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thirdeyesight.in

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Feature . July 26-August 8, 2010

'Couture equals bridalwear'(.;..this

perception is just the start ofman~cl

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fashion sector

'

Paris Couture Week, arguably

the world's most prestigious

..

fashion event, has just got

over. The headlines haven't

been kind, pointing out that the

Week has been dying a slow death

over the past two decades, as clients

move away from the ensembles showcased

at the event. An epitome of customised

luxury in its heyday in the

decade following World War II, the

event has increasingly become a place

for corporate showcasing of logoencrusted

products as falling revenues

have forced many a couturier to focus

on the less prestigious, but far more

financially lucrative, pret-ii-porter.

This is precisely the time that

Indian fashion has chosen to highlight

its version of couture by starting

not one, but two couture weeks, making

Mumbai and now Delhi only the

third and fourth cities in the world to

have couture weeks after Paris and

New York. Almost concurrent to the

recent couture week in Delhi was the

Tarun Tahiliani Bridal Couture Exposition.

What makes the Indian 'fash

frat' so confident, especially as most

openly admit that they are not as

good as their western counterparts

in pret and have anyway

missed that bus as brands

such as Mango, Tommy

Hilfiger, FCUK, Promod,


Feature

Indian couture

is exploiting the

avantgarde

dassidsm of the

past

Benetton

and, of late,

Zara look to capture a

major share of the Indian

market?

Indian fashion, that oxyqloron

of a term, is having as busy a

time as it ever has. While leading

Indian designers stake their claim sporadically

to global red carpets and

irregular clients, new designers are

jostling for space on the runways,

even as the number of weeks has

increased manifold over the past two

years till, as some point out, it makes

little sense. Critics have dubbed last

fortnight's Couture Week organised

by the Fashion Design Council of

India (FDCI) in Delhi as more of a

'bridal' week, given the preponderance

of wedding and related occasion

Showcasing Tahiliani's

collection

wear therein. "The purpose

of the weeks is not

crystal clear," says

Puneet Nanda, design

head, Satya Paul

label, part of Genesis

Colours. "We

are not, as a fraternity,

booking orders six

months in advance."

Indian signature

Defining Indian couture is

not the easiest of jobs

either. "Couture consists of

masterpieces created out of

the best quality fabrics, intricate

embroidery and detailing, which is

time-consuming is done to perfection

and the Indian touch is omnipresent,"

explains Pradeep Hirani of Kimaya, a

couture retail chain, refuting allegations

that it is limited to wedding costumes.

"Indian couture today is

exploiting the avant gardeclassicism of

the past and infusing a contemporary

twist to it, thus displaying a spectacular

fashion panorama, which not only

echoes the intrinsic charms of the

land, but is also a pleasure to beholders."

Designer Anju Modi points to

historical wealth of couture in India -

zari, zardozi, chikankari and many others

made specially, for erstwhile royals.

Fellow designer Ritu Kumar

explains that India has always had a

tradition of made-to-order, and

events such as couture weeks will help

it get more formalised. She admits

that while couture is struggling in the

West, as Indians live larger than life

and want to celebrate it, couture has a

brighter future here.

Designer J.J. Valaya, known for

his opulence of presentation, says

that Indian couture has carved a distinct

identity for itself and should be

recognised as such, stressing on its

bespoke nature. "Couture is not that

much of a business proposition as it is

about the romance of it. Each ensemble

is a masterpiece, which sets the

trend for the less elaborate collections

to the season."

Valaya, however, says it is increasingly

becoming a loosely used word

like luxury. "Everybody does great

jackets," he points out, "but only

those eight or nine selected names

count as couturiers. Indians who

aspire to be couturiers should be able

to work within the 'Indian signature',"

he stresses. Modi agrees, saying that

Indians are still colonised in their

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Feature

BUS IN E S SIN D I A . ]uIy26-August8,2010

mindsets."Our couture could be

global only if we stick to our core

design aesthetics." Prices apparently

do not matter but a starting point of a

lakh is what most agree on.

