From Pierre Cardin to Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin first came to India in 1968 on Mrs. Gandhi’s personal invitation. The purpose of inviting Cardin was to help the ailing textile industry of the country. The country’s textile industry badly needed the “designer” touch and no one fitted the bill better than Cardin, the fashion guru.

Cardin’s effort helped Indian fabrics not only to improve their prospects in the American and European market but also heralded the arrival of haute couture circuit on the Indian scene.

In 1994 Cardin visited our country again. But things were very different more than two decades later. These 23 years have seen a real metamorphosis of the Indian fashion industry. In between these years however, the country has passed through many phases and not all of them have been manifested in its export performance.

Although India has been traditionally known for its amazing variety of dresses and dress materials from which the designers can draw their inspiration, the practice of Indian fashion designers in this “art form” has been far from satisfactory.

Considering the heritage, Indian share in the world market in exploiting that has been really meagre. Indian cotton with almost zero shrinkage and soft texture is one of the best cottons available. Indian produces one of the best silks and of all the four varieties; Indian embroidery is unmatched for its skill and richness. Yet India could not capitalise on all these riches either to help its export or its internal fashion market.

Although the first fashion show was not held as late as 1981 the fashion scene started hotting up by late 70’s when exports surged. This phase was marked by export of cheap cotton apparels without much consideration being given to quality and design. Increased competition from China and Egypt forced the Indians to go in for designing of the exportable clothes. This opened up new vistas and some polytechnics and other institutes started imparting training to the future fashion designers. By mid 1990’s the government recognising the potential opened up the National Institute of Fashion Technology, NIFT in 1986 marking the second phase. NIFT as a high class institute has done more of an inspirational work for other fashion designers than actually creating them. The Indian fashion scene actually picked up from here. But while NIFT did create quality designers there was a mushrooming growth of many other NIFT like institutes churning out the so called designers.

From 1988 to 1992 was the phase of transition and experimentation and Indian fashion saw many dimensions. Normally it should have boomed but the designers went into a groove and stagnated. Take the example of kurtas. In 1987, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla carried on some pionering work with crinkled kurtas and in 1989 some others experimented with phulkari, baag and woodwork. They continued to be the rage for five years at least. Stagnation was helped by the people in India who were afraid of change. The Indian women were not willing to leave salwar kameez and demanded the same thing again and again. Public apathy for change resulted in fashion becoming predictable and also prompted piracy. Zardosi for example was pirated among the designers with just some minor innovations and when the so called designers started selling themselves in numerous retails throwing all the norms of exclusivity, it could be found all over.

It was here that the advent of Star TV opened the eyes of the public. The Indian designs and designers were exposed to competition; they realised their folly and so did the people. Quality, art, marketing-various themes were all shown to the public and the designers alike.

The advent of STAR TV was like a whiff of fresh air in India. Many foreign trained designers and the old warrior horses started spreading their wings, and the results were clear-a brand new breed of designers having the potential of being as good as the best sprang up-Suneet Verma, Rohit Bal, Rina Dhaka, JJ Wallaya, David Abraham, Ravi Bajaj and others. They were helped by the new attitude of people, their willingness to change, to experiment and to go in for the exclusive designs.

In this light Pierre Cardin’s visit does not come as a whiff of fresh air rather an entry (the first by international designer) into the already heated market.

The impact of Pierre Cardin can be far reaching but his show did not come up to the expectation of many. The Indian collection at the show was like a 10 year old collection from Intershoppe and as Suneet Verma says, it could have been much better. In fact, the international Paris winter collection for 95-96 presented at the show is not meant for the Indian market. There were futuristic styles conceptually derived from science fiction, the realism of a post technology society, flowing chiffons, fluffy skirts, leather sashes, some like headgears and top hats all in vibrant colours; their inner geometry (circle in particular) hugging the body to perfection.

While the show may not have satisfied all, many things are certain-India will now be on the international fashion scene, more and more designers will realise the importance of keeping their exclusivity intact, their will be more and more radical experimentation in clothing both from designers and the people, all to the advantage of new generation.

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