This season of Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) saw a whole new crop of young designers receive the media’s approving nod with their talent while the veteran names underwent a serious phase of reinvention to discover textile and tradition. Unarguably, this is the most exciting phase of Indian fashion where designers have now struck the right chord between the traditional and the global, designing garments that appeal to a wider demographic while keeping the critics happy.
The 2013 Summer/Resort season saw the participation of buyers from the Indian market as well as from overseas; and for most this was their first time at the fashion week. LFW has reported 21 per cent season-on-season rise in buyers attending the event with 219 registrations this season. While a few regular buyers from prominent stores within the country didn’t give it a miss, new faces were seen in the front row going through the line sheets and taking pictures of their favourite looks in preparation of discussing business with the designers. Irrespective of where they come from, the new age, tech-savvy buyers come with a preconceived notion of what to expect and the season’s trends courtesy fashion media and agencies like WGSN. As a result, the need to stay ahead of the curve and design garments that are in trend and wearable is imperative now more than ever. It is evident that Indian fashion is garnering global attention – this season saw 44 buyer registrations from international markets alone, which is an approximate 35 per cent rise as compared to the last season. While the regular markets such as the U.S., U.K. and Dubai saw their representation, it was the plethora of new markets including Kuwait, Russia and South Africa that testified the reach that Indian fashion has attained.
LFW is declared as a launch pad for new talent by media, buyers and the industry, which is essentially the reason for the sizeable number of buyers the event draws in. Says Azmina Rahimtoola of Atosa, “It is an excellent platform for new designers. They get wonderful exposure here. Unlike Wills India Fashion Week, here they don’t get lost and get their deserving due.” This season had 89 designers, of which 18 formed the Talent Box category and six designers appeared at the Gen Next show. It is this segment of designers that the buyers are particularly keen on. Loulwah Al-Moshawah, a buyer from Kuwait, said, “The Gen Next designers were very interesting. Besides, there were plenty of Talent Box designers who had a lot to offer. We have already booked 20 designers this season.”
Buyers also thought that Indian designers, newcomers in particular, are spot-on in terms of trends and that their real forte lies in their ‘Indianness’. Nancy Taylor Farel, a colour style consultant from the U.S., said she expected to see “a lot of colour from Indian designers” – something the country has developed a reputation for – but she was also keen to see how the “designers would integrate the traditional crafts with new aesthetics to create designs that have a global appeal.”
The Indo-Western garments that the designers presented have a surprising demand not only amongst Indians living in the U.K., U.S. or elsewhere but also in the Middle Eastern market. Speaking about how Indian designs found a following among her clients in Kuwait, Al-Moshawah said, “The finish and the variety of Indian fabric are extremely popular in Kuwait. Most of these garments appeal to the Indian community and the people in Kuwait alike. While the sari is something that won’t work outside of India or Indian communities, the other designs will be perfect for our market with a little customisation.”
Liya Thachil, CEO of the new online venture, The Secret Space, targeted for the South Indian market, shared similar views and said that while she didn’t believe that the Indian market, by and large, was not ready for resortwear, the ethnic and Indo-Westernwear would find a large number of takers in the tricky market of South India.
Apart from the international new markets that have opened up to Indian fashion, the market within the country is also witnessing phenomenal growth. Tier-II cities are fast catching up with fashion and this season drew in buyers from cities such as Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Pune and Surat – which stands as an indicator of the reach of high fashion within the country. Arvind Saraf of Triveni Sarees, Surat, said, “This was our first time at Lakmé Fashion Week as a buyer and it provided us with a quick platform to look at the works of, evaluate and talk to many established and upcoming designers under one roof. There’s a lot more awareness about the electronic retail potential amongst the buyers, both in understanding and design sensibility required, which is a healthy sign.”
The designers have managed to charm the buyers with their new design aesthetic and innovations but the looming skepticism among the buyers is tangible. The biggest issue that the buyers face and are highly doubtful about is order fulfillment. Lakmé Fashion Week might be the perfect launch pad for new talent but when it comes to business, this platform falls weak. The fashion week has designers present their current collection, unlike WLIFW or international fashion weeks where designers also showcase collections for the next season. While this format works within the country – where most regions don’t have defined seasons and summer is predominant – it leaves the international buyers wary about the consignment. Says Al-Moshawah, “We love the talent and the designs at LFW but we are worried that the shipment might not reach us on time. Spring has already started in Kuwait and Ramadan will come up soon, which is when the customers shop the most and are on the lookout for new designs. It is a very crucial time for us and we are a little unsure about receiving our orders on time.”
For Thachil, the issues lie is the presentation format. “This is my first time here and I feel like the shows are for the media and not the buyers. We don’t get the line sheets and look-books from the designers. As a result, we don’t know what to expect until the show has begun. So we have to keep coming back to The Source to get a better look at the clothes. Also, the schedule is very packed, which hardly allows us any time to make decisions or discuss business with the designers. This works out for buyers based within Mumbai but for us, this is a huge issue because this is the only time we get to discuss business and move things forward. LFW is a brilliant platform for designers and the organisers have done a great job but I wish it was more buyer-friendly.”