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Coming apart at the seams
Couture and bridal have been pretty much synonymous in India but a few designers are now discovering their haute side.
This week, the A-listers headed for Paris Haute Couture Week, which is the pinnacle of fashion. To show here, designers need to fulfill some stringent parameters. Translated haute couture means "high sewing" or "high dressmaking". In France it is such a revered term that it is protected by law. To call oneself an haute couturier, one must fulfill the specifications of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. This includes presenting a collection in Paris that has at least 35 looks and is a mix of both day and evening wear.
Lecoanet Hemant are the only Asian designers to have been part of this prestigious chamber, and they showed at Paris Haute Couture from 1984-2000. Hemant Sagar, one half of the duo, says the wonder of couture lies in the process of making the garment. "It is more about the cut and the seams. For haute couture you place seams on the person you are designing for and not according to the width of the material."
Most fashion houses treat couture with reverence even though it doesn't fetch a return on investment the way that prêt-a-porter does. It is more a matter of pride. This time Paris Haute Couture Week's starting show was Atelier Versace, who had Naomi Campbell open their show. It was all about cuts - with daring necklines and exposed shoulders. Materials used were precious such as crocodile and mink. It was sensual, sexy and daring-all the trademarks we expect from the House of Versace but in a very modern, sleek and urbane way.
Couture season is about to start in India too. The PCJ Delhi Couture Week starts at the end of the month. Before that, there will be an Amby Valley Indian Bridal Week, and just before that Tarun Tahiliani holds his Couture Exposition from July 18 to 20.
The profusion of these events has led to confusion among many in the industry as to what is the difference between bridal and couture. It seems that if there is one constant in Indian fashion, it is fragmentation. We have various readyto-wear (prêt-a-porter ) platforms, and now we have bridal and couture platforms. However, couture here is very different from Paris. It is pretty much about catering to the wedding market since this is where designers hope to make their highest return on investments. Designers may stay away from doing a ready to wear collections, but a bridal collection is a must. As Hemant puts it, "Couture here just means a garment that is embellished and expensive". Up until now it has seemed like the whole romance and definition of couture has not mattered. All it did was explain a stiff price tag. Now, this split between couture and bridal has meant that couture in India is being redefined. Also, it is not exactly fair to transplant a French concept and expect it to work in an Indian context. In Europe, couture was primarily worn at balls, red carpet events and other special occasions. In many ways the Big Fat Indian Wedding is our answer to this, so it is natural that couture be worn here. And now that there is a distinction between a bridal and couture week, designers who do the latter are working hard at staying true to the essence of couture. There are nine designers showing at this year's Couture Week - of them Gaurav Gupta, Varun Bahl, Anamika Khanna and Anju Modi all showed collections last year that were faithful to the spirit of couture. (Really the only real couture designers missing from PCJ Delhi Couture Week are Rohit Bal, and perhaps Tarun Tahiliani. ) Says Varun Bahl, "That was a step in the right direction last time. I would say 70 per cent of what I showed last time was couture and the rest had a bridal feel. Couture shows in Paris cater to the red carpet so I do not see anything wrong in having an element of bridal here. But I still maintain that a beautifully made black trouser suit can be couture and I stick to this ethos."
So perhaps couture in India is developing its own definition without being dependent on opulence and embroidery. According to Anamika Khanna, there are two telling tale signs of true couture. "Customization is the starting point of couture anywhere in the world. A couture piece is about the person it is made for. Then it is about being the finest. It is about being the best quality from the lining to the sewing of the piece. It is about using the best techniques and also pushing the fashion boundaries."
There is no harm in couture having a bridal feel-as today the modern bride no longer just wants the traditional lehenga choli - as long as the essence of couture is not forgotten. Perhaps with this edition of couture week we will see an Indian definition of the term, which has all the romance of haute couture but also adapts itself to the realities of the Indian market.
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