How the #MeToo Movement Affected India Fashion Week

  • By Guan Tan

  • Runway /30 March 2018

  • By Guan Tan

The European roulette of fall/ winter 2018 runways concluded in Paris in March. Soon after, the Asian fashion circuit came to live. First up was the Russia Fashion Week in Moscow, followed closely by India Fashion Week in New Delhi — where the #metoo movement found its way to the fashion runways.

For the past decade, India Fashion Week was a site of spectacle. Designers would send down the runway,  or what the locals dub the "ramp", opulent iterations of the traditional Indian costumes — the female Saree and the male Sherwani, a long-line tunic and trousers outfit. Not any costume would have sufficed. There were strict expectations, or what designer Nikasha Tawadey, a Singaporean fashion designer whose brand is based in New Delhi, calls, "The demands of the ramp — the ramp must correlate to drama, lots of volume, lots of music that's loud. You had to go over the top. The ramp had to look a certain way."

And that marked the customs of India Fashion Week — artisanal, ceremonial, and of all, traditional. "Bridal and couture were things that have been ruling the ramps since the beginning and I don't think anything can replace that," local designer Pallavi Mohan observes. 

According to another designer, Rahul Singh, the industry's inclination for couture-like traditional costumes stems from some deep-rooted cultural habits. "Indians used to only shop when they were getting married or [attending] festivals." When they shopped, they expected the best and worthiest of garments.

Yet, the locals' consumption habits have been heavily influenced by Western media over the years, inevitably forcing the fashion runway to diversify. "As things are changing — digitalisation — more and more people in India are aware of fashion, more comfortable in Western garments," Singh continues. While locals may previously have received flak for wearing Western garments out on the streets, the situation has changed. 

India Fashion Week now has dedicated bridal couture seasons and two pret-a-porter seasons. The division is, presumably, based on a simple logic that couture-like garments should not be shown alongside ready-to-wear garments. Yet, there is much more to this remodelling. The shift essentially removes some cultural strongholds from the runway — bastions of tradition and history. Without the cultural hurdle, designers are given reign to freely respond to the country's pressing societal issues. 

In the previous week's Fall/ Winter 2018 instalment of Amazon India Fashion Week, #metoo dominated the runway — albeit in subtler, invisible ways. 

Nikasha Tawadey

Nikasha
 
Nikasha
 
Nikasha
 

"My collection is called "Keya", it is a monsoon flower. 

In India, we were elbowed all the time. It's really hard. We were constantly exploited on a day-to-day basis. It's come to be second nature. We experienced this since we were in school. When we travelled on the public transport, we knew we will get hit, pinched, all kinds of stuff. 

[But] all the women have said, "No more." That was how I [arrived at] monsoon — a cloud, lightning, a bursting, it rains, and then everything becomes fresh and new. 

I was deeply moved by the #metoo movement... There was a moment of clarity that I had. It's a movement, the dawn has arrived. It has come, we are done. We can now stand up and be who we want to be. There are no apologies. The women have never spoken up, but the dawn has come and it will never go back to that time. The energy and momentum — here in India it's a huge movement. Women are feeling liberated, we are going to speak up."

In her clothes, Tawadey used a series of sequins and vibrant colours to signify the charged atmosphere and sense of hope in New Delhi. She translated the sense of liberation to loose-fitted, fluid silhouettes. "A lot of them are cotton, we used a lot of silk. This collection is a lot of loose, anti-fit, long [looks], long sleeves — almost falling off your shoulders. I wanted to have layers being dropped, everything is dropping off your shoulders. You're weightless, and just whom you want to be." 

 

Komal Sood

"#metoo is a strong movement and I am glad that the women of India and the world have got a chance to express their voices. I am sure that fashion and the ramp can make a political statement such as #metoo," Komal Sood, a Miss India pageant-turned fashion designer quips. To the menswear designer, the very act of a woman dictating what men wear is an act of empowerment in its own right.

 

Pallavi Mohan

Not So Serious by Pallavi Mohan
 
Not So Serious by Pallavi Mohan
 
Not So Serious by Pallavi Mohan
 

When asked about the significance of her Fall/ Winter 2018, designer Pallavi Mohan had two words. "Female empowerment," she said. In Mohan's collection, she had models walk down the runway, hand-in-hand with an adolescent girl — perhaps, to show that women are paving a brighter future for the next generation.

"#metoo became a platform where women and men came out and shared stories of the horrors that they have been through. It was an eye-opener for me too. We get too stuck with day-to-day tasks that we put issues such as safety and equality for all in the backseat. #metoo kind of helped everybody break out of that bubble and resurfaced all these delicate emotions." 

To her, there is a new atmosphere at India Fashion Week. "The choices that women [now make] are bolder and stronger. Women are comfortable in their own skin, more than ever." 

Rahul Singh

Rahul Singh
 
Rahul Singh
 
Rahul Singh
 

"You see my collections, you will see the kind of garment structure. Structure is something like, structured garments that are not fluid. And she looks powerful. It's giving this look to a woman, dressing her powerfully, so nobody can mess with her," 32-year-old Indian womenswear designer Rahul Singh explains.  

"Fashion changes with the socio-economical [landscape] of a country. It not only changes with the mood, fashion changes because of the socio-politics of a country and the world. What you are wearing has got to do with a socio-political and economical situation in the world. That is why you are wearing what you are wearing. Next season, you will be wearing something different as well. Fashion can be affected, and can affect changes," Singh continues. 

For now, Indians are wearing #metoo on their sleeves. 

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