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Faking it, and loving it

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Indians love their precious metals but an increasing number are now turning to costume jewellery to add a splash of style to their outfits without breaking the bank.

Fashion weeks are back. Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) starts in Mumbai this Friday and lasts for five days, and then comes PCJ India Couture Week in Delhi the following week. That is a lot of shows. What I find gives a respite, especially during LFW, is the growing amount of fun accessories you get to see, especially costume jewellery. I have always loved my baubles, like most girls. Whether it was real or faux never really mattered to me. I remember saving up to buy my first pair of faux Chanel earrings at 18 - what my mother called "junk jewellery". Today though, buying faux jewellery is seen as an investment, and even my mother blesses my non-precious jewellery purchases.

At fashion stores like Ensemble, Evoluzione, Aza or Kimaya, costume jewellery now forms a significant part of their inventory. Even at lifestyle stores such as Good Earth, Bungalow 8 and Le Mill, there is a growing focus on jewellery. Fashion designers Nachiket Barve, Gaurav Gupta, Ranna Gill, Sabyasachi and Rajesh Pratap Singh have come out with their own lines and the baubles from home-gown brands like Suhani Pittie, Eina Ahluwalia and En Inde are as sought after as any fashion designer's clothes. "The costume jewellery market has been changing quietly for years, " says Maithili Ahluwalia, proprietor, Bungalow 8. Ranna Gill, who started her line of accessories two years ago, says it already accounts for ten per cent of her profits and she sees this growing to 18 per cent very soon. In fact Kolkata-based Eina Ahluwalia calls her designs jewellery since she uses sterling silver which is its precious element. It may not be fine or important jewellery but it is not at all "faux".

As the attitude to fashion has changed so has the attitude to costume or conceptual jewellery. It is now not only acceptable but actually stylish to wear some faux jewellery when stepping out for the night. In fact, for many women today, wearing real jewellery is reserved for weddings and festive occasions only. And with jewellery prices so high, you do think twice before buying a precious piece. Says Deepika Gehani, a fashion designer and creative head of Genesis Luxury (the company that has brought Bottega Veneta, Armani, Jimmy Choo and many other international brands to India), "Costume is no longer just a cheap alternative to real jewellery. With the use of high quality stones and materials coupled with excellent craftsmanship, it has achieved 'collectible' status. Boudoirs now boast customised cabinets to showcase collections of costume jewellery collected from across the globe. "

Every time I go into the Chanel store at Delhi's Imperial hotel I find that their faux pearl necklaces are among their bestsellers. Though prices start at around Rs 40, 000 and go up to about Rs 2 lakh, women don't mind the heavy price tag as these pieces are viewed as an investment - classic and beautiful that can be worn day to night. Often buying real jewellery, which ends up spending more time in your safe than anywhere else, can seem frivolous. And now, costume jewellery designers are reporting that brides are requesting bespoke pieces for functions such as the sangeet and mehendi. How you wear and use your jewellery can actually add a lot more character to your style than the outfit. Says Hyderabadbased designer Suhani Pittie, "If we look around us, we'd realise how simple and clean our dressing and silhouettes have become. Five people working together in an office can all be in avatars of a white kurta. It's through jewellery that they can express their style. Jewellery is now a medium of self-expression. "

So what's new for Fall - well, Indian designers are going strong on gold, and En Inde, known for their use of steel, are experimenting with steel dipped in gold. The necklace and the cuff are the most popular pieces. Necklaces are like the new shoe, you cannot have enough of them. Wear them smartly and they give you a taller and slimmer look. Both shorter and longer necklaces work, but right now bib styles are very strong. Also look out for the use of unusual materials, be it En Inde's use of lava or Giorgio Armani's use of acrylic. This season is not just about the usual cuffs and necklaces, the idea of costume jewellery is to be different and have fun with it. Suhani has does some interesting head pieces, anklets and brooches. Chanel as part of its "Paris-Delhi" collection has even played with the 'haathphool'. It is all about mix and matching, even when it comes to clothes and jewellery. Contemporise your heirloom Kanjeevaram with some steel, or semi precious stone jewellery. Just remember that when you pair costume jewellery with Indian clothes it is better to go for something that has an Indian flavour or inspiration, otherwise your baubles will look out of place. It really is true that accessories can make or break an outfit. Also remember there is no need to do full sets - earrings, a necklace, a brooch, bangle and headpiece is overdoing it. Do one statement piece and one support piece.

The best thing about contemporary Indian-inspired costume jewellery is that it also works well with western clothes, adding an elegant fusion twist. This is probably why Hollywood stars like Penelope Cruz, Kate Beckinsale and Cate Blanchett enjoy wearing "Made In India" accessories. Look out for the use of filigree work in collections right now, it is a style that both Pittie and Ahluwalia have gone strong on - it has grace, and is Indian yet very modern. So while diamonds are a girl's best friend, make conceptual jewellery your loyal style confidante.

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