (popularly dubbed ‘designer musical chairs’) it’s also perhaps a smart move on the part of Slimane who knows that head honchos at luxury fashion conglomerates are rather quick to dismiss star designers who don’t quickly ramp up the bottom line. PPR’s compliance to Slimane’s terms that the name of the brand be changed, is not only a business strategy but surely something of an act of faith that PPR is in it for the long haul. changing those store fronts, packaging and media campaigns is costly business, and not something to be taken lightly. PPR must believe that Slimane can pull it off in order to hand over this kind of control.

Hedi Slimane has worked for YSL before, for five years from 1996 as  director of YSL’s men’s collections. It will be interesting to see the spin Slimane, known for his forceful reinvention of the classic men’s suit, will being to women’swear (not something he has previously been known for).

The alchemy between YSL and the newly minted Saint Laurent Paris might prove to be in Slimane’s own reinvention of the men’s suit into razor sharp, skinny cuts, coupled with the reinvention that Yves Saint Laurent brought to women’s fashion in the seventies.  Yves Saint Laurent’s masculine tailoring for his muses such as Catherine Deneuve and Bianca Jagger remain reference points for elegant, rebellious dressing. What Slimane will do in the context of the brand’s legacy but with his distinct creative vision will be interesting to watch, and clearly in the bold move of renaming the brand he has clear ideas about the direction he will take. Whether or not this risky move will pay off will be the subject of massive scrutiny as he unveils his first collection.