India Couture Week: Its always a ball


India Couture Week: Its always a ball

The day a designer becomes bigger than his clothes, clouds of serious danger are cast on the perception and the real worth of his work. But with Rohit Bal, India’s couture king and easily the most popular designer of this country, what can you say?

He is known for his looks, success, quirks, fabulous couture, his Jalabiyas in silk and cotton, his pleated, fluted Anarkalis in mulmul, his maddening reds, his blissful blues, his velvet coats which have the smirk of royalty, his embellished lehngas, embroidered blouses and his long gowns that urge girls to consider marriage so that they can have a “Rohit Bal” wedding. And that’s not it.

Bal’s shows have a reputation of being spectacular, glamour-soaked outings. They attract doctors and divas, high society and civil society, chatterati, glitterati, causerati, bloggerati and designerati. The latter two have been added to ongoing “ati” subsets. First to keep up with our digital lives and the second because while designers are usually divided into lobbies, for Rohit “Gudda” Bal (Gudda is Bal’s pet name, famous name), mostly everyone turns up. They clap thunderously, competitive envy fades away as infectious joie de vivre rules the show.

All that and more could describe the mood around Kehkashaan, Bal’s finale collection for India Couture Week on Sunday evening. The venue was Delhi’s Bikaner House, which houses Vayu, the beautiful design store. Booze, gowns, saris, Anarkalis, suits and jewels shone and shimmered, heady perfumes clashed excitedly, the lighting was dim and romantic but not dark…

It is hard to understand why Kehkashaan—which means galaxy or the road to the stars—was subtitled The Return of Opulence. Bal’s opulence has never departed—talking of its return would be getting ahead of the story.

But in the collection note, Bal explains Kehkashaan as “his personal interpretation and understanding of the opulence and beauty of the Czarist regime of Russia”—the Kremlin, the Armoury, The Almazny Fond (The Diamond Fund) in Moscow and the museums of St. Petersburg. And on the other hand, “my absolute true love, Kashmir . Here, rich golds meet fine silk threads. Zardozi meets Kashmiri kaani, crewel work and petit point and chain stitch. Velvet meets handwoven silks. Rich jewels meet autumn leaves, poppies and irises in guilded frames of lustrous luxury to create one beautiful form,” he writes.

All that was true. Try imagining Russia and Kashmir kiss and clash for couture and you get the picture. Velvet coats with gold threadwork, pleated gowns in ombre shades, velvet sherwanis, and long jackets slit on the sides. Black, gold, maroon, bronze coloured petit point and crewel work done in shades of a Kashmiri autumn. They were faultless in beauty, they spelt couture even if your eyes were closed and you had to testify this just by touch.

But neither did they show a less known, submerged side of the artist as designer nor did the show reveal anything else about Bal as a “famous designer”. It was yet another beautiful Rohit Bal show with stunning clothes. There was huge applause but the person with the most smiles on his face was Bal himself. The designer couldn’t disguise his outpouring admiration for each of his garments as they walked down the ramp dazzling with heavy jadau jewellery by Shri Ram Hari Ram jewellers from Old Delhi. The jewellery didn’t work—the last thing Bal’s walkway to Russian and Kashmiri opulence needed was outsized, conspicuous jewellery.

Also, the richly designed garments were poorly edited. More and more followed each other in a repetitive outpouring. One of Bal’s aides summed it up very well. “It’s something to see more and more people turn up for Gudda’s show every year, despite how disorganised we are.” True. Nobody’s cares for the Czar’s new clothes because they care so much for the Czar.