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The fashion season has begun. The Wills India Fashion Week has started in Delhi and just a couple of days after it ends, attention will shift to Mumbai for the Lakme Fashion Week. Yet when one looks at the line-up of designers, it makes you wonder why so many names are missing - Rohit Bal, Sabyasachi, Gaurav Gupta, Anamika Khanna, Ashish Soni and Anand Kabra, among them.
Internationally, a designer would never miss a fashion week. Dior may have been without a creative director last year but the show still went on. Celine's Phoebe Philo was seven months pregnant and found a runway show too demanding yet she kept her slot on the Paris Fashion Week schedule and opted to do a presentation instead of a show. The powers-that-be at Alexander McQueen also chose this option after the sudden demise of the designer. Showing every season is not an option, it is a core business practice.
With the fashion weeks being well over a decade old, it is strange that this idea has not sunk in here. Didier Lecoanet and Hemant Sagar first set up their label, Lecoanet Hemant, in Paris and were part of the couture federation there. When they first relocated to Delhi in 2002, they were regulars at both the fashion weeks but have been missing in action for the last two years. The duo just opened a store in Khan Market, their third in the Capital. Their absence does not seem to have stopped their growth. This year, they are back at WIFW this season with a stall. They are not doing a catwalk show. Says Hemant: "There is only one season here and that is the wedding season. "
Most Indian designers making their bread and butter from the big fat Indian wedding prefer to look at the Couture Week which is a better platform for such collections than the India fashion weeks.
When it comes to daily wear, we are spoilt for choice - from Zara to Armani, or even the in-house label of department stores. The Made-in-India designer clothes tend to be reserved for special occasions. Also seasonality seems to matter less in this segment. Two years ago Anand Kabra's Fall/Winter 2011 collection received rave reviews and it is still in demand. Stores are still re-ordering this line and Deepika Padukone just wore it on the red carpet a month ago.
Another reason that Hemant has stayed away from fashion weeks here is branding. "It is all so sponsor driven, " says Hemant. Here when we say fashion week, it always comes with a prefix - either Wills India or Lakme. London Fashion Week's principal sponsor is Vodafone, and for years New York Fashion Week has been sponsored by Mercedes Benz. Yet their branding is not all over the place. I have overheard many designers admit that often they only show when they get a sponsored event. It seems this genre of designer does not want to invest in its own brand by taking part in their own industry's trade show, which really is what a fashion week should be.
There is no question about the two big benefits of participating in the India Fashion weeks - business and press. While Gaurav Gupta and Nachiket Barve are not showing, they have taken stalls. Gaurav has, in fact, taken three. The fashion week is after all where buyers come to place their orders and where the fashion press plans its issues.
At WIFW, the shows often seem more like entertainment than anything else. A showstopper will get more press and applause than a designer, and row one will be filled with Page Three faces rather than buyers or reporters. Internationally one sees the reverse, with the concept of a showstopper now defunct. In fact, many designers just show once a year to keep up their image but take a stall year after year for the business. This is more apparent with senior and well-established designers. Young designers feel the need to show regularly so their names acquire a recall value.
Last year Gucci's creative director Frida Giannini moved her show to the first day of Milan Fashion Week. Many important editors and buyers had stopped coming for the full week of the event because most senior designers had taken to showing only towards the end of the week. This year Giannini opened the Milan week and took her bow just ten days before she delivered her first baby. Such is the importance placed on showing solidarity with the industry. Indian designers love to talk about the camaraderie in the industry but you do wonder...
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