Designer Jaya Rathore, one of the

installation designers - among the

seven of the 19 participating designers,

who was not on the ramp, but had an

installation in the Delhi Couture Week

- stresses that the most important

facet of a couture collection

should be its selectiveness.

"The garments should be a Indian

limited edition," she says,

pointing out that the

demand for couture will

always be there. Sunil Sethi,

president, FDCI, points out

that an unbelievable 57 designers

applied for the Pearls Couture

week. "Even globally, there are just a

handful of couture houses," he says

(see box). He stresses that it would be a

mistake to measure Indian couture

with Parisian yardsticks, as Indian couture

and fashion are still in their

infancy. "Many started as mom-andpop

stores," he says, pointing out

instead to the enormous talent that

these designers possess.

Volume woes

Worthy words, but even those optimistic

about the future of Indian fashion

admit that, despite its deep roots

in diverse local textile, fabric and

embroidery traditions, it is failing to

live up to its potential and make its

mark on the global fashion

arena beyond the Middle

East. While no data is available,

fashion

experts estimate the

top end of this sector -

the designers' labels - to

be collectively worth just

Rs300-500 crore.

Indian couture represents

the top end of the fashion

scale, and also perhaps

exemplifies its frailties. "There is no

estimate of the sector's size,"

admits Sethi, who points out

that few designers are willing to

fails to live up to

its potential or

make a mark

share their sales figures. FDCI'S

plan to commission a study

to understand the sector in

India, which has been in cold

storage for over half a decade

now, even as internecine rivalry

and multiplying weeks have

ensured that "FDCIhas become a

joke," says Modi, decrying the

insecurity associated with many

of her colleagues.

KPMGdid a study on the sec-

.tor in 2003, along with FDCI and

predicted the sector's net worth

in a decade would be about

Rsl,OOOcrore. Nearing the deadline,

not even the most optimistic cite

that figure. The Indian designer markH

is a measly 0.3 per cent of the total

branded apparel market, says Hirani,

who estimates an annual growth of 15

per cent with East Asia, the UAE and

Europe have large consumption of

Indian designer wear.

That couture is crucial is uncontested.

"Couture is experimental,

and allows a designer to design free

of the usual considerations," says

Rathore. Fellow designer Raakesh

Agarvwal says, a couture collection

is more of a personal collection. Couture

establishes the designer's brand,

which can then be used to develop

pret lines, which provide the volumes

Parisian roots

rance for long set the trends in fashion

F and, with Europe's ascendancy, on

the rest of the world from the mercantile

era. The norms established in Parisian

salons came to be regarded haute couture,

French for high dressmaking. Today,

haute couture is defined by the 141-yearold

Chambre Syndicale De La Couture,

who annually releases a list of labels who

are entitled to use the haute couture label

to describe their work.

The Paris Couture Week, held separately

for Spring, Summer, Autumn and

Winter, showcases these select labels,

and has been under stress in recent years

due to the shrinking of clients. From 106

listed couture houses in 1946, the number

had fallen to 18 by 2000. For 201 0,

there were 11 listed official members -

and profits. A distinct brand can then

attract capital, helping the brand grow

further, a model widely followed globally.

Therefore, there is also a certain

amount of despair at the competing

weeks that are currently on. What is

also uncontested is the desire for Indians

to don ethnic wear for occasions -

be it a wedding, a birthday or even a

party - a demand met almost wholly

by Indian designers at the moment,

but even here brands such as Armani

and Canali have begun to make forays

into the menswear market.

Valaya equates weddings to life

blood of the sector. Indians need to

.92.

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BUS I N E S SIN D I A .

]uly26-August8,2010

Feature

Adeline Andre, Anne Valerie Hash,

Chanel, Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix,

.

Dominique Sirop, Franck Sorbier,

Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Maurizio

Galante and Stephane Rolland. Armani

and Valentino are guest members.

