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.

9cb93d780dea7cf86ef2e70fed7865fd sabyasachi_01

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.


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.



Holy Holi: Manish Arora


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.

The Smart Way to Socially Responsible Luxury

Images by Raju Patil for Forbes India

Social entrepreneurship and bespoke tailoring skills are brought together by Suresh and Mahesh Ramakrishnan, who with their Savile Row tailoring outfit Whitcomb and Shaftesbury, are showing that luxury can find new ways of bringing together the finest things (in this case smart bespoke suits) with socially responsible business.

Savile Row is a wellspring of creative energy stemming from its incredible heritage and the continuity of its tailoring traditions. But it is also under attack from fast fashion brands that are setting up shop on Savile Row, threatening to destroy its character. Tailors on the Row must also balance their unique heritage with the pressures of adapting to expanding markets globally.

How Savile Row rises to these challenges is a litmus test of what heritage really means, and how it can adapt to changing times in positive ways. The Ramakrishnan brothers are providing one example by doing something quite ground breaking. They are helping to preserve the continuity of bespoke tailoring skills whilst opening up the supply chain to the concept of socially responsible luxury- bringing together rehabilitation for Tsunami victims with high value added skills training. My story on their inspiring business can be seen in this month’s edition of Forbes India. CLICK…!

Beautiful simplicity

Aneeth Arora draws inspiration from local ways of dressing across India and the rich palette of regional Indian weaving traditions and crafts. Her designs and beguiling catwalk shows have drawn much attention from proponents of  “eco fashion” across the world, where her elegant take on traditional Indian textiles and crafts has struck a chord.

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Hidesign weighs in on the “It bag” stakes with eco luxury line

In 2007 there was a lot of media attention around Hidesign when French Luxury House Louis Vuitton reportedly bought a 26% stake in the Indian leather bags and accessories company, which differentiates itself though natural vegetable tanning and dying. This had the pink papers in a whirl of speculation asking the reasons behind a French luxury powerhouse investing in a relatively small leather goods manufacturer.

More eco minded pundits asked if it was LV making a strategic CSR investment to address concerns around sustainable luxury.

Others with an eye on Japan saw it as a bid to gain ground where brands such as US-based Coach were giving higher positioned brands a run for their money in Asian markets. Coach’s affordable luxury price positioning was dominating sales in department store spaces and soaking up a lucrative segment of aspirational luxury consumers. Analysts such as ESSEC’s Professor of Management Ashok Som  interpreted investment in Hidesign as a move by LV to create a brand with style and pricing that could compete with competitors like Coach in the so-called aspirational consumer market across Asia, especially in Japan.

After that not much more was heard of this investment and motives for LV’s investment in Hidesign.

When last week, almost five years on from the reported PE investment by LV, Hidesign launched its first line of designer luxury bags in Mumbai, the speculation about Hidesign being LV’s bid for a greater stake in Asian markets seemed much less tangible. Because in the meantime China became the big new luxury market for global brands and Coach ramped up its “price warrior” strategy accordingly, by 2011 gaining a reported 6% market share, raking in $300 mn in sales and expanding to 71 stores. It stayed strong in Japan with 17% market share of accessories. On the other hand Coach doesn’t have much of a presence or brand recognition in India.

For Hidesign, it now seems more relevant to talk about the importance of India as a luxury market, which is growing despite some serious infrastructural and regulatory obstacles.

Dipen Desai, brand manger at Hidesign stated that its market in India currently stands at 120 crore ($2.4 mn) annually, making up some 60% of its sales globally. Its doing well, but is keen to batten down the hatches, so to speak, with a ramped up range of luxury bags aimed at a key and growing market segment.


Hidesign has great brand recognition and is considered a homegrown Indian brand story.

Hidesign was founded by entrepreneur Dilip Kumar in 1978 and for more than two decades its sole market was international. It was only in 1999, that sensing the winds of change in liberalising India, Hidesign began expansion. By 2012 it was notching-up 60 stand-alone stores and almost 200 outlets across India. Hidesign differentiates itself on quality craftsmanship, natural tanning and dying processes. Designs often look “handmade”, with detailing such as wooden beads and laced leather seams, although its evident over collections in the past few years Hidesign is experimenting with more trend-led styling and branding.

For many women Hidesign, did and still does represent a loyal friend, symbolising the assurance of quality and the mark of middle class respectability, and most importantly it’s not too flashy therefore hitting the mark with the famous Indian middle class sensibility of thrift and inconspicuous consumption.

