For 15 years, the India Couture Week (ICW) has offered a platform to couturiers to showcase their interpretations of the country’s craftsmanship and offer newer design elements, allowing them to shape trends in the couture and bespoke space. From the bandhgala to the anarkali, the couture week has seen differing interpretations of bespoke wear. With a 10-day ICW showcase set to begin on 22 July in Delhi to mark the platform’s 15th anniversary, we look at 15 ways in which the ICW has defined India’s haute couture.
It wouldn’t be a couture season without high-octane shine from labels like Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna and Monisha Jaising experimenting with surface texturing in the form of sequins and beads. More couturiers are now finding ways to include chainmail fabrics in garments, exuding sparkle without compromising wearability. “Shine and India go hand in hand,” says Rahul Khanna.
Feathers have become as significant in India as zardozi. Designer duo Falguni and Shane Peacock have been building on the feather narrative for years, as have Manish Malhotra and Ridhi Mehra. “Feathers have become a signature element for us,” says Shane Peacock. “Right from application on blouses, shoulders, bottoms, to the use of spotted feathers or working on feathery frocks, we have used them in every form.”
The anarkali is arguably the heart of India’s couture lexicon. Comprising a long, frock-style top in varying lengths, it’s a garment that has been presented in different forms by designers like Tarun Tahiliani and Manish Malhotra. But it’s Rohit Bal who pioneered the timeless anarkali in an array of silhouettes—floor-length, jacket-style, cape-like and layered.
Over the years, designers have experimented with the classic warrior jacket, making it reversible, embroidering it, altering shape to make it contemporary. One that stands out in memory is J.J. Valaya’s hand-embroidered Alika, conceived in 2011. Talking about it, Valaya says, “It’s a versatile, timeless piece not affected by fads, which explains its popularity.”
Sometimes taking the shape of harem pants and at other times reminding one of Jodhpur breeches, dhoti pants have time and again lent themselves to myriad interpretations, across genders. Designer Anamika Khanna has paired them with her statement capes in several collections, while Raghavendra Rathore has presented them with classic bandhgalas.
It is perhaps one of the most beautiful forms of embroidery—one that designers like Tahiliani, Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla and Faraz Manan go back to time and time again. And why not? There’s a reason chikankari is called the ultimate form of Indian craftsmanship.
While zardozi originated in Persia, it has been the beating heart of Indian couture, with designers like Ritu Kumar and Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla experimenting with metallic threads on achkans, sherwanis and bandi jackets. With embroidered blooms, foliage and trees, animals and birds, the craft has enriched Indian couture and bridal wear with its sheen.
The classic kurti has undergone many changes but its place in couture is undeniable. While the basic tunic has the same structure, you will see it with the Chinese collar or the Nehru one. Internationally, it has morphed into a tunic or shirt-dress; in India, it tends to be worn with churidars or jeans. Among the most noteworthy iterations was Monisha Jaising’s. She reinvented it in chiffon, embroidering it with diamanté and Swarovski.
Angarakha, which evolved from the Persian cape balaba or chapkan, has been imbued with an Indian flavour by designers like Anju Modi. Modi has presented it in tussar silk and styled it with chanderi kurtas and crinkled skirts.
Ek taar kaam, embroidery with shimmering elements using a single running thread, is among the finest techniques. Over the years, Anju Modi has made it a core part of her creations. “It’s among the gorgeous arts to have emerged out of Kashmir. We need to celebrate it more to support its artisans,” she says.
The bandhgala is considered an expression of our 6,000-year-old costume legacy. Raghavendra Rathore has tirelessly tried to modernise and refine the Jodhpuri bandhgala silhouette, presenting it in silk, cotton, linen velvet and wool, making it a must-have in every man’s closet.
A hybrid between a sari and a dress—the pre-stitched sari gown marries the structure of the column-like gown with sari drapes. They come embroidered, textured and feathered, as seen in the collections of Amit Aggarwal and Gaurav Gupta.
Research shows the drape can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. But it is Tahiliani who has celebrated the art of draping in a big way. From his concept saris to draped kaftans and jumpsuits, he has given it a contemporary touch.
Appliqué, or surface texturing, has been refined and redefined. While Rahul Mishra has often flirted with butterfly and bloom motifs on his coats and gowns, Pankaj and Nidhi are known for sheathing their easy breezy separates with silk organza petals and leaves. The art of appliqué gains strength with every season as 3D embroidery techniques are amped up to inject heightened drama.
Anamika Khanna has single-handedly put the spotlight on the statement cape by teaming it with dhoti pants and boots. While these capes may look floaty and whimsical, they come to life after months of ideation and handwork.
Manish Mishra is a fashion journalist and a digital creator.