New stars of India

In the September edition of Vogue India, sandwiched between features on bridal couture, facial yoga and the Bollywood newcomer Alia Bhatt, is something that has given hope to the country’s young designers.

A design by Rahul Mishra

It is a shortlist of six finalists for India’s first Fashion Fund, launched in May by Vogue and the Fashion Design Council of India to promote the country’s next generation of designers. On the shortlist are Amit Aggarwal, Pankaj and Nidhi Ahuja, Aneeth Arora, Nitin Bal Chauhan, Rahul Mishra and Payal Pratap Singh. The winner, to be revealed on Saturday, will receive a year of support from the FDCI and Vogue India, a cash prize of about £30,000, and a year-long mentorship from a leading fashion industry professional.

India is the latest in a line of countries to benefit from the Fashion Fund idea, launched in 2003 by US Vogue. The award signals something of a coming of age for Indian fashion both at home and abroad.

Designers such as Manish Arora, who holds his spring/summer show next week in Paris, as well as the New York-based Naeem Khan and newcomer Prabal Gurung, whose show at the beginning of the womenswear season was inspired in part by the work of artist Anish Kapoor, are making inroads into the international fashion establishment.

Khan, for example, whose clothes are worn by Michelle Obama, is sold in 200 retailers, including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Ricci Burns in London, and is planning a series of standalone stores. Gurung, a runner-up for the 2010 US Fashion Fund award, is a favourite of Demi Moore, Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga, and sells in Barney’s, Neiman Marcus, Browns and Lane Crawford. Arora was creative director of Paco Rabanne for two seasons.

According to designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, one of the Fashion Fund in India judges, “The whole world is looking to India for inspiration.” Gurung, who launched his business in 2009, says, “The world is more open to the idea of business from Asia, China and India these days. There is an acceptance of different ideas; a growing market and need for design.”

A design by Aneeth Arora

In global terms, this means walking a fine line between heritage and international hopes for the future. “Think of the sadhu or Indian holy man painting ashes on his body,” says Khan. “I take that idea and make it gold. I am deconstructing these ideas in my own way while keeping the silhouette basic and wearable. I use Indian craftsmanship but in a modern way.”

His autumn/winter 2012 collection, for example, included a sterling silver gown made up of the bindi dot more usually seen on women’s foreheads, and elegant prints based on the circles painted on the bodies of sadhus. The “Dust and Decadence of India” show was rounded out with luxurious kaftans covered in traditional Indian paisley and golden torso gowns.

The highlight of Gurung’s autumn/winter 2012 collection was a long white gown with sheer, delicately bejewelled sleeves and a bullion-embroidered train, fit for a maharajah. Likewise, his spring/summer collection featured fitted jackets and loose pants, asymmetric tailcoats and trousers, and billowing, kurta-inspired chiffon tunics.

Arora’s autumn/winter 2012 collection, shown in Paris in March, included his trademark vivid, bright designs featuring beautiful embroidery handmade in India and modern-day influences such as graffiti.

A design by Pankaj & Nidhi Ahuja

Until the breakthroughs of names such as Arora and Khan, the progress of Indian designers beyond India moved forward only in fits and starts; a few years ago, for example, their global presence was small and confined almost exclusively to Britain. The problem, says Khan, was that “it is only in the past 10-12 years they have had fashion schools. Besides, the market in India is so big that designers don’t have to come to the west.”

Part of the goal of the Fashion Fund is to build on the success of Khan and co. Priya Tanna, editor of Vogue India, says, “While the idea is for the winner to maximise his or her potential and achieve commercial success in this country, we also bear in mind that they will have to represent what Indian fashion and fashion in India will mean to the rest of the world.”

Fern Mallis, a former vice-president of IMG Fashion, who helped launch fashion week in India, says, “India has so many untapped designers who bring a newness and fresh eye to fashion. They have not even made a tiny dent around the world.” Yet.

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