UNDERSTATEMENT: Thank you for not using rani pink


UNDERSTATEMENT: Thank you for not using rani pink

Minutes before their Autumn Winter 2014 show started at JW Mariott in Delhi’s Aerocity, designer brothers Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra eagerly mused about their collection Rani Sultanate’s Istanbul inspiration, Nikhil’s recreation of the “confidential and grand couture” of a queen’s wardrobe (worth a queen’s ransom, we suppose) and so on. My mind, fuzzy with memories of some of their former collections, an image dominated by tennis player Sania Mirza in a decorative lehnga, worried if another walk into antiquity (Indian couturiers are obsessed with history tourism after all) awaited us.

The set was a cluster of dome-shaped architectural pods to seat people in circles on black velvet sofa singles; the lights blue-white, the atmosphere more ballroom than catwalk. When the first three garments walked out together, a slinky black drape dress with a dull gold bodice, the most striking of the lot, the model wearing edgy headgear, people sat up. Here was good construction–architectural as Nikhil would insist—and restrained design (and no, let’s not restrain it to cocktail bride stuff). As more garments walked out, there was little doubt that this was one of Shantanu & Nikhil’s better couture collections so far. Design maturity and the growing market need for quieter couture has clearly gripped the brand’s expression.

Constructed lehngas and gowns with exciting layering, fitted at the top dresses with billowing skirts in gossamer nets and laces on which tiny sequins played hide and seek, enticing drapery used for gowns, stitched saris and men’s lungis, glamorous bodices, fabric cut-outs on ballroom silhouettes—there were many good ensembles. Artistically sound and wearable, this was new couture alright. Who cared if it was for the bold Indian bride, her NRI guests or her mother-in-law’s young friends.

Two aspects stood out. The menswear which was very good given what one usually sees on the Indian ramp. Sexy lungis in fluid fabrics, tone on tone embroidered jackets added to some of the haute looks. The other was the colour palette. Minus fiery oranges, crazy greens and the omnipresent rani pinks of Indian bridal wear, this collection used colour as a parallel statement alongside garment construction. Lovely shades of ash grey, maroons that looked like old terracotta turned deeper with time, cold shades of nude, black that was more pepper than boot polish and deep blue to rival the hue to midnight.

It has to be said though that if I had read Shantanu & Nikhil’s collection note, choked with heavy adjectives, trying to tell the story of a queen who ends up sounding more neurotic than raised in traditions of couture, I would not have attended this show. Sample these lines: “…Instead, she uses the splendor of couture as the only form of escapist expression and yet has the power to reflect the elitist exchanges of ideas between her creative thoughts and the rest of the world.” The note said nothing about the silhouettes, the techniques or fabrics used and instead glorified an unrealistic idea. Especially when fashion is good and vital, designers should do away with meaningless words and stick to information. Also, some of the male models looked sleepy and in need of urgent lessons in ramp posturing—the selection needed better judgment. Finally, it wasn’t really astute to start the show with three female models each holding a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black label whisky (the show’s sponsors). It was blatant surrogate advertising. Both sponsors and designers could have worried about subtlety as that was indeed the best quality of the whole collection.