Quiet would be the word that best describes Shahab Durazi. Whether it’s his designs, the runway shows he does or the way he carries himself, subtle elegance comes first. At his show on Day 2 of the ongoing FDCI x Lakmé Fashion Week on 12 October—when he returned to the runway after 12 years—models showcased his line of 40 pieces without twirling, posturing or pageantry. It was couture as couture should be, with the focus on the garments, the craft and the designer.
Durazi, known for his exceptional tailoring skills, elegant designs and strong opinions (a rarity in the Indian fashion industry), had decided to stay away from the spotlight and the chaos of live shows. “Sunil Sethi (the head of FDCI, or Fashion Design Council of India) convinced me to return. People thought I stopped working,” the 60-year-old designer laughs, when we speak the next morning at the Jio Convention Centre in Mumbai, where the fashion week has been under way since 11 October. “I was always here, designing, selling. I have been here for 34 years,” he says. “But yes, I stopped doing ramp shows because it was getting exhausting…making clothes again and again for the sake of a fashion show. Plus, the presence of Bollywood was making the (fashion) industry a toxic place."
He’s referring to the concept of the celebrity showstopper, an idea he introduced, in fact, in the 1990s when, in collaboration with the watch brand Longines, he presented a collection with Aishwarya Rai walking the ramp. This set off the trend of every show ending with the designer walking arm-in arm with a Bollywood celebrity—and it reached a point where the audience would wait for the photo-flash moment with the showstopper rather than focus on the designer’s work. “People should come to a show just for the clothes,” he says. “The designer should be responsible for his craft, not the celeb face he brings.”
Since he launched his eponymous brand in 1988, Durazi’s strong tailoring, elegant silhouettes and accent on black and white have been shaping Western wear for the Indian woman—and it was no different at his most recent show. He works without a publicity or social media team, in an industry where Instagram has become a preferred choice for launches. “Even as a kid, he was a very shy person,” his fraternal twin, Shakil, tells me before the start of his show. “I was the sports guy. He was the quiet, simple, creative guy.”
Black and white remains his favourite, his “comfort and confidence” in a world obsessed with and bling. “In India, we need to take couture more seriously. Bridal wear is not couture. In a sea of lehngas and celebrity presence, we have forgotten what Indian fashion should be,” he says.
As DJ Matteo Ceccarini played, models showcased a variety of silhouettes, from long to short dresses, tuxedos to boleros. Durazi played with shades of black and white, all elevated by intricate beadwork, zardozi resham embroidery, cutwork, appliqué with organza, ribbonwork and glass beads. The tailoring was seamless, marrying French Renaissance art and Rococo. Each ensemble was a stunning piece of art, proving that luxury can live in subtlety, and that Indian couture can do this. A simple pair of black trousers, for instance, shone like the night sky. They had been embellished with micro-cut Czech glass beads.
It’s not the kind of couture we have become used to—10-panel lehngas, bright colours, over-the-top embellishment. His message is clear: Couture needs to be about big ideas delivered through clever designs. “You must know where to stop,” he says. “It has to be glamorous but quiet.”