The India Couture Week (ICW) has always been synonymous with lehngas, anarkalis and sari gowns, with the wedding market being the key focus. While designers have often experimented with new silhouettes, like giving a new shape to the blouse or using a new textile to amp up the surface texturing, Indian couture has primarily been about the bride and groom and their extended families.
An Anamika Khanna may offer a palate cleansing line up of capes and warrior jackets and Falguni Shane Peacock may surprise with an array of cancan gowns, but beyond that it's the same sari, lehnga, bandhgala, bandi and sherwani.
Indian couture does not lack imagination, experimentation and innovation, insists designer Tarun Tahiliani. “We have a rich textile tradition and the tradition of embellishment. Few designers who tried to do very avant-garde things went out of business because it's not what people prefer to wear. They dress up with regard to our tradition,” he says. "And it's a very new market of the new rich in many cases. There is a lot of experimentation in new fabric, stretch fabrics, in crinolines, in draping. I agree, there's a lot of problem with the construction because people are trying to just laden on the embroidery, but that's equally the folly of the person who buys it."
In terms of the evolution of couture, he notes: "Couture has evolved in the last 15 years. There are many more shapes and many different kinds of embroideries and that’s what Indian couture is about. Most new silhouettes are pushed into ready-to-wear collections, even abroad. Today, when I look at the couture collections globally, about half of it looks like ready-to-wear and they're just making it in plain textiles. Sadly, there's almost nobody who could go in a plain textile to their wedding or a family wedding in India. It's not our norm and we do not need to subscribe to what people in the West do. I think our couture employs a lot many people because it follows our traditions of textile and embroidery."
Designer JJ Valaya believes that when one thinks of luxurious clothing for weddings, a major change that has happened is in menswear. "When I started my career, every groom would wear a three-piece suit. People would go to the market, pick up the fabric and get it tailored. But today that's not the case. There's not one groom who's not indulging himself, wearing absolutely wonderful in terms of an Indian silhouette, and most specifically a sherwani. What we have done is we've stuck to our roots and there's nothing wrong in that," he argues. "Experimentations are happening but in subtle ways, like the style of the blouse is changing and men's tailored sherwani is now flaunting a different cut. There's a new take on layering. New silhouettes are being tried out. But it's not that radical that one has to be a fashion editor's delight. There's so much room for tweaking it in a gentle way. One doesn't need to try hard. Evolution isn't in your face but beneath the skin."
Designer Kunal Rawal recalls when he started out men had little to no involvement in what they would wear, that someone would always come and tell them what to wear based on how you're supposed to look for a particular occasion. "Today, it’s all about finding your mould, being yourself. Now, we are entering the zone of no rules, where the man is actually interested and wants to decide what he will wear. And this change has taken a lot of work from younger designers who are pushing the market constantly," he says.
He notes that today, technology can help so much in achieving wearability by modifying the construction of the garment. "You can make it lighter, add more panels, make your fabrics and linings sweat absorbent. You can deconstruct complicated silhouettes to make them more wearable. There is so much you can do to make couture even more relevant. This aesthetic, I know without a doubt, is the future of Indian couture," he adds.
Designer Dolly J., who's also showcasing at the ongoing couture week, observes that one should always play to their strengths. “India, for eternity, has been revered for its exquisite craftsmanship and intricate embroideries. In fact, the world looks to India for embroidery detailing,” she says. "In terms of silhouettes, we are constantly evolving our designs and elevating them to meet modern standards but are also strongly rooted in our heritage."