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The great life

That old 'new look'


There is a new mantra in fashion, and it is one that looks set to give bridal and couture wear, a completely new feel. Last Monday was a very special day for everyone in fashion. It was full of anticipation and high expectations. It marked the debut haute couture collection of Belgian designer Raf Simons, known for his modern and clean approach to design, for one of the industry's most loved fashion houses, Christian Dior.

In 1947, Dior himself created a collection which was dubbed the 'New Look'. It came immediately after World War II, at a time when women in Europe had been wearing dreary, masculine-looking uniforms for many years. These women had not dressed like a lady for years, and some had forgotten the art. Dior's collection was a breath of fresh air as it was all about femininity. It was simple, yet celebrated the curves of a woman. Shoulders were easy, the waist emphasized, and hips padded.
And once again, it seems that history has repeateitself last week for Dior.

Raf Simons' collection for Dior Haute Couture has been hailed as the new look of couture. His first piece on the runway was a soft black tuxedo jacket, pulled in at the waist and teamed with cigarette pants. It was modern, clean, light, and elegant. The exaggerated pockets on the hips, sculptured dresses, and waisted jackets would have made Dior himself smile. Simons married the best of old-world couture style with simple, clean cuts. Embellishment was used in some pieces, but not in every garment. It had more of a textured feel that never took away from the cut of the outfit. His use of colours like light, ladylike rose pinks and bold and dramatic electric blues infused a newness into the collection. And now, with the PCJ India Couture Week starting in just over three weeks, will couture here also adapt to this more minimal look? Indian couture has long been about the bling thing. Suneet Varma, who showed his spring couture collection three months ago, called it 'The Eternal Lightness of Being: to love, to hold, to kiss', and it was very different from his other couture collections. It was devoid of embellishment. It had all the romance that Varma is known for, but the stylised saris, tailored tunics, and draped dresses played on print. Fabrics were soft and fine: be it chic chiffons or gorgeous georgettes. "The effort that went into this collection was the same, or probably more, even if it had a more minimal look. I had never worked with prints before, and these were done in Jodhpur and required a lot of research and development, " he says. He is now working on his fall couture collection, and this more subtle but highly luxurious feel will continue. "There will be use of ek-tar (tone on tone) embroidery, and it will not be blingy at all. " Of course, he will continue to use his trademark lace. "People are looking for clothes that have a wearable quality, even when it comes to couture, " he adds. One reason for this is the fear of recession leading to a sombre mood, but also and equally important is the deeper understanding of fashion today. There is an awareness of the beauty of fabric and fit. 

Which means you can expect to see a new look at PCJ India Couture Week (PCJ ICW), even if designers are still looking at the bridal market for couture in India. Varun Bahl has not named his collection yet (its working title is 'New India vs Old India' ), but says that his collection is a complete departure from his previous couture looks. Firstly, he will use black in his couture for the first time, and is experimenting with a new spin on the lehenga. "It is more focused on fabric and edgy cuts, " he says. He has used Korean silks (costing up to $200 a metre, these silks are known for their fine lustre and beautiful feel).

For Anju Modi too, in her PCJ ICW collection 'Devi' silk is her dominant fabric. Inspired by the portrayal of strong women in Bengali literature, she is using natural and tussar silks. "They take colour very well, literally drinking it up, " she says. Her colour palette is full of ivories, blood reds, and tobacco;rich but elegant. "The emphasis is on woven fabrics that I have developed from all over India, and embroidery is minimalistic. " For her, layering is key. And the designers are not worried about brides-to-be looking for clothes that have that loaded-up look. "It is about less is more, " says Bahl. And perhaps in this time of economic uncertainty, anything too overdone seems unsightly. Also, something gentler is taken as refreshingly new and different. "The priority now is to look cool more than decked up. Even for brides, " says Gaurav Gupta. For him, it is going to be all about colour, with sonic pink being one of his favourites. Neon colours will add a fresh twist to his Indian wear. Known for ball gown-style saris and lehengas, Gupta believes couture is more about fantasy than anything else. He admits there was a time when the Indian women felt a garment coming with a couture price tag had to be all about embellishment and embroidery. But now, they too are looking for interesting drapery, layering, pattern, and cut. And it is these elements that will be the heroes of his collection.

Perhaps the reason that Simons' debut at Dior is being feted so ardently is that he caught the mood of times, which is what fashion is about. It seems we are all feeling scared of another deep recession (yes, even in India), and there is a new understanding as to what luxury really is. It is not about showing off, but about fine-made clothes that are works of art you can wear again and again. So while Simons managed to balance the best of Dior's trademark codes of feminity and prettiness with his own love of modernity and cleanness, Indian designers look set to marry India's rich heritage of drapery, shape, and fabric with today's love for something different, edgy, yet elegant. I am looking forward to this new look. It sounds like fashion you can enjoy and want to wear. And hopefully, brides will no longer faint thanks to the kilos of embellishment they wear. Let's just hope this new mood lasts more than a season or two!

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