Indian designers out of 'trousseau trap'

By INDRAJIT BASU, UPI Business Correspondent  |  Aug. 9, 2002 at 3:18 PM
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CALCUTTA, India, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Long limited to fanciful creations for the movie industry and starry-eyed brides, the Indian fashion industry is taking its sense of style overseas.

Two hundred buyers from around India and around the world, international journalists, and 53 designers -- a record number -- converged on the latest Lakme Fashion Week.

This annual fashion extravaganza, named for a domestic make-up brand, ended in New Delhi Friday. Its size indicated that Indian fashion finally spells big business for the country's designers.

For years, "India ... has been dictated to, with prices made to order," but this year's show means that things are changing, said Puja Talwar, an industry observer.

"Although the Indian designer wear market is still miniscule -- about $40 million a year -- it is growing at a rate of 20 percent per year, according to a survey commissioned by KSA Technopack (a leading Indian marketing consultancy)," said Vinod Kaul, executive director of Fashion Design Council of India.

"The mantra of this year's Fashion Week was to make the business of fashion, the fashion of business," said Kaul. "The thrust of this year's show was the ready-to-wear segment, and a platform for creating business for fashion."

He added: "The show has created awareness and visibility, which is a prerequisite for every designer to grow. It may have also helped some designers to understand the international market."

The Indian fashion industry has traditionally had to rely upon Bollywood -- the Hindi film industry -- and wedding wear for its business.

"The show was, therefore, a serious platform through which the Indian designers got a chance to enter the international market instead of depending too much on the trousseau trap," said Aparna Chandra, a fashion designer.

With a miniscule share in the world apparel market (estimates put it at less than 0.5 percent), Indian fashion designers are fervently hoping that this year's show opens new avenues.

"I managed to bag one confirmed order from an Indian exporter and received serious inquiries from Hong Kong and Dubai," said Chandra. "And I hope that Indian designers would eventually be able to get something out from the international buyers from this year's fashion show."

Fashion industry experts say that increased acceptance of the Indian "look" abroad could attract international buyers to India.

For instance, Selfridges, one of London's largest department stores, sold 85 percent of the Indian designer clothes that it had expected to sell in a year, within a little more than three weeks. This year, it is back in India with a bigger order book.

"Last year, when we bought some of the best Indian designers, it was a huge success in London," said Selfridges' Harvey Sutton.

He said the store broke tradition when it "showcased India's rich cultural heritage."

It showed 10 Indian designers side by side with such global favorites as Hugo Boss, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana.

"Selfridges today stocks garments by David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore as well as shirts by Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna (all leading names in Indian fashion space)," he added.

"I've been in India nearly 10 times now and found that nothing beats the Indian embroidery, pleating and smocking," said Sutton's colleague, Tony Morgan.

According to Morgan, India is a hot destination for the Western shopper who is looking for techniques, vibrancy and colors.

Puja Talwar, an industry observer, feels that Bollywood made the international fashion fraternity notice India.

"Bollywood shows overseas have perhaps been the country's fashion ambassadors," said Talwar.

"Our Hindi film industry has demonstrated that India's fashion industry can not only churn out a mix of the best pret-a-porter, but also brilliant and vibrant hues all under one roof."

The Indian price tag has been a big attraction for many foreign buyers, too. "For them, India turned out to be the best option available in terms of design, considering the fact that Europe is expensive," said Talwar.

Lower prices and brighter colors aside, fashion week provided yet another attraction for international buyers: a lot of media coverage. For instance, according to Selfridges, its promotions were worth $15 million.

Encouraged by this year's success, the Indian fashion industry plans to hold more fashion shows each year, including some abroad.

Kaul said the Fashion Design Council of India plans to hold the India Fashion Week twice a year, in line with the international practice of spring and fall shows.

"This means the multi-million rupee advertising, marketing and design extravaganza ... will involve even bigger sponsorship amounts," said Kaul. Sponsors are already queuing up, he added.

But an even more daring idea is perhaps a "mini Indian fashion show" during New York's Fashion Week, set for February 2003.

"The Fashion Design Council of India is in serious talks with the organizer of the New York Fashion Week to take a group of five top Indian designers, perhaps under a promotional theme, to showcase Indian fashion in the Big Apple," said Kaul.

If that happens, "it will be the big ticket to a global stage that Indian designers have been seeking lately," said Talwar.

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