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Why Indian fashion needs more designer collaborations

It’s time the industry hit the creative refresh button. Designer collaborations can help

From the Kunal Rawal x Ekaya Banaras collaboration

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It has been a while since Indian fashion made us go weak at the knees. The experience of fashion shows in the post-lockdown era has been like watching a Netflix series on how weddingwear can be OTT, casual, couture. You want to stop yourself from tuning in to the show but can’t, hoping it will pick up eventually. Of course, bridalwear is where the money lies, but fashion is more than just a business. It’s as much about having fun as it is about pushing boundaries.

Quite surprising then that in a world where people are trying every trick in the book to be different in the hope of getting an extra like, a comment or a follower, Indian designers are willing to move only within the boundaries of familiar threads. What they need to think about is how to bring that law-dropping twist in the show. And that twist could lie in a collaboration.

I’m not talking about a Sabyasachi making a collection for an H&M kind of a collaboration, or an influencer announcing the drop of a new designer collection on Instagram kind of a collab. Nor am I talking about a designer joining hands with a tech brand for making a runway show kind of a collaboration. I’m talking about two design houses, in the same fashion bracket, swapping roles. A conscious coupling, if you may. A meeting of equals, where both sides bring their signatures together in an entirely new light. Like Fendi and Versace did last year, with the launch of a pre-spring collection, Fendace.

Two recent collaborations show that change in the Indian fashion industry is possible.

Also read: Does a fashion show really need a celebrity showstopper?

In October, homegrown fashion labels Lovebirds and NorBlack NorWhite launched their first collaborative collection of garments, including free-flowing shirt dresses and asymmetrical co-ord sets. It was a marriage of opposites. But when Lovebirds’ clean and modern silhouettes and NorBlack NorWhite’s colourful, maximalist approach came together, you knew opposites could be appealing.

From the Lovebirds x NorBlack NorWhite collaboration
From the Lovebirds x NorBlack NorWhite collaboration

“It’s not easy to leave a part of yourself and accept a part of someone else,” admits Gursi Singh, who started Lovebirds with Amrita Khanna. NorBlack NorWhite’s founders, Mriga Kapadiya and Amrit Kumar, and they are longtime friends. “We are similar personalities but our philosophy towards design is poles apart.” And there were several instances when the two sides had a difference of opinion. “It made me realise that we hold our brand values so closely that we get uncomfortable with change,” says Singh. “We spend so much time in defining our brand that we start living it. But the downside is we create walls around us.”

While a collaboration of distinct brand personalities helps a label test and reach a different market, it also gives shape to a marketing campaign that makes more noise. “You get to see your work from a different person’s eyes and see it translated in their language on social media,” says Singh.

It was this desire to push the design aesthetic that menswear couturier Kunal Rawal worked with handloom brand Ekaya Banaras to create a fun occasion wear that used brocade, a fabric he often thought had little to offer in men’s clothes. “Experiment in menswear has been limited. It’s either Air Maharaja-esque kind of clothes or simple casual clothes. There’s no middle as such,” believes Rawal. “This limited collection is a way to fill that gap.”

While such a collaboration of distant brand personalities helps a label test and reach a different market, it also helps give shape to a marketing campaign that makes more noise. 

“You get to see your work from a different person’s eyes and see it translated in their language on social media,” says Singh, explaining why a collaboration can be a good business move as well.

Ekaya’s chief executive, Palak Shah, adds, “Within the fashion industry, we are so busy competing that we forget how powerful collaborations can be.”

It’s actually a win-win. For a designer, it’s a way to get out of their comfort zone. For a consumer, it’s a chance to see fashion in a completely different light.

Also read: The forgotten story of an embroidery by India's cobblers

 

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