Gallery Sumukha: Indian Fashion, Art and Design, London

Image272Image271 There has been much talk of India’s increasing appetite for Luxury Goods due its rapidly growing upper and middle classes and on-fire economy spitting out growth at 8% per year. New millionaires, it seems, are born in India everyday. Usually, when people discuss how the fashion industry will serve these new customers, the conversation focuses on the Gucci’s, Prada’s and Chanel’s of the world and how they plan to conquer the Indian market.

However, anyone who has done business in India will know that navigating the the notoriously challenging Indian business world is not easy. In Indian fashion, it is even more challenging. Darwinian forces and age old Indian cultural patterns  collide with the already flaky and frenetic fashion world. This is, after all, the country where Majed Al Sabah’s putative Indian business partner in an initiative to develop an Indian outpost of Villa Moda left him at the proverbial alter and then went off to set up his own competing business under another name, using the Villa Moda concept. Clearly, understanding the nuances of how things really work in India and how to gain the trust of and commitment from Indian business people is critical to success.

This is partially why I think there should be much more discussion on which of the local Indian designers (and there are literally 100’s of them who show in Delhi and Mumbai each season) will conquer the Indian market. These are people who have lived and breathed India from the get go, and have the know-how and connections to make things work in their home country. Sure, most of the big European luxury players partner with illustrious local business families with fashion cred, but it seems to me that having an operation that understands the Indian market and designs specifically for it can be a very powerful way in which local Indian designers can compete with the big guys.

The truth is, the tradition of cultural dress in India is not relegated to formal events or occasions as it is in some other Asian countries.  In fact,  Indian men and women, even at the most elite socio-economic levels,  integrate traditional dress into their everyday lives. This is, on the one hand, a reflection of climate. On the other  hand, it is a reflection of a distinct pride in Indian culture. For designers who share in this pride, understand the culture, and can design for it, they can have a leg up on any foreigners who come to play on the feisty Indian fashion playground.

Tonight, one of my favourite Indian designers, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, invited me to an event in London showcasing the work of some of the most talented Indian designers. Held by the Gallery Sumukha at London’s Bombay Brasserie, the event brought together 30 artists from India who collaborated to produce thematically linked pieces of fashion, art and design.

Though the Bombay Brasserie space did not lend itself well to this kind of exhibition, it was very impressive to see the work of so many talented young artists from India all in one place. At a fashion show in New York a few season ago, a Japanese buyer from Isetan asked me if I was the "Hermes of India". When I looked at him with a blank face, not knowing what he meant, he went on to describe an Indian ingenue of great talent and noteriety. I soon figured out he was talking about Sabyasachi — so you can understand the level of talent that was assembled for the event. Manish Arora, Rohit Bal, and Rajesh Pratap Singh were some of the other Indian fashion luminaries who were working the crowd.  Right now, it seems many of them have their hearts set on conquering the Europe and America. It’s my hope that one of these guys also finds the inner passion to also make it in their home market, building the world’s first luxury brand in India, for India.

Sabyasachi developed this look based on the painting to the left by Paresh Maity. It is reminiscent of the  nerd girl chic collection he showed to great reviews in New York last September.
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Manish Arora’s contribution was a signature Manish skirt and jacket based on the stunning work of Ravinder Reddy.
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We fell in love with these  old-school valises in modern colours by Suman Sharma, inspired by Bose Krishnamachari in collaboration with Rohit Bal. Image267

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