Brand repositioning

Yet in India, as global brand exposure is increasing and spending power rising, balance between affordable, premium and high luxury market segments has shifted enormously. Women with purchasing power to buy luxury bags are pairing Damier check Vuittons and logo patterned Fendis with salwar kameez and saris. There’s also a younger generation of brand aware consumers who brands are eyeing keenly.

In India, global luxury brands have not fared so well with apparel, which tends to be dominated by ethnic wear when it comes to big spending. Shoes and handbags however are emerging as new areas of luxury consumption for women, and many international luxury brands have stepped in with limited edition designs especially for the Indian market such as Bottega Veneta’s gold knot clutch, which retails at around 4 lakh ($8000).

Hidesign’s rationale for its new luxury range is because the Indian market is growing so rapidly, a crucial premium segment has opened up in-between the Rs 8000 ($160) average of its current lines, and the starting point of around Rs 40,000 ($800) for brands like LV and Gucci. The new premium Hidesign range is priced from Rs 8, 000 ($160) to 25, 000 ($500).

A flirtatious but classic design from the range

Its named after the Italian designer Alberto Ciaschini, who has worked for Hidesign since 2004. However this is the first time that a line has been aimed specifically at the luxury market and the first time Alberto Ciaschini name has been used in association with its branding.

Hidesign is aggressively going for the heritage stakes in a product offering which trumpets Indian craftsmanship yet uses the name of it’s Italian designer to brand it.

This may seem like a mixed message, leveraging  two different things at once. But this fits into the rather complex “mindset” of the Indian consumer. Where European brands have such cachet in India, it would seem that to compete, Hidesign are playing very safe in couching Indian craftsmanship in terms of Italian design.

The Ciaschini range is finished well with rich detailing. Bags fall into two distinct lines- firstly embroidered and beaded bags suitable for the all important Indian wedding and social events, pretty much hitting the ethnic-bling nail on the head. Secondly, day bags with detailing inspired by leaves and flowers. It would have been good to have formal options in workbags (I await the next collection)! Hidesign have undoubtedly created designs which have excellent craftsmanship and quality, especially when compared to some competitors, who offer logo printed nylon or canvas for the same price point.

Hidesign is in tune with the times, where many global luxury brands speak of a “return to values” in terms of craftsmanship, quality and less emphasis on logos after decades of mass diffusion. But Hidesign faces fierce competition from some of its international competitors, who leverage multi million dollar advertising budgets.

Hidesign will need to build on what it does best. Carving out its niche as the homegrown brand offering eco luxury bags will be a good move in the luxury bag market.

Manish Arora India Design Forum 2012

Manish Arora talks the business of fashion at India design forum 2012:

“I had to grab attention before, I had to put myself into everyones minds internationally, it’s not easy. My being the only Indian fashion designer to consecutively show 14 shows In Paris, yet I’m from a country of 1.3 billion. For me it’s very important to take India and show it to the world, the world doesn’t need another Western designer, what they need is a modern Indian designer”

 “You cannot think you can appear on page 3 and then you become a designer. Fashion is a business”. Manish Arora, India Design Forum, March 2012

Manish Arora AW12 Photo credit Pierrick Prigent for DFS

Manish Arora AW12-13

Graffiti gets the fashion treatment- Manish Arora Paris AW/12 Photo credit: Pierrick Prigent for DFS

Manish Arora AW12-13

The one white dress in the collection, with needlework bricks from which drip rich gobs of embroidery inspired by Judith Supine's mysterious street art imagery. Photo credit Pierrick Prigent for DFS

eyes without a face (1960)

Judith Supine "Eyes Without a Face"

A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork:

Judith Supine's A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork: That's the way we spell New York

Manish Arora AW12-13

Manish Arora AW12-13

Manish Arora AW12-13

Hot graffiti prints Photo credit: Pierrick Prigent for DFS

When I arrived at Le Meridien Hotel in Delhi for the phenomenal Indian Design Forum, I met Manish Arora taking a few moments outside in the sunshine before his talk. He was wearing a smart black cotton bandgala buttoned over a metallic knit jumper in a vibrant mustard colour. He commented that he has toned down the colours he wears but ramped up the metallics- it looked great.

He had just finished two shows within the space of five days in Paris. One for his own label and one for Paco Rabanne where he has been Creative Director since early 2011.

