Fashion Texchange


Neeru Kumar: Fashion Texchange

Early next month,the Autumn/Winter 2011 edition of Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW),will be opened by senior textile expert Neeru Kumar. Neeru who? asks a journalist from FDCI President Sunil Sethi. Does she party? asks another. Sethi isn’t rattled. Kumar,on the other hand,smiles skeptically.

For the record,the sedate and 50-plus Kumar is one of India’s foremost textile experts. An NID alumna,her 30-year- old development of khadi and handspun fabrics has been much noted. At her office in Delhi,alongside antique trunks and huge brass containers,rare,richly woven tussar throws,Ikat saris,soft khadi kurtas dyed in unusual palettes,khadi towels and geecha shawls lie around,seconding her pet line “the product should speak for itself”.

Kumar has been supplying accessories,lifestyle products and garments to the European markets for 20 years and to the Japanese for 22. “The Japanese respect hand weaving; being a weaver in Japan is like being a studio artist,” says Kumar. A FDCI member for the last 10 years,Kumar kept a measured distance from the media and fashion events and has in the past expressed (to this correspondent) her cynicism for the fashion industry’s megalomaniac behaviour,which she feels is not very sensitive to textiles.

Her late-in-life debut on a populist platform suggests that Indian fashion weeks need textile experts and vice versa. It is not incidental that veteran designer duo David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore,equally well-known global names for textile-rich fashion,debuted at the same platform last year. This time they have been invited to present the Fiama Di Wills show,which translates into sponsorship money of more than Rs 15 lakh. Fashion sponsors usually back only popular,bling-happy,big names,who attract socialites to the front row and the media as magnets. Not textile heroes. But this is a smart move. To add to it,textile superhero Sabyasachi,a first timer at Wills,has been roped in for the finale.

In the FDCI vs Lakme Fashion week (LFW),ongoing clash of egos,business and creative strategies,the former’s attempt to flex Indian fashion’s textile muscle is obvious. “We all know that India’s USP for international fashion buyers are textiles and fabrics,not silhouettes and forms,and yes,bringing in Neeru Kumar is a conscious decision,” says Sethi who has personally done business with Kumar for 20 years. “We agreed to do the show because of the feedback we got last time,both from fashion customers and the media,which translated into big sales,” says David Abraham. Red and white silk Ikat saris beautifully styled with Kolhapuri wedges and laptop bags flew off their shelves,leading to a waiting list.

No one is complaining. Surely not Sabyasachi,who has taken a break from designing for films for a year to restructure his company and focus on fashion weeks. “I don’t favour camps. I look for platforms that suit the nature of work that I am doing at the moment,” he says. “I am showing a Western line with corsetry and Western undergarments from the 1950s,but my collection is made from Indian textiles. It’s a spoofy take on crystals,” he adds.

Neeru Kumar is not so gung-ho. “I wasn’t gunning for this show and nor do I know whether after this I will do another again,” she says. She is rightfully cautious. In the fashion texchange programme,who knows the political tidings of the next season? It is unlikely,after all,that the Swarovski lobby will start wearing Khadi corsets.