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LUXURY NOW / A PASSAGE TO INDIA / TULLE IN THE CROWN

Bollywood bling meets avant-garde chic in a cross-fertilization that's sending fashion into a frenzy.

A flourishing economy marks out India as a land of opportunity, but how will fashion fare as East meets West in the style stakes?


This September, Condé Nast will launch Vogue India. The latest version of the world's leading style bible finally confirms India's place on the international fashion scene, welcoming a wealth of talent into the global fashion fold. As the South Asian sovereignty enjoys the spoils of an economic boom, Western luxury brands are beating a path to colonize the nascent demographic of über-wealthy, fashion-savvy consumers, but as Vogue's Fashion Features Editor Bandana Tewari explains, "Indian fashion is very complex. We have been wearing the same clothes that have existed over the last 400 or 500 years. We wear traditional dress every day of our lives. Fusion silhouettes or 'Indo-Western' style, that's quite nascent." While the IT girls of Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore pound down the doors of Vuitton in search of that elusive limited-edition bag, the little black dress just doesn't cut it against the backdrop of rich, jewel-encrusted vibrant silks that bedeck the curves of India's raven-haired beauties. Traditional saris, kurtas and salwar kameez suits still win in the style stakes. While changing climates divide Western fashion into summer and winter collections, Indian fashion falls into three categories; party, wedding and Diwali season. Bright colors and beading define the most lavish creations from seasoned stars such as Tarun Tahiliani and Rajesh Pratap, as "more is more" remains the mantra.

Although Indian style—a favorite of the Sixties' psychedelic scene—has been prevalent in Western dress for almost half a century, its design industry is more incipient. Traditionally, local designers and artisans have remained relegated to the back room, discreetly servicing the world's finest brands, creating magnificent masterpieces of beading and embroidered craftsmanship. "When Indian fashion designers started manufacturing, the first thing that they tried to portray was the craft that India has; its embroidery and embellishment, rather than design. This continued for around 15 years. It's only in the last five years that this has changed. Even as we speak, there are around 70 to 100 designers in India at the moment engaged in the industry, but I would say that only around 10 designers concentrate on the design aspect, while the rest still concentrate on embellishment," explains Vinod Nair, Fashion Editor for The Hindustan Times.

Times are changing. The arrival of IMG India—a global leader in fashion show and event production, responsible for New York, São Paolo and Australian Fashion Weeks—at the beginning of the millennium, marked the arrival of Indian Fashion Week and a bourgeoning design scene. However, a controversial split, resulting in two separate events—one held in Delhi, the other in Mumbai—has created a huge divide and confusing times for young designers torn between tradition and the lure of international fame. While Delhi's Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week is seen as the fashion hub, reserved for the great and the good, showing more classic collections, Mumbai's Lakmé Fashion Week has become a launch pad for newcomers, not only in Southeast Asia but globally, thanks to its cultural fashion exchange program. The avant-garde Western style collections that grace the Lakmé catwalk each season translate well to the international catwalks, but as Bandana Tewari warns, young designers should strive to retain India's unique identity. "I don't think buyers are coming to India from Paris to buy a perfectly constructed jacket, when they know they can get it in Europe. They come here for the colors, textures, textiles and the free-flowing cuts that are intrinsic to our sensibility here. We seem to be pushing that away very quickly. It's suddenly become very European." However, mavericks such as Manish Arora and Anamika Khanna have elevated Southeast Asian style, successfully transcending the cultural boundaries, creating Indo-Western collections that are enjoying as much, if not more, success overseas as back home. Hurray for Bollywood!

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