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Going Dutch



SUJATA ASSOMULL SIPPY

Could a creative collaboration between Dutch and Indian designers open the doors for a bigger global presence on desi runways?

It is the first day of the Wills India Fashion Week (WIFW) which means fashion is going to be in the air for the next five days. And we all know the one thing Indian designers love to talk about - their "international" presence. Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council (FDCI), defends the fraternity. "What is wrong with this? A writer will always like to talk about writing for a New Yorker or Wallpaper Magazine. Recognition is a good thing. " He points out that when the FDCI was first set up, one of its goals was to ensure that Indian designers receive international recognition. While not many Indian designers have made a mark globally, there is definitely a "phoren' touch on Indian runways.

This week all eyes in the fashion industry are on the Dutch Here and Now India (DFH&NI) show, which has Dutch designers collaborating with Indian designers. The duo of Diederik Verbakel and Marieke Holthuis, which goes by the name *DIED*, has teamed up with Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna, while Suneet Varma has paired up with Jan Taminiau, and they have the evening prime time show tonight. Being the opening day plus a Saturday, this is probably the most coveted slot of the week. The pairing has been cleverly done as the DIED duo is known for its innovative use of print on silks. In their collaborative piece with pr?t designers Rohit and Rahul, their prints have been used as inspiration for embroideries.

Jan Taminiau, known for glamourous couture (he's dressed Lady Gaga on more than one occasion), is working with Indian couturier Varma. Each designer pairing will show their spring/summer collection and five collaborative pieces. Says designer Rahul Khanna, "A programme like this may not result in direct sales, but is important and prestigious. Fashion is relatively new in India while the Dutch designers have experience and knowledge on their side. A partnership only helps us grow. "

Last season, WIFW had three designers from Japan showing at the week and there was a talk by Kenya Hara, art director of brand Muji. This obviously set the ball rolling. The Indo-Dutch project takes things a step further and is backed by the Dutch Government. It is a project they have done in China and after India, they take it to Turkey. Says Sethi, "This is an important project, and we will be working very closely with the Dutch Embassy. Plus we will have a space at a very important fashion trade show in Holland where we will show the work of 10 to 12 Indian designers. "

Now Holland may not sound like one of the large fashion destinations of the world, but as Sethi says "they rule the denim market. " Also this is no flash in the pan. Next season Manish Arora will show work made in collaboration with a leading Dutch designer. This whole process has been going on for almost three years, and as Harmeet Bajaj, DFH&NI Brand Ambassador who presented a whole fashion mapping of India in Holland, pointed out, "The fact is today if you are in the fashion business, you can't avoid India. "

Working with make-up maestro Ambika Pillai will be Ellis Faas, an influential make-up artist who has done shows for Chanel and Fendi. Iconic catwalk photographer Peter Steiger will be here too. Both will be holding trade workshops during the week and there is also a denim workshop being conducted. "An exchange of ideas is always a good thing, " says Sethi. "In the creative field it is important for such fun projects to take place, as it really helps the thought process. " Already Rohit and Rahul are thinking of developing their own denim line. Says Mariette Hoitink, who founded HTNK, Amsterdam's premier fashion recruitment and consultancy agency and is here as a part of DFH&NI, "The aim of the project is to bridge continents. What will happen when we've connected all these people, we can never know beforehand, but the options are endless. We'll have to wait and see where this first edition of DFH&NI leads us. "

This Dutch programme looks like the start of a new trend at WIFW, as two other countries have already expressed an interest in working with the FDCI for future fashion weeks. Hopefully it is a sign that Indian fashion is finally gaining momentum. As Hoitink says, "We really feel that the Indian designers have unique qualities that could challenge, inspire or take Western fashion to a new level. "

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