Fashion in the context of our independence appears to be an unusual subject. Is it, however, true? Today, top designers in India, from Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Manish Malhotra to Tarun Tahiliani and Anita Dongre, are all talking about the revival of Indian crafts.
When one considers why there is a need for this revival in the first place, one can easily trace the decline of these heritage crafts back to the British era, when unchecked exploitation saw heavily taxed craftsmen, handloom weavers, and artisans turn to cheaper ways of creating products, which replaced exquisitely handcrafted treasures.
Nonetheless, over the last few decades, this group of talented couturiers has recognized the importance and beauty of our crafts and has worked to keep them relevant. It is a never-ending effort that has greatly influenced and shaped Indian fashion.
However, in the immediate aftermath of the British withdrawal from the country, fashion in India was heavily influenced by global trends, the economy, and the availability of various fabrics.
Blouses and petticoats, which were not traditionally part of Indian attire, were introduced after the British arrived and are still an essential part of a saree today.
While the 1950s celebrated khadi, “the fabric of freedom,” which is still popular in 2022, the 1960s saw Indian film costumes influence national trends — think fitted kurta sets and vibrant and large prints.
The hippie culture had a strong influence in the 1970s. Tapered pants and form-fitting salwars were replaced with fussy polka dot tops and bell bottoms, as well as oversized glasses, headbands, fringed details, and psychedelic prints. If there was ever a time when fashion was an integral part of a subculture, this was it.
However, as the late 1970s and early 1980s progressed, fashion began to be taken more seriously in the country. While French fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Hermes had been around for over a century in the West, the concept of luxury fashion by an Indian label was still unheard of.
Names like the legendary Satya Paul established themselves during this decade. Ensemble by Tarun Tahiliani, India’s first multi-designer boutique, also opened this year. Furthermore, moviegoers were influenced by the outfits worn by movie stars, such as bell sleeves, floral prints, sequins, bandanas, choker necklaces, and short blouses with puffed sleeves.
As the ’90s, the decade that began with India’s economic liberalization, arrived, so did denims in all shapes and sizes, including mini skirts, high-waisted ‘dad’ jeans, and even dungarees. There were also cropped tops, matching sets, and plenty of plaids.
Our obsession with Bollywood was paired with this love for the culture of this far-flung Western country in the 2000s, as we became acquainted with American stars thanks to easy access to American movies, TV shows, and music.
Tube tops, low waist jeans, denim jackets, and mini dresses were the order of the day and the shinier the better when it came to Indian wear. Numerous fashion labels emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, from Rohit Bal to Rajesh Pratap Singh and JJ Valaya.
The clothes, on the other hand, were mostly ethnic Indian occasion wear. Although the designers did help to refocus attention on traditional Indian crafts such as resham, zardosi, aari, mirror work, gota, and chikankari, there was a gap in the market for luxe everyday wear.
This need was met by a growing group of younger designers who, in the early 2010s, began emphasizing sustainable, handwoven fabrics with a focus on creating comfortable, breathable, earth-friendly garments that could be described as ‘everyday luxury.’
No Nasties, Doodlage, Khara Kapas, Summer House, and Sui are just a few examples. These are just a few of the many fashion labels that want the fabrics and fit to do the talking rather than the embellishments. The emergence of these new labels over the last 12 years has compelled everyone in the fashion industry to reconsider and re-strategize.
Today, if you don’t include the words “sustainable” and “conscious” in your mission statement, you won’t be taken seriously. Yes, heritage labels like Tarun Tahiliani and Sabyasachi continue to thrive and coexist with the new generation of designers.
This is due not only to their expert craftsmanship but also to their unwavering dedication to India’s heritage techniques and crafts, which would have been long forgotten if these legendary names had not existed.