Fashion weeks, I have generally found, have two categories of garments the simply unwearable and the grossly unwearable. In fact, most of the garments by designer Kiran Saluja on the first day of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week belonged to the latter category. Outlandish is a mild description for what the showstoppers, especially, strutted in wearing she, a sleeveless dress that was thickly covered in gold embroidery and beads, and he, a similar jumpsuit too heavy to walk in. Similarly unwearable were two creations by Nida Mahmood made of what looked like gold and silver tinsel, the stiff material had been cut into panels and fashioned into something that looked like a flower, or a spacesuit, perhaps?
Why do designers exhibit clothes on the ramp that few people would ever wear, let alone buy? To be sure, Indian designers are only following in the traditions set by the fashion industry in the West. Himanshu Shani of design house CellDSGN 11.11 speaks of John Galliano’s elaborate ramp shows when he says that, “A ramp show is telling a story, and I have 30 to 40 garments to tell it with.” Sadly, such creativity is more often than not inversely proportional to the garment’s off-ramp wearable quotient.
But then ramp shows are a designers’ way of creating an aura around their collections given that fashion is not just about the garments but also about experiences sensual and aesthetic, with colour, sound, and that ineffable quality called glamour. As designer Atsu Sekhose says, “You don’t want to see everyday clothes on the ramp that would be boring.”
“My ramp collections are a blend of what women would love to have, what they’d like to wear and what they would dream to be,” says Amit Aggarwal, a designer who’s creating the most buzz these days. Aggarwal’s designs evoke a kind of futuristic, sci-fi aesthetic which comes from his use of fabric. Mostly sheer chiffon or organza and crinkled or twisted, the garments are flared out at the waist or shoulder and then gathered in place with the help of stiff materials like plastic, acrylic, or even metal strips. On the ramp, they seem more art than wearable garments, which is why Aggarwal was selected last year to show at the Arken Museum in Copenhagen on the future of fashion and art.
With others like Rimzim Dadu and Jenjum Gadi, ramp shows are all about presenting a concept, and if the collection looks unwearable, the designers make modifications before selling them knock down versions, as they are called. “For instance,” says Dadu, “a collection I showed in 2011 had metal wires dyed in an ikat style. The clothes that went into commercial production were modified with fabric cords replacing the metal wires.”
The late Alexander McQueen famously drove home the point when he proclaimed, “I think there is beauty in everything. What ‘normal’ people would perceive as ugly, I can usually see something of beauty in it.” Amen to that!