Over the past few years, divas like Beyoncé, Cardi B and Jennifer Lopez have turned to Indian designers for red carpet appearances. At present, it seems Gaurav Gupta has become the go-to name for artistes, be it Lizzo or Megan Thee Stallion, looking to make a statement on stage.
Even the global South Asian actors are looking to wear more designers from their own country. Take Poorna Jagannathan’s wardrobe, for instance, which has a good number of bespoke Rahul Mishra dresses.
“His use of surface ornamentation on garments feels like they could hang on someone’s body but also on a wall,” says Jagannathan, who plays the role of Nalini in the Netflix series Never Have I Ever. She seems to be on a mission to collaborate with more Indian designers: “These dresses, especially the gowns, just work with my body and sensibility perfectly.”
Indian designers are indeed getting the gown silhouette right.
But it has been a long, tiring process. Indian designers know their embroidery, but it’s the construction of the garment that didn’t come naturally to them.
Amit Aggarwal, a designer whose strength is marrying architectural forms with moulded shapes, says, “The focus with a gown will always be the silhouette and tailoring, and there is no room to distract the wearer from even a slight miscalculation. I think that’s what makes the gown difficult as a form to crack.”
For the local shopper, the Indian designers’ successful experimentation with the gown means they no longer have to wait to travel abroad to buy their evening dresses. It has resulted in Indian women having a newfound confidence when it comes to dressing for special occasions. “Be it celebrities or brides, they wear gowns with such ease and style now,” says designer Monisha Jaising, who was among the first creators to make evening dresses the mainstay of her collection. Before the pandemic, her gowns were selling at London’s Harrods.
“When I started my career as a designer in 1989, I could see how Indian women’s approach to dress was changing. I worked on draped gowns with cut-outs that would have the same appeal as a sari. I also worked on a volume gown with décolletage that could work in place of the full-skirt lehnga. The blurring of lines between what is ‘Indian’ and ‘Western’, along with designers understanding the need to pay attention to sartorial details, has proved to be a gamechanger… both at home and abroad,” she says. “The gown has now been given an Indian point of view, be it through referencing the drape of the sari, the volume and silhouette of a lehnga and, of course, its modern use of the country’s crafts tradition.”
Hema Bose, the founder of luxury communication agency Maison Bose, which has clients like Gaurav Gupta, agrees: “Indian design is uniquely special due to its rich cultural heritage, skilled craftsmanship, and diverse influences. You can see the heart, passion, love, spirit and joy through India’s designs.”
Another possible reason for Indian designers’ refreshing take on the gown could be their international training, whether at educational institutions or fashion houses.
Bose explains: “One of the reasons celebrities are choosing to wear Gaurav Gupta is his unique perspective on the traditional garments. It’s his education at the Central Saint Martins (in London) and all his international experiences, which has resulted in this perfect blend.”
By adding the gown to their design vocabulary, homegrown designers have ensured that the global fashion industry keeps an eye on the Indian creative talent.
With both Gupta and Rahul Mishra now part of the Paris Haute Couture Week, it will not be long till more Indian names find their way to leading department stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Harrods. Both stores have been testing the waters with Indian fashion, stocking occasional collections.
Aggarwal says, “If we can stay true to what we know and our own perspective of fashion, we will be creating an entire new ecosystem for Indian talent across the globe.”
The evening dress can breathe new life into the textile traditions of India while also giving the West a new gown genre. There’s nothing fashion loves more than something surprising and striking. The gown might be the game changer Indian fashion has been looking for.
Dress Sense is a monthly column on the clothes we wear every day.
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.