Who’s the star of any fashion show? Is it the designer who spent months putting together a collection, hoping it will set the tone for the year ahead? Is it the model who wears those creations confidently, showcasing the silhouettes and detail in all their glory? Is it the music and the sound technicians who set the mood to bring the designer's thoughts to life? Is it the runway itself, which along with the lighting and the sets, creates the ambience?
At the four-day Lakme Fashion Week, in collaboration with the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), which concluded in Mumbai on 12 March, the only star seemed to be the celebrity showstopper. If Manish Malhotra had Ananya Panday and Aditya Roy Kapur wearing his Diffuse line (left me asking for more), Limerick had Shilpa Shetty in what looked like an ill-fitting jumpsuit-meets-catsuit. Shahin Mannan, meanwhile, brought Zeenat Aman (who recently made her Instagram debut) to the ramp in a smart, safe attire. Anushree Reddy, on the other hand, had Sushmita Sen, who's recovering from a heart attack, in a pretty but boring lehnga-choli. There was also content creator Niharika NM, making her ramp debut, in a Sameer Madan outfit that had more elements than needed.
Also read: Does a fashion show really need a celebrity showstopper?
This comes just over a month after Rahul Mishra and Gaurav Gupta showed their collections at the Paris fashion week. At a time when Indian fashion is worn on red carpets around the world, leaning on Bollywood actors or social media influencers to grab attention seems simply unnecessary. It has been over two decades since India started its annual fashion showcase, but the past four days do not reflect any of the maturity with which Indian designers' approach their craft.
It is true that it is now a must to make a sensational splash on Instagram first, and then think IRL. Internationally, too, fashion houses focus on making an Instagram statement but rarely at the expense of the clothing.
Days before the Oscar awards, for instance, Versace hosted a star-studded fashion show in Hollywood with the who’s who of industry and social media crowding the front row, which made for great Instagrammable moments. On the ramp too, were A-listers—but every one of them supermodels, from Naomi Campbell to Gigi Hadid. There could be no doubt that the Versace fall-winter 2023 show was all about the fashion.
A ramp show is not just about tagging an actor to the end, especially one who has no association with the brand or its values. The showstopper has to reflect the brand's aesthetic and story. They have to convince the consumer to buy by creating a connection with them. A fashion show has to start a conversation, spark a trend, and push the viewer, the buyer or the Instagram user to rethink about the meaning of style and fashion.
Because “Instagram PR” doesn’t take you too far. After your followers have discussed your post in their DMs and within WhatsApp groups and gossiped about which celebrity walked for which designer, they forget about the garment that was being showcased unless the clothes really did manage to create magic. Today’s consumer might have a short attention span but it’s sharp enough to tell the difference between substance and gimmick.
As I write this, I’m looking through the 50-odd collections that were presented between 9 and 12 March, and only a handful bring me joy. Anavila's play with only one piece of garment, the sari, for instance, throughout the show exhibited its timelessness and fluidity. No petticoats, no blouses, just beautiful saris that pay tribute to dabu, an ancient mud resist handblock printing technique from Rajasthan. In Hiral Jajal of Hiro, fashion inspired from a post-apocalyptic world comes alive with sharp tailoring and edgy design and style. Rudraksh Dwivedi's eco-brutalism-inspired collection makes you believe that geometric lines and handcrafted textures can give a completely different spin to classic silhouettes like fit and flare. The clean, simple designs from Chamar Studio and Bodice are a lesson in intelligent garment construction and innovative use of colours.
Such experimentation with silhouettes, or innovative play with textiles and embroidery is missing from many of the shows in the fashion week. All I find is endless lazy rounds of lehnga cholis followed boring collections of familiar co-ord sets. Where is the magic? Fashion has the potential to uplift our spirits even in the darkest moment. It can allow us to show off a new side of our personality while still being ourselves. It can be fun, liberating and exciting.
India is among the few countries that retains its strong connection to its traditional crafts, which find a place in contemporary fashion. The Indian fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar one and global brands and luxury houses are acknowledging what Indian artisans bring to the table. Unfortunately, this play of past, present and future was just not visible at our biggest fashion week.
While commercial profit is a good enough reason to stick to familiar designs and styles, it’s shouldn’t be an excuse to stop experimenting. Yes, it's important for designers to stay true to their DNA and look back at their archives to make new creations but they also need to simultaneously push their design vocabulary to make something that stands out in a market flooded with clothes.
I don't know why the Mumbai fashion week was largely unimaginative in terms of presentations. I do know that fashion and the film industry need each other, and having a showstopper helps get extra likes and clicks. But in the race to find a celebrity to close a show, we shouldn't forget that the star of any fashion show is always the clothes. The maker, the model, the set, the location, everything else, make the supporting cast.
Also read: How India has influenced Western design