For his own label Manish Arora Paris, the show was held on the banks of the Seine. A team of graffiti artists sprayed letters on a white wall as the models walked along a catwalk in front. As the guys with spray cans worked furiously, the final line up of models was made- each one stood in front of a letter which spelled out “Life is Beautiful”. This was synchronised both in time and colour, so what each model wore synchronised with the colours and graphics of the letter they stood in front of.

For AW/12 Arora’s signature use of acid brights in vivid contrasts was given a delicious twist by his collaboration with Brooklyn based street artist Judith Supine. Supine’s grammar of ethereal urban mythological creatures often have a feminist and environmental message and were transposed to Arora’s design using embroidery or prints, lush with the richness of couture detailing.

Some embroidered pieces had a background of black velvet bricks on a black satin background creating a richly monochromatic canvas on which embroidered gobs of colour emulated the drips and smears of paint that give graffiti its visual punch. It reinforced a different direction from Arora’s previous work, much more wearable and integrating diverse influences.

The silhouettes echoed those of his own label SS/12 collection where structured lady like cuts seemed to draw inspiration from the prim elegance of classic 1950s Dior. Cocoon shaped pencil skirts and demure boleros in black were the foil for bursts of energetic colour and  texture. Because the collection was split into two distinct looks, the graffiti prints and the prints and embroideries inspired by Judith Supine’s mysterious street art, the silhouettes gave the collection as a whole an underlying unity.

At the IDF talk, which was just a few days after the show, Arora commented that his work as Creative Director for Paco Rabanne is a balance between showmanship and commerciality. This is also true of his own line. He’s grabbed attention on the international stage as the “Indian” designer; defined by exotic perceptions surrounding his country of origin- leveraging that very successfully. If you want Indian kitsch that’s what I’ll give you many of his collections seemed to shout. That has served him well, but now he has reached a level of success where paradoxically he can be far more interesting artistically by being far more commercial. The AW/12 catwalk collection showed clothes for women with an eye for the unusual rather than simply show clothes for Lady Gaga or Katy Perry.

Over at Paco Rabanne his second show as Creative Director didn’t have the wow factor of his first show, it wasnt meant to. The outré sculptural pieces which announced his arrival for the first collection, had evolved into clothes deliberately muted. As much as the first collection had been impractical this one was going for wearability and saleability. See the interview below for what he has to say on this. The design heritage of hard materials was referenced through boxy cuts but in soft leather and metallic fabrics rather than chain mail. It will be indeed be interesting to see what transpires in his third collection for the brand.

Before a packed audience at the India Design Forum in Delhi, Arora was in conversation with Priya Paul, presenting highlights of his career. Having done so much in terms of collaborations with brands ranging from Reebok to Nescafe there was plenty to discuss, as well as some of the process of being Creative Director for a famed French design house.

Highlights from the talk

PP: So what does it take to be Creative Director of Paco Rabanne?

MA: Being Creative Director means also being convincing to the team at my office! Being creative is one thing, but being Creative Director is another. That’s the difference. Creativity is there, but it’s about how you apply your creativity, and still convince everybody that you’re the right person at this point to be there

PP: Is that a difficult transition to be answerable?

It is, because I run two brands. I run two shows in Paris over five days, no other designer does that. But at the same time, it’s so enriching every day because you learn so much, and it puts you in your place.

…and in my own brand I have such freedom that sometimes it’s not right, but there I have five bosses on top of me, and I have to convince each one, in my own way, and still accomplish what I want for the show.

How do you keep these things separate, Manish Arora Brand, Fish Fry and Paco Rabanne, How do you manage to switch between these and make this happen?

It’s very simple, I live really two lives, it’s complicated, but it’s about planning well. They [the brands] are separate things and the only common person is me.

How do you transition between the two?

I finish my own show in the evening and the next morning I am in the office at Paco Rabanne.

So the reputation you have as a wild child, is not really true?

No discipline is very important. Being on time for a meeting is what makes you who you are, it’s about being disciplined.

The place, and the way the AW/ 12 show was done, seemed very casual, but you will see towards the end, the graffiti is ready ON TIME, it takes a lot of planning to do this.

Do you think you’ve toned down your palette?

I haven’t toned down my palette but I’ve adapted it. Its one thing to have fun, but it’s about selling too. Its doing what I believe in and getting buyers as well. Its tough but I’m on my way!

Your designs are beautiful but not everyone could wear a circus dress so there’s the need to adapt for a wider audience?

