As a 21-year-old aspiring business journalist in India on a gap year, I found myself in Goa to attend a fashion show. It was the mid 1990s. About 200 top clients of multi-designer store Ensemble were flown in for a sit-down dinner, with a beachside fashion show unfolding on the side. The presentation opened with Monisha Jaising and included the likes of Rohit Bal, and Meera and Muzaffar Ali. It might sound like a cliché but that evening changed my life forever.
Ensemble Mumbai was, at the time, a store every up and coming Indian designer aspired to retail from, and where the rich and fashion-conscious went to shop.
On track to finish my master’s degree in international journalism, the beachside weekend was a much-needed escape. It was also my first trip to Goa. After two days, I returned to London, then my home city. In my heart, though, I wanted to come back to India and figure out a way to become a part of the emerging contemporary fashion scene.
Such is the power of a destination fashion event. It is experiential marketing at its best, creating a moment that stays in your memory and showcases the power of the brand. The fusion of travel and fashion is magical. For years, mega brands, like Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, have been presenting their resort or pre-fall collections in exotic locations across the world. Dior, for instance, chose Mumbai for its pre-fall collection earlier this year. It gave the French luxury house a chance to talk about its relationship with Indian craftsmanship.
However, for Ensemble, it was “a real extravagance because back then (about 30 years ago) nobody did this, and it was just a fortuitous coming together of elements,” says designer Tarun Tahiliani, co-founder of the store that currently has presence in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad.
Things have changed since then. Today, Indian fashion is at an inflection point. Several brands have corporate investments, flagship stores in metros, and a handful of homegrown designers regularly participate in major international fashion weeks. Could India based-destination shows be the next step for homegrown fashion brands?
Anita Dongre, who has used external funding to build her brand, recently held a fashion fundraiser event in Jaipur. Set against the City Palace of Jaipur, the designer presented her Rewild ’23 collection to raise funds for elephant conservation. “I hope we’re able to inspire more experiences like Rewild that put us on a par with the world, while having a positive social impact,” she says.
Conscious consumerism has been one of the label’s key messages, and Jaipur has served as a constant muse for Dongre. She’s shot several campaigns in the city and works closely with crafts clusters based there.
At the event, co-hosted by Diya and Gauravi Kumari of the royal family of Jaipur, Dongre announced the launch of her Grassroots home line with the artists of the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, a collective focused on the financial independence of women in the state of Rajasthan.
While attendees included Bollywood figures like Madhuri Dixit and Bhumi Pednekar, along with influencers like Masoom Minawala Mehta and Sanjana Rishi, the focus remained on crafts and conservation.
Two years ago, Tahiliani held a show on the banks of the Ganga, in Varanasi, to launch his accessible luxury menswear brand Tasva, in partnership with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd. According to Tahiliani, global brands’ destination shows are chosen for cruise collections, based around clothes meant for various holiday destinations, so there is an obvious connect. “For Tasva, we knew we had to launch in Banaras (Varanasi). There’s nothing we could have done that would be able to create that vibe in our current cities.”
He adds, “Such an investment serves as a testament to the brand strength and influence and also looks so different from everybody else. When it’s well done, it becomes a wonderful branding exercise. Lastly, I think it also makes the people who are a part of it feel very special to be included.” In order words, it creates a memorable moment, even on social media.
Much like a destination wedding, a destination fashion show brings intimacy and a sense of adventure to the event. Dongre adds, “The true luxury in a destination event—whether a wedding or a fashion show—is the ability to bring people together who truly care about what is happening. A destination event allows for complete focus on the intention.”
That’s why destination shows are special, and we might see more brands exploring them in the near future for special collections and occasions. Will they eventually become a regular part of the annual fashion calendar, as is the case internationally? It remains to be seen, considering such shows require a lot of preparation and investment. “It is a step for every successful brand to start putting up a show at a destination. Indian fashion, too, is at a notable position today, and we can expect top brands to showcase at various destinations in India,” say designers Falguni and Shane Peacock, who shot a campaign in Agra with Taj Mahal in the backdrop two years ago. They recently showcased their collection at the New York Fashion Week. “We are considering staging a fashion show at the Taj Mahal someday,” they say.
Destination fashion shows are not merely about showcasing clothes; they represent a convergence of artistry, cultural expression and social influence. The trend of hosting such events is a big move for homegrown brands, propelling them into the global spotlight.
Dress Sense is a monthly column on the clothes we wear every day.
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.