It is not often that an Indian designer

is selected as the finale designer for a

European fashion show. Unprecedented

would describe the honour more accurately

as veteran designer Ritu Kumar was

chosen as the finale designer at the Valladolid

de Moda Fashion Week, held from

28-30 June. Kumar also participated in

the first India-Spain Fashion Professionals

Meeting in Madrid, a forum to discuss a

common commercial cooperation,

industrial, cultural and educational strategy

between the two countries in fashion.

"They gave me a standing ovation at

the end of my show," she says. "For

them, it was very exotic to get designer

apparel from India, something so far

away from their mindscape." She also

expressed hope that India would participate

at the next Madrid International

fair, whose organisers, Salon Internacional

De M


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BUS I N E S SIN 0 I A

Feature . July26-August 8,2010

Coutur~ consists of master

pieces created out of the best

quality fabrics, intricate

embroidery and detailing

(Left) Jaikishen: 'weddings

form 90 per cent of my

couture sales'

to affect its growth at this fairly

nascent stage. "Fashion weeks have

become less and les,s important even

in India," says Dilip Kapur of

Hidesign, who points out the almost

complete absence of accessories, the

staple of runways and healthy

bottomlines for most global

brands, at events such as

fashion weeks.

India

The few attempted tieups

with corporate houses,

such as Manish Arora and

Reebok, or Narendra

Kumar and Banswara Syntex,

have not been seen as successful,

while Raymond's venture

with designers, Be: did not quite

work out. Some designers have

attempted creating an entire lifestyle

brand it la their western counterparts,

but those haven't worked here either.

Sethi says production tie-ups are on

the cards, but admits that

designers are often unwilling

to let go of control

over their labels. Agarvwal

points out that abroad

there are tie-ups with corporate

houses for even

couture collections, something

still to happen

here. "I would love a

tie-up," he says.

"A certain amount of

corporatisation has to

-

happen,/I says Devangshu

Dutta, chief executive,

Third Eyesight, a consulting

firm focussing on

retail and consumer segments.

He points out

that, unlike in the West

where even high end markets

have significant volume, and is

therefore possible for a designer to

carve out a niche, but the Indian market

is small. "Design is our strength,

but we need to augment it with infrastructure,

which if the government

does not provide, will come from the

private sector./I He sees some movement,

but says it could be much faster

and needs co-ordination, which is

missing. Nanda feels the government

has to recognise the sector as an

industry and laments the fact few are

taking the lead in this regard.

What has also been in question

is to yet

to grant even

industry status

to fashion

is

the sponsorship at couture weeks.

While the ones in Mumbai were sponsored

by HDIL(Housing Development

& Infrastructure Ltd), a listed real

estate development company, the

one in Delhi is sponsored by Pearls, a

company dealing in real estate,

hospitality, media and education.

"We felt that associating

with this industry

will certainly give us

brand recognition as well

as our support for the best

style statement, which is

the ethics of all the businesses

we are in,/I says Jyoti

Narain, director and spokesperson,

Pearls. The HDIL spokesperson

had explained his company's role

almost identically.

Even the regular weeks are sponsored

by Wills, Lakme and Van

Heusen,

Agarvwal: morepersonal

/I all of whom have certain

demands,/I says a designer

on condition of

anonymity. Those in the

fraternity bemoan such

tie-ups as they dilute the

core, they feel. "India's

weeks are sponsored,/I

says Nanda, explaining

that, if the shows are not

supported, then the

designer has to think

about what he or she is

presenting - a norm in

global fashion. Though

no figure is confirmed, it

is estimated that a threeyear

title sponsorship deal

could cost about Rs2S

crore. Associate sponsorships

are estimated to cost

about Rs20-S0 lakh.

So much priority did the French

give to fashion that couturier Rose

Bertin served as minister for fashion

in the late 18th century. Even the

more plebian-oriented Napoleon continued

this office. India is to yeC to

grant even an industry status to fashion.

Global evidence has amply

shown that labels such as Dior or

Pierre Cardin became global names

after shifting to pret. Given that many

leading Indian designers do not even

consider this option, the stress in couture

is perhaps the only way ahead.

. SUMAN TARAFDAR

.94.

.

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