No different from any fashion week in the better days of actual venues, the digital LakmÃ© Fashion Week 2020 was frenetic. Fashion films, make-up tutorials, podcasts, panel discussions, interviews, and several brand-sponsored events populated every hour of its packed five-day schedule. Actual invitations bearing QR codes had been sent out, and the fashion crowd " all dressed up in their living rooms " didn't fail to turn up, including show-stoppers, who spoke over Zoom press conferences.
Yet, for all the innovation and adaptation, the event was undercut by a sense of unease at the future of Indian fashion. For most designers, the pandemic spelt tremendous losses as store footfalls dipped, employees migrated homewards, the sustenance of artisanal clusters was threatened, and their LakmÃ¨ Fashion Week collections were accomplished with only a fraction of their kaarigars.
With sustainability as the core theme of the week, designers highlighted indigenous crafts in their designs. For instance, Manish Malhotra opened the week with Ruhaaniyat, a collection that supports women chikankari workers from the Shabhana Azmi-run NGO, Mijwan Welfare Society.
If there was one primary takeaway from the week " warning even " it was that in the long run, fashion and designers cannot exist without kaarigars. While Malhotra's show directly sought donations for artisan communities, Ashwath Swaminathan, Head of Innovations at LakmÃ© expressed hope about the overall impact of the event. "The biggest thing that LFW can do is to try and bring demand back," he added.
The Grand Finale: Full Circle for Gen-Next Designers
The final show of the week was emotional for participating designers Rimzim Dadu, Saaksha Bhat and Kinnari Kamat. Fresh out of of the National Institute of Fashion Technology in 2007, 21-year-old Dadu had debuted at the Gen Next show with My Village by Rimzim Dadu. On the other hand, more recently in 2017, Bhat left her job as a lawyer while Kamat moved on from supplying embroidery swatches to international luxury houses to presenting their colourful brand, Saaksha & Kinni, on the same platform.
13 years later, Dadu's brand goes solely by her name, and has quite upended traditional ideas of the sari with its signature cord-work. "This time around," Dadu says, "I wanted to present a festive collection by adapting my signature metallic textiles and cords into floral and geometric forms." The result was a range of saris, dresses, and separates in her favoured, metallic shades of silver, gold, green, and blue; and her first ever lehenga " a silver number with metallic floral appliquÃ© modelled by the showstopper, actor Mrunal Thakur.
"It wasn't easy designing the collection in these times," Dadu says. After initial deliberations on health and safety, the designer went ahead by creating a bio-bubble in which her entire design team and artisans lived and worked together. "Our common mission is to rebuild business, and to go back to what we love doing most " creating," she adds.
For Saaksha Bhat, being stuck in London meant that most of her work had to be done via video calls. While her design partner Kinnari Kamat was present at their headquarters in Mumbai, a large part of their workers had migrated home. "In these times, it's the stories of our craftsmen and migrant fashion workers that need to be foreground," remarks Bhat. "The focus is not necessarily the clothes, but the message behind them."
Inspired by the Banjara tribe, this collection, says Kamat, "is all about thread-work, shine, and colour". To add to their idiosyncratic melding of bright colours and prints, the designers incorporated Banjara mirror-work, thread-work and intricate embroideries. "As always, we made sure all of the embroidery was done by hand. There are some garments that took around 100 hours to make," she adds.
"For the Banjaras to cultivate and preserve such an exquisite artisanal craft of hand-embroidery even while many of them live nomadic lives is so inspirational for us, as designers," Bhat explains. "During the pandemic, we've learnt that what matters most is staying true to your craft and constantly improving it."