Let’s start with the good bits. While the country’s second digital fashion season, Lakmé Fashion Week Festive 2020, began with Manish Malhotra’s couture presentation titled Ruhaaniyat ( 282K views on the official LFW Instagram page), the first ‘show’ I saw belonged to 11.11 ( 106K views ). Not that I didn’t see Malhotra’s later. I did, and enjoyed the unabashed luxury and opulence of his embellished lehengas and elegant sherwanis . But it was the simplicity of a single indigo-dyed jumper, shown being made by hand from scratch, that stuck in my mind.
There is no greater luxury any designer could show today; all my peers will be wearing this 11.11 sweater soon, I know. It spoke for the entire collection, and revealed precisely where 11.11’s strength lies. It was the idea — raw fibre being spun into yarn, dyed indigo, and then knit into a simple jumper all by hand — that marked it out. This is what an Indian brand has to offer, the video said, loud and clear.
The India story
But there are other ways of showing what your country has to offer; a lesson driven home by the All About India show ( 104K views ) that included capsule collections by six designers. It began with Payal Khandwala’s oversized floral motifs in jamdani from Phulia in West Bengal. Next came Rajesh Pratap Singh’s futuristic ikat saris for Satya Paul, developed in Puttapaka in Telengana. True to her love for linen, Anavila Misra took off to Dumka in Jharkhand to mix it with the khatwa weave. Suket Dhir showed contemporary silhouettes in Banarasi brocades, while Urvashi Kaur’s updated shibori and tie-dyes came from the clusters she works with in Haryana and Rajasthan, developing skills and innovating with the communities there. Meanwhile, Abraham & Thakore looked to Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh for the region’s famed block prints, especially in the delicate gold khadi technique that they utilised to theatrical effect.
The sari, too, had its moment. From Parsi gara -bordered Uppadas by Gaurang Shah ( 106K views ) to metallic moon-phase drapes in Banarasi brocade by Hemang Agrawal ( 102K views ), there were enough points of interest to ensure a good retail response in a market slowly waking up to India’s festive season in the midst of a global pandemic. Even Rimzim Dadu, who showed as part of the joint finale (a concept unique to Indian fashion weeks; 230K views ) with Saaksha & Kinni, made a strong case for this timeless drape. And she did so by making it — through her unique sculptural methods and reflective surfaces — timeless.
So far, so good. But this review could well have come from a regular, pre-Covid fashion week at the Jio Garden in Mumbai. How did LFW being fully digital work apart from the absolute numbers of views it garnered? We must look to the experience itself.
The first among them was the virtual show format, which, going by the CGI, was not worth the effort. The Gen Next category, which I always look forward to, was ill served with outmoded graphics and backdrops that drew attention away from the clothes. Another designer had a post-apocalyptic Pleistocene fantasy going with woolly mammoths come back to life amid a ruined cityscape overrun with tropical foliage. Yet another featured giant charkha wheels spinning in the background like the windmills of sustainability, flanked by CGI pillars that tried their hardest to look vintage.
These are points of personal aesthetic. So a deeper dive into the digital experience becomes necessary. The problems, I am sorry to say, began from day 1, when logging on to the official LFW website became troublesome. I chalked it up to the site being overloaded, and satisfied myself with viewing the shows on their Instagram handle. What I looked forward to was the ‘virtual showroom’, a place for designers to conduct B2B and B2C business. While I’m unable to comment on the former, as I never registered as a buyer, the process of registration, even a few days after LFW ended, is no cakewalk. The website crashes with amazing regularity, and, in case it doesn’t, you will still need to be approved by a back-end team to access the showroom and designers’ collections.
The ideas are there, but the execution is where they hit a snag. And as I type this, I am glad we’re going through these teething troubles. If anything, it is these problems that will hopefully show designers how important it is for them to invest in their individual online presences. Here’s hoping.
The author is a fashion commentator and Communications Director at the House of Angadi.