As Lakmé Fashion Week – one of the hottest events on India’s style calendar – returns to Mumbai on Wednesday, August 24, for its winter edition, demand for the country’s unique designs continues to soar internationally.
Celebrities, including Kate Moss and Kylie Minogue, have been seen wearing Indian designers, such as Manish Malhotra, while Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, brought to the world’s attention couturier-to-the-stars Anita Dongre, when she wore one of the designer’s creations during a visit to India in April.
But strongest, perhaps, is the appeal of Indian designers in the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries – a testament to the similarities in Indian and Arab fashion sensibilities. While preferred for its conservative outlines – including loose, flowing silhouettes, high necklines and low hems – Indian evening wear is also sought after for its heavy embroidery, beadwork and appliqué on luxurious fabrics such as handwoven silk.
Growing global awareness of and demand for Indian trends and traditional handicraft is "leading to designers achieving international status and making inroads in the world market", says Mumbai designer Kamaali Mehta, who will be showcasing her modern creations at Lakmé Fashion Week under her label, Kamaali Couture. "Our handicrafts and embroideries have forever been an area of interest for international labels – from Louis Vuitton to Coco Chanel."
Mehta, whose brand is known for its bridal gowns, elegant saris and dresses, is hoping to expand to the Arabian Gulf.
"There are a lot of similarities in fashion between India and the Middle East," she says, adding that beside cut, pattern and the preoccupation with heavy embellishments, the motifs and prints bear similarities, too.
It is no coincidence that Malhotra – whose Lakmé show is one of the most eagerly anticipated events – has collaborated with Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways to film the event in virtual reality.
"I love Abu Dhabi and Dubai, especially what both these cities have come to represent over the years," says the 50-year-old. "Whenever I go back, I realise that nothing is impossible to achieve, and this pushes me to work harder. This is one of the major reasons I decided to partner with Etihad Airways.
"During the henna night at Arab weddings, for instance, female guests often prefer to wear ethnic-Indian outfits with old-world handicraft," says the designer, who last October brought a special trunk show to Dubai, followed by a private catwalk event that featured Bollywood actor Arjun Kapoor as the showstopper.
Collections by such established designers are readily available in shops in the UAE, including at Dubai’s Studio 8 and Label 24.
Ritu Kumar, from New Delhi, has a boutique at BurJuman centre in Dubai that stocks her latest collections and special-occasion designs she creates for festivals such as Eid Al Fitr and Diwali.
"We have been dealing with a lot of demand from the Middle Eastern market," says Diya Arora, a Mumbai designer, whose Lakmé show will be under the brand DiyaRajvvir. "In fact, we are stocking at VESIMI Dubai in Jumeirah. Our speciality is exquisite hand-painted and hand-embroidered techniques, which are in demand among customers looking for one-of-a-kind, opulent wear."
Arora says her creations – "a hybrid of Indian and western sensibilities" – reflect a broader trend in Indian fashion of combining global and traditional elements.
"It is a melange of styles, including capes, kimono sleeves and culottes," says the designer, whose silhouettes this season have been crafted with comfort in mind – a mix of sultry drapes and layering, with a hint of structure.