Fashion Week’s class of 2016


Fashion Week’s class of 2016

The Spring/Summer 2017 edition of the Amazon India Fashion Week (AIFW) will conclude on 16 October with an unexpected theme. Conceived as a guru-shishya jugalbandi (teacher-disciple relationship) that pays homage to an age-old Indian tradition, the finale will see veteran couturier J.J. Valaya paired with younger designer duo Alpana and Neeraj.

Valaya is known for his fascination with royal themes and fine fabrics, and is a master of opulent embroideries and essentially Indian silhouettes. The design trademarks of Alpana and Neeraj are three-dimensional garments, sharp structures and contemporary silhouettes with an almost goth sensibility. Valaya’s primary market is India and West Asia, while Alpana and Neeraj cater to the West. Together, the two brands will show a cohesively created line of garments.

Conceptualized during creative discussions between Sunil Sethi, president, the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), Arun Sirdeshmukh, head of Amazon India, and designer Narendra Kumar, the creative director of Amazon India, this finale will deepen the exploration of the India Modern theme that was introduced through last season’s finale. It extended to the launch of the India Modern store on

The qualifying subtitle this year is “festive”. “India Modern is the blend of the confidence to be Indian, create Indian wear with international knowledge. It reflects the zeitgeist. The first season was a sociological reflection of making fashion accessible to people where they could mix a fashion label with anything brought from anywhere. ‘Festive’ is an upper end of that same idea,” says Kumar.

The main reason for this pairing is that Alpana Mittal of Alpana and Neeraj worked with Valaya for five years from 2000, joining him right after she completed her fashion design course at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Delhi. But, as Sethi says, “It also represents a broader rethink. The Indian fashion industry was being constantly termed ‘nascent’. This is despite the fact that an entire generation of designers has been working for 25 years, with a number of young designers having trained under them. This jugalbandi shows there is nothing nascent about Indian fashion.”

A raft of undiscovered juxtapositions come floating on this show, quite apart from the fact that Valaya’s label is 24 years old and Alpana and Neeraj debuted nine years back. It’s also indicative of the fact that single-designer finales are a thing of the past.


It is mid-morning at Valaya’s studio at The Gallery On MG, in Mehrauli, south Delhi. Over frothy cappuccino in glass cups, the three designers—Valaya smiling warmly, Mittal wearing what she later laughingly called a sheikh’s white dress and the reticent Neeraj Chauhan dressed in black—deconstruct their collection-in-the-making for Mint Lounge. There is a beautiful clash of design identities. Valaya will mentor the collection—“I am a sutradhar (storyteller) of sorts,” he says—which is inspired by the ranas, or warrior kings, of Kutch and Nepal. The military nuances historically associated with ranas smartly bring the theme closer to the Alpana-Neeraj sensibility.

Swatches of fabric, some sequins and buttons revealing the colour story—maroon, black, emerald, blue—lie on the table. Mittal, a talented illustrator—a fact endorsed by her guru Valaya—shows us her sketches. Trapeze dresses, leather collars and belts, structured garments in sporty fabrics, mesh, georgette and quilted textures will be designed to find resonance with Valaya’s velvets, fine tulles, crepes, matka and raw silks, jacquards, buttons from Gujarat and embroidered surfaces. “I am working a lot with slubby fabrics for enhanced texturization,” says Valaya. If he symbolizes traditional drama, the duo represents modern drama. Key word: drama. Watch out then for fashion jamming. Old and new, ramming heads without tearing each other apart. “It symbolizes the essence of the Indian fashion industry—together we represent the fact that many of us have trained under senior designers,” says Mittal.


It is challenging, the three agree in chorus. But given the fluidity with which Valaya, also an avid photographer (his 2011 photo book Decoded Paradox got rave reviews), leads the discussion and the directional confidence with which Alpana and Neeraj style the dress-form with two diverse garments (see photograph), the synergy is visible.

This collection of 50-60 garments, with no changes for models, will be part of a massive production—a lavish set, musicians, especially created soundtracks, and help from hair and make-up artists and stylists.

Since fashion is also an academy of popular culture, the finale may reveal an unseen portrait of the fashion industry, how design ideas blur, blend and then inflect in different directions. How embroideries, embellishments and decorative garments have made way (while continuing to thrive in their own genre) for contemporary and structured garments. It could also open a documentary interest in the design trajectories of other guru-shishya pairs. For instance, designers Atsu Sekhose, Gautam Rakha and Raakesh Agarvwal trained under Tarun Tahiliani; Pankaj and Nidhi Ahuja and Ashish Soni worked with Rohit Bal; Aneeth Arora trained under Abraham & Thakore; Rahul Reddy assisted Rajesh Pratap Singh. The duration of the teacher-mentor relationship may have varied, but something from the DNA of one to the other has clearly been passed on.

Ever since signed up with the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) last year as the title sponsor of its fashion week, held biannually in Delhi, finale shows have bloated in size and spectacle. They have acquired a theme and a commercially viable ambition, beyond being a flamboyant show by a single well-known designer. The theme is now the showstopper, a celebratory statement of what the industry currently stands for.

Here are some snapshots from the last three finales, which paved the path for the India Modern Festive show that will take place this month.

With red, orange and pink as the colour story, the FDCI invited 25 designers to mark the 25th season of the India Fashion Week (sponsored in its early years by Lakmé and then by Wills Lifestyle). It was a spectacular assemblage of designer work, from Rohit Bal’s embellished couture to the minimalist might of Rajesh Pratap and many others. When the 25 designers came down the ramp to take a bow, they got a standing ovation.

Varanasi is the nerve point of political discourse, so it was no surprise it would be the buzz stop for fashion. Sixteen designers were invited to present three ensembles each inspired by the oldest temple town, connected with a myriad of fables and fabrics. With this, announced the launch of its Crafted in India store with thoughtfully curated merchandise.

Nine designers were invited to show five-six ensembles each in hues of indigo, earth tones and white. In sync with the example they had set earlier, an India Modern store was launched on to “transform the way India buys and sells and for our fashion forward customers”, as the press note put it.