I had to grab attention before, I had to put myself into everyones minds internationally, it’s not easy. My being the only Indian fashion designer to consecutively show 14 shows In Paris, yet I’m from a country of 1.3 billion. For me it’s very important to take India and show it to the world, the world doesn’t need another Western designer, what they need is a modern Indian designer.

So how do you achieve that?

I use Indian craftsmanship to my advantage, but my imagery it’s very modern, for me it’s about modernising India, not Westernising India.

I’m trying to make Paco Rabanne, for the first show it was all about making news, and we did it very well now second show was where I’ve made news, now lets sell! The collection was about selling!

The third show will express the right balance between both, that will be my aim for the next collection, between the experimental and the commercial. I cannot make something all in metal, I have to make clothes for the modern woman who needs clothes that can go from the office to after work.

Turning metal into fabric is the biggest challenge, either to change or to use the just the right amount, just that amount that it’s still believable. It’s very difficult to make it relevant for now, it’s a big challenge.

What do you think would be the lessons for Indian designers?

You have to believe in your own design identity, and then you have to stick to it! And keep on at it until people believe in you. Fashion sometimes is not a job, and it’s more about being a star, and for me it’s not that, fashion is a job like being a lawyer. You cannot think you can appear on page 3 and then you become a designer. Fashion is a business.

Brewing up a storm with Masala Tee

…see my latest article in Financial Chronicle

No doubt as an academic what I’m supposed to now write is an ‘insightful’ analysis of how images of nationhood and femininity, refracted over the past few decades through the lens of Bollywood (and most recently in its craze for hyper nostalgic, retro-laden films) have been interpreted here on the tee’s… and how this kind of imagery is part of a rich and ongoing process of redefining traditional idioms of Indian-ness in terms of modern cultural identity. Well that’s one way to swing it…but equally important to talk about, is the energy Sheika and Noe bring to this small but beautifully formed socially responsible brand, based in Delhi. They face the challenges of any small ethical business; how to source consistently good organic cotton whilst ensuring the integrity of the supply chain, how to do a lot with small resources and whilst running the business themselves and how to market their concept. They do all of this rather well, and the brand is consistently attention grabbing, playful and inventive in its use of bold graphics (with the obvious visual references to both Warhol and Bollywood), as well as its honing of social media to market and create a global community around Masala Tee’s charitable work with children in Delhi, which is a central focus for Sheika and Noe.

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 was Continue reading

Samant Chauhan at VHMFW 2010- tussah silk and chrome free leather

On the first day of Van Heusen Men’s Fashion week at the Grand Hotel in Delhi, Samant Chauhan showed a strong collection based on the concept of the psyche of the serial killer. When he first called me a couple of weeks before the show to talk about this I couldn’t exactly see how such a harrowing theme could be interpreted as a catwalk collection, it both bemused and perplexed me. Taking such a theme as inspiration for a fashion collection might raise eyebrows, but Samant seemed with this collection to be less concerned with fashion as commerce and more with fashion as art, and thus presented a collection that as with some art, sets out to shock and challenge the acceptable boundaries of taste and provide social commentary by asking us to reflect upon our reactions to subjects that are disturbing and taboo. As Samant explained to me, he is also keen to take eco fashion out of the box of cliched images of “back to nature”.

The show itself began with a sound clip from Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange and followed with a score reminiscent of the thriller scenes from Psycho. The actual feel of the show was dark and foreboding, with models masked in strange and menacing masks, their bodies bound at times with leather. This gave the collection the aesthetic of bondage, creating a claustrophobic feel and underscoring the menace, were they bound in service to the psychological pleasure of restraint or to restrain them from their dark, psychotic pleasure in killing? In this warped world the boundaries between pleasure and violence were entirely blurred.

Some pieces seemed to have less clarity in terms of the overall concept, the crushed jackets and wide skirts with heavy biker boots seemed more like the cliched stylisation of a post-apocalyptic movie. If the over-riding link between the concept behind the collection and its realisation in the clothes themselves was “killers in disguise” then I think the most successful pieces were those that made the models look more like spies. The styling of these ensembles made me think of Patricia Highsmith’s most famous character Tom Ripley. In the “Ripliad” novels the mercurial sometimes spy, sometimes hit man Ripley is given moral ambiguity by the way in which Highsmith asks us to judge, in consequentialist terms, the rightness of his actions in the context of revenge or justice. I always feel that she partly underscores sympathy for Ripley through Continue reading