India Can Emerge As the Saviour of Couture on a Global Scale
Fashion pundits in Western world are talking about how couture is a dying art. On the flipside, couture week is a relatively a young concept in India that was born barely a decade ago. Indian subcontinent is known for age-old textile craft techniques and even ready-to-wear runways have often featured painstakingly created artisanal pieces. The first edition of India Couture Week, a platform to celebrate India’s opulent artisanal heritage happened in September 2008 and since then it has grown by leaps & bounds. Today, Indian couture has the potential to emerge as the saviour of savoir-faire craftsmanship on a global scale.
The economic recession of 2000s had the biggest impact on fashion in recent years like no other socio-cultural phenomenon. Those were alarming times when even Christian Lacroix’s iconic couture label collapsed. The economic slowdown coinciding with the rise of social media fuelled the growth of fast fashion culture with extremely minimalist aesthetics. Since then, global runways have increasingly evolved with a phobia for intricate artisanal detailing. Not using artisans judiciously results in fading of talent pool. Artisans abandoning ateliers for other source of income kills skill.
“Once you start losing all those artisans that knew how to make those things, it’s like cutting down a forest. It’s not going to grow back.” – Daphne Guinness
It is widely regarded that couture is now reduced to a form of advertising while brands depend on prêt, fragrance and accessory range for revenue. Is it too late to say sorry? The Indian story can perhaps radiate hopes of a new beginning. The culture of exclusive artisanal clothing existed in India much before the existence of strict French laws that lay regulations of what can qualify as (haute) couture. It’s because of the same historic cultural values that myriad of textile crafts were preserved and passed on through generations in India. In spite of the rise of machinery and fast fashion brands, the desire for exclusive handcraft and royalty never died in the country that was once stereotyped as the land of Maharajas. The concept of “couture week” was newly born in Indian subcontinent at a time when fashion gurus elsewhere expressed concerns over the future of Parisian Haute couture. While couture is reduced to a service offered by handful in West, the service is now emerging as a full-fledged industry in Indian subcontinent.
Haute Couture sits on top of hierarchy pyramid laying foundation to every technique we know in fashion. Slow death of couture is directly responsible for the rising lack of direction in today’s fashion industry. Haute Couture has picked up momentum in recent years. Thanks to pioneers like Viktor & Rolf duo who merged fashion and art like never before by dressing up models in canvas art frames. John Galliano went on to use hand painted fabrics for Margiela’s recent artisanal collection. In an attempt to safeguard craft, Chanel has recently acquired eleven traditional maisons that were previously facing the threat of extinction. Sourcing craftsmen to keep ateliers alive has become a tricky task in West. In contrast, Indian government in collaboration with various NGOs have done a better job in protecting indigenous textile crafts. Indian textile ministry has set up Weavers Service Center to train young artisans with focus on not only skill but post-modernist design aesthetics. In recent years, Fashion Design Council of India has dedicated fashion week grand finales to the craft instead of one big designer name. Indian fashion industry has ensured that consumers haven’t forgotten the importance of textile crafts in realm of fashion. The recently concluded India Couture Week stood testimony to the rich artisanal heritage that won’t be forgotten anytime soon in India. With new patrons of Haute Couture emerging from the Eastern land, this might not be a goodbye after all.
FOOTNOTES: ART & CRAFT AT INDIA COUTURE WEEK 2016