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.
"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."
"#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.