Come April 6, and the Autumn/ Winter 2011 edition of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week organised by the Fashion Design Council of India gets underway at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. A record number of 141 designers take part this time — 77 on the ramp (in 41 shows) and 64 in stalls. After five days of get-me-out-of-here fashion and corresponding media coverage, the people most likely to escape attention in the midst of the attention showered on apparel designers showing on the ramp will, without a doubt, be the people behind the 17 accessory labels showcasing in the stalls.
It's a good range. To name a few, there's shoe designer Samir Singh of label Jakaal, who specialises in bespoke shoes said to be manufactured in the same Italian factories as the Manolos and Louboutins of the world of foot couture. Then there's Malini Agarwalla with her label Malaga and Shalini Ahuja of Shalini Arts. Jewellery designer Nitin Vijay, who in the last edition of WIFW showcased his label G'nia and Geesz, will now showcase his designs for Italian jewellery house Picchiotti. Fashion jewellery label Amrapali, which has become a case study on how to capitalise on the controlled Indian-ness of an accessory, is also participating, and so is seasoned luxury handbag designer Meera Mahadevia.
Radhika Gupta, through her label 5 Elements, showcases a jewellery line inspired by ghungroos. A graduate of London College of Fashion who set up her label in 2005, Radhika is content with the platform provided by the WIFW. “Everything is linked, whether it's accessories, garments or footwear. Everything put together makes fashion,” she says.
Needed solo shows
Rajiv Arora of Amrapali, however, is more forthright. “Now accessory and jewellery designing is doing a lot for this country and is also an important foreign exchange earner. So, accessory designers should also be given solo shows in fashion weeks. This is a long-standing demand that I have voiced again and again. Now is the right time; jewellery design is mature enough and there's a lot of young talent in the market too.” While accessory labels often collaborate with apparel designers to showcase their lines, Arora feels this does no justice to the former.
Amrapali, started by Rajesh Ajmera and Rajiv Arora, has turned into a Hollywood favourite — everyone from Demi Moore to Anne Hathaway and Jada Pinkett Smith is a fan. This season, four new lines will be showcased — ‘Memories Regaled' (pieces inspired by Art Nouveau), ‘Rooted Splendour' (inspired by old pieces, with stone inlay work of Rajasthan), ‘The Eccentric Phrase' (an “out-of-the-box” line) and ‘Feminine Indulgence' (delicate pieces in pale European colours).
Luxury handbag designer Meera Mahadevia, who's been designing for 25 years now, has drawn inspiration from Richard Bach's book “Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah' and its line ‘What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master called a butterfly'.
On how it is for accessory designers at fashion week, Meera says, “It is a wonderful platform for accessory designers but I definitely wish accessory design was also given equal importance — by the FDCI as well as the media. Just because they're not going on the ramp doesn't mean there isn't work involved. The coverage is mostly about ramp shows; since accessory design in FDCI's fashion week doesn't come on the ramp, it's not given equal footage.”
For Mumbai-based Felix Bendish, whose forte is surface ornamentation and who's known as a fabricator, it's his third appearance at WIFW. He says that though it has gone well in terms of international buyers, a ramp slot would be welcome. “I wish we could have a platform on the runway, where we could display our creativity on the models. I work on thematic presentations, so I'm just waiting for my own space. I don't want to collaborate with any designer.”
His new line, comprising neckpieces and headgear, is called ‘Fragile Fiction'. With glass as a major element, inspiration is from fractals and the “complexity of human mind”.
Nitin Vijay, who shows his line for Picchiotti, says that while India has gone quite far in terms of design attributes, manufacturing is the weak link. Nitin, in his last appearance at WIFW, introduced the concept of gold couture, where the gold is fabricated and is reclaimable up to 100 percent after the fabric has reached the end of its life. “We have received encouraging response but a small setback because of the rising gold prices, which hampers a little because earlier we were working on a different scale when gold was Rs.16,000 per 10 grams. Now it's come to Rs.21,000. But these are niche products with a niche market. Everything takes a little time to pick up,” he ponders.
With accessory designers at fashion weeks, too, he has a wait-and-watch approach.
“Accessories have not been very prominent in fashion weeks yet. Since the FDCI has initiated a little effort towards accessories, it should be a good connect. Ultimately, fashion is nothing without accessories. It is a little early to say what one can achieve, but the initiative, I feel, is good and we are trying to work it out.”