Couture | Plastic fantastic

MINT

Couture | Plastic fantastic

Lost in the hype around organic clothing are prodigious experiments with unconventional materials in Indian fashion. As popular vocabulary becomes biased towards handwoven garments, we forget that fashion as art is not all about handlooms and embroidery.

Today, at the ongoing Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) Autumn/Winter 2013, the shows of two young designers, Rimzim Dadu and Anand Bhushan, will once again prove why. Like the much-awarded Amit Aggarwal, whose Autumn/Winter 2013 couture line was exhibited alongside the Paris Fashion Week earlier this month, both Dadu and Bhushan make clothes that use plastic, acrylic, silicone, metal, stretch rubber, pebbles, wood, even stones.

Far removed from the fuchsia saris, handloom pants or clingy dresses that Indian fashion is synonymous with, their creations are about dark, edgy palettes (think pewter grey and anthracite). The materials are cut, pounded, heated and moulded to become stylish wear. “It’s the edge of couture,” says Bhushan, defining work where materials are sourced from dusty-musty industrial markets and need special apparatus to be moulded into clothes.

While Bhushan’s collection, Block, which will walk the ramp today, is inspired from Lego blocks in a gunpowder-dusted palette using tough leather as yardage, Dadu is working with what is locally called raangda. She explains it as a form of metal found in invertor batteries, which melts or freezes as soon as it is exposed to the atmosphere, making it challenging to work with.

Anand Bhushan with his forthcoming Block collection. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Dadu, Bhushan and Aggarwal are not the only Indian designers working with offbeat materials. Milliner Shilpa Chavan does too, as does the accomplished Manish Arora, to name just two more, but the accounts of these three tell us why their work is significant.

They say the avant-garde in fashion fascinated them from Day 1 right from their student days. Bhushan’s Autumn/Winter 2012 collection was revealingly called Junkyard; it used metal.

“I love working with metals like brass, steel, iron, aluminum and different alloys. The challenge is to make them look unconventional in tactility,” says the cheery, funky, bespectacled designer who made his debut in 2009.

Aggarwal, whose first individual collection walked out in 2009, says he mostly thinks in forms and silhouettes. “I combine acrylic with fabric as I enjoy its malleability to create light and airy forms,” says the focused and persuasive Aggarwal, who has been awarded thrice by Elle magazine and by the Grazia and Marie Claire magazines for exceptional work by a young designer. His most challenging project was hand-weaving fine-stretch rubber filament with zari by Chanderi craftsmen.“The resultant fabric was translucent metallic and stretchable, almost like fish skin. It was quite an effort to sew the monstrous material,” he says.

“It is the interpretation of industrial materials for wearable fashion that matters,” she says, explaining the heating, melting or sculpting of plastic or silicone to mould it around the body. She has created an apparatus with torches, drill machinery and a team of skilled workers who share her passion.

The third generation of designers in India’s fashion industry, Aggarwal, Dadu and Bhushan have reflective inner cores that don’t view fashion just as sparkle. They are not fazed by the populist burden of creating organic fashion to edge into media attention. They would rather create fashion for a new India unshackling itself from conventional dressing. They address style explorations of experimental dressers like singer and lyricist Sona Mohapatra, who recently wore a dress from Bhushan’s Junkyard line for a Delhi event attended by numerous political dignitaries. “We don’t celebrate industrial chic often enough despite living in a manufacturing economy,” says Mohapatra. “My music bridges the ancient with the modern, my song Jiya laage na in Talaash is a case in point—thumri meets drum and bass. Wearing Anand Bhushan is in sync with the same celebration of dichotomy and contradiction that is India and being Indian,” she adds.

But who says philosophy is a good salesperson? Such garments are not easy to sell. They take about 200 hours of work per piece, need research and development budgets and despite low overheads, need astute pricing to earn profits.

Bhushan emphasizes the importance of making such clothes hanger-friendly. “I display a conceptual garment on the top of the rack so that the buyer can visualize it and understand better,” he says.

Aggarwal, who works with a showroom in Paris, France, that manages his brand for clients like Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdales, among others, says Indians are becoming intrigued by and appreciative of such work. His couture pieces cost between €2,300 (around 1.7 lakh) and €2,500, while separates sold in India are priced above 10,000.

Noticeably, all three shrug when prodded about their place in an industry that oscillates between organic handlooms and wedding couture. “Bollywood is a big influence so it would help if stars wore such clothes,” says Dadu.

Bhushan agrees. “Designers like me sometimes find it difficult to balance price points compared to labels trying to cash in on the green bandwagon. But I feel there is space for every kind of design. Design cannot be right or wrong,” he argues.

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