Colour has meaning in India.
A friend of mine, born in Rajasthan, tells me that each community has adopted a different colour and pattern for men’s turbans, to serve as a visual identifier for that community. A Hindu bride is identified by the red coloured Bandhani (tie-dye) print of her sari, whilst a yellow bandhani print indicates that its wearer is a mother. A widow wears a black garment (a Jimi) with designs only around the borders.
In India, colour assaults you on all sides – on trucks, buildings, shops and above all, on saris, turbans and all forms of clothing. It is a visual feast. It is a great pity that London’s Victoria and Albert Museum’s new Fabric of India show fails to convey this. It is a scholarly exhibition covering the history and techniques of fabric production in India. There are some beautiful garments lurking in semi-darkened rooms, confined to glass boxes, watched over by an army of security guards that threatened to outnumber visitors on the day I was there. The whole atmosphere is of subdued restraint – almost the complete opposite of the sense one actually gets from visiting India itself.
Luckily, Selfridges is supplying a far more imaginative and vibrant way of experiencing India’s love of colour, fabric and fashion at its Selfridges Loves India event, including its pop-up for cult Mumbai boutique, Bombay Electric. Selfridges’ focus is firmly on the future, featuring young Indian and British designers. From the Brits, there is a series of limited edition saris made by Mary Katrantzou, Peter Pilotto, Roksanda Illincic, Nicholas Kirkwood and Mawi (see right).
Indian design talent includes labels like Morphe, Miuