A canvas for fashion

Swati Rai

if 29 Rooms, the installation at last year’s New York Fashion Week in Bushwick, is anything to go by, it can safely be presumed that art in high fashion is a globally rising trend. Designed to inspire creativity and, of course, Instagram posts, the 80,000 square foot warehouse saw installations by artists as well as fashion designers, amongst them the likes of Michael Kors. Kors’ concept titled The Sidewalk is Your Runway, had people posing with his famed bags and posting the captures on social media.Fashion and its interpretation have changed over the years. This change reflects itself not just in the colour and texture, but also in the way fashion is presented to people today. Artistic installations and scenography for a fashionably ambient presentation are an off shoot of that. Bold designing steps see couturiers seeking artistic outlet to jazz up the ramp and, in turn, create an immersive experience for the onlooker.While we have had the trend impressing the fashion scene abroad, it is catching up in India too, be it at the last two India Couture Weeks or Lakme Fashion Week. Designers have been successful in creating scenes and vignettes both on and off the ramps.Recently, seven fashion icons — Sabyasachi Mukherji, JJ Valaya, Tarun Tahiliani, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Shantanu & Nikhil, Abraham & Thakore and Narendra Kumar Ahmed — were invited by Godrej India Culture Lab to reflect on the Partition of India through their designs. These were presented in a fashion-meets-art installation at the Lakme Fashion Week and would be permanently housed at The Partition Museum in Amritsar.At the recent ICW, designer Anamika Khanna, in her show entitled Happily Ever After, chose to have a multi-dimensional mannequin theme reflecting various stages in a marital journey — from betrothal to the nuptials. Wide-eyed stationary models brought alive the theme with scenes created to match the outfit and the occasion.An installation is also about a designer’s mind. Also at ICW, Gaurav Gupta brought to the ramp a bit of the fantasy world he inhabits. An esoteric world found itself taking shape and offering the audience a quick mood elevation. The ramp became a barren yet rich moonscape with huge glass blowouts radiating in a purple haze as the show opened. It felt as if one was suspended in the bubble for a moment. In his own words: “I added a new dimension to a mythological forest by creating a floating space in between. It sort of mirrored the fantasy space in my head, which I inhabit most of the time. There was foliage in glass on the 10 installations, measuring between 7 and 10 feet, which we created.”A more traditional take was Manav Gangwani’s latest couture collection, [email protected] It showcased the god and goddesses of India and meenakari on Patolas and Paithani to reflect different cultural imprints of the country. Big and bold Kathakali masks worn by models accentuated the show. A model perched on the grand staircase of a hotel foyer reflected the Prime Minister’s Make in India campaign, showcasing an intricately designed silhouette of a lion.Sharing his design landscape, Gangwani says, “The fashion industry has evolved over the past few years. We now have so much inspiration around us in India. Monumental structures, cultural diversity and geographical differences have helped me curate this collection… I have taken inspiration from every region of India to create this collection and to give the audience this experience.”FDCI president Sunil Sethi isn’t surprised by the increasing room for art in fashion. “Deep down, all designers think of themselves as artists and this creative force comes out in their collections — be it in the set design or as an installation fashion show.”Still, he feels art is just an embellishment for a fashion show. Designs have to be the real powerhouse. “I feel that the philosophy or the thought process of a designer will remain hidden if the clothes in his/her collection fail to do so. It’s the clothes and not the art work that is important.” While crediting digital technology and advanced projection techniques for the innovation on ramp, he hints at the limited scope of the trend too.“Such scenography has more scope and visibility in couture and not so much in pret,” Sethi says.