List of Illustrationsâ•‡ x
A Note on Hindi and Indian Terms in this Bookâ•‡ xiv
Glossary of Termsâ•‡ xv
1 Introduction: Indian Fashionâ•‡ 1
2 A Brief History of Dress, Difference and Fashion Change in
3 Contemporary Fashion Practice in Urban Indiaâ•‡ 49
4 Reel to Real Life: Re-Fashioning India from Bollywood to Streetâ•‡ 73
5 Desi-Chic: The Image and Ideals of Fashion in Indian
6 Darzi to “Designer”: Crafting Couture and High-Fashion for
7 Conclusion: “Wrapping it Up”â•‡ 161
When I began my studies in Fashion Design in 1997 at NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology), New Delhi, I did so with the hope of being part of India’s then emerging fashion and design culture. It was an exciting time to be a design student—interning with designers, experimenting with craft techniques, seeing fashion shows unfold—especially India’s first formal fashion week in 2000, and reflecting on what personal design philosophies of an Indian designer could entail. Fashion design in those days had begun to attract significant attention that had shifted from amusement and ridicule to more serious appreciation. Since then, over the last two decades, the changes Indian fashion has undergone are remarkable; not only due to the wider availability of branded fashion and the presence of a vibrant fashion press with multiple international publications, but also in the way Indian design has evolved towards strengthening its own unique identity that is far from being one-dimensional. Many of my colleagues and peers from NIFT have since gone on to realize hugely successful careers within the field of fashion—some in the limelight as independent designers, and others through designing and managing influential Indian and international brands. Also interesting is that as new ideologies and articulations of design emerge, many within India’s fashion industry are now at a point to challenge, question and reinvent the norms of what has come before.
Through its focus on contemporary fashion subsequent to India’s liberalization phase, this book adds to the growing academic discourse on fashion in non-Western settings. Building upon such discourse, that unpacks the nuances of fashion in India and provides theoretical frameworks by which it can be studied, serves a crucial role of further supporting local fashion cultures, fashion systems, design and fashionability—which for established Western fashion centers happened much earlier over the last century. In this book, I attempt to (ambitiously) tackle the subject of fashion in India from various angles, and in doing so offer a broad survey ranging from fashion education, design processes and themes, the image of fashion in fashion magazines, to the influence of films, TV and fashion blogs on everyday clothing. Such wide scope that still leaves out various key topics, which could not be accommodated in the framework of a single book, may disappoint some readers. However, the need for such a broad sweep was felt due to the lack of such material and discussions housed in one current and cohesive text. The last such attempts were Meher Castelino’s extremely informative Fashion Kaleidoscope (1994)— written outside of an academic framework, and Emma Tarlo’s Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India (1996)—an invaluable account of the history of Indian dress during and after the British rule, up until the early 1990s. Other texts such as Hindol Sengupta’s Indian Fashion (2005) and Federico Rocca’s Contemporary Indian Fashion (2009) though insightful on the subject of fashion designers, do not attempt to theorize their work in a broader context. Most recently publications and books on fashion in India have slowly begun to gain momentum, and it is heartening to note that many of these are emerging from within India. They range from designer biographies (Wendell Rodricks’ Green Room, Suneet Verma’s self-titled book) to the thought-provoking glimpse into the subtleties of the Indian fashion industry in Powder Room (Vasudev 2012) by noted fashion editor and columnist Shefalee Vasudev, as well as more frequent appearances about the subject in academic journals, fashion readers and books such as Wilkinson-Weber’s Fashioning Bollywood (2013). The discussions in these texts, as well as the gaps that they inevitably leave, highlight the potential for further research within this dynamic field.
Indian Fashion is positioned to appeal to a wide audience: Primarily, as an entry level text for fashion students interested in global fashion centers as well as Indian design students interested in a consolidated account of fashion in India written from both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective. In addition, it is hoped that those who are more fluent with the field of fashion studies or familiar with India will also find this book engaging.
The book’s framework and style of writing is positioned be accessible to a broad range of readers through clearly presented ideas logically grouped in chapters and subsections that tackle various overarching themes, strategies and concepts that emerged during the book’s conception and subsequent research. The research informing this book is a culmination of many years (2007–13) of formal field research and a series of focused interviews (from 2010–13) with fashion professionals that represent various fields of fashion in India (design, production, styling, journalism, blogging, photography and fashionistas). Though it could be said that its process began much earlier during my years at NIFT, and would not have been possible without the networks and connections established as a result of that experience. As with any set of generalizations, there are exceptions, and not all authorities will agree with the discussion in this book. It is possible that over time some of the examples, designers, collections or scenarios mentioned in the book may become dated, be no longer as noteworthy or change significantly going forward—such is the nature of fashion. However the key ideas and concepts it builds upon should undoubtedly remain valuable points of reference.
Overall, this book is intended as an accompaniment to a pivotal moment in the trajectory of Indian fashion itself, as it reinforces its own systems, tastes, culture, terminology and cycles—locally and globally. Personally it has been a rewarding journey of discovery and reflection not only on various aspects pertaining to the specificity of fashion within India, but also about what it means to be a locally rooted, fashionable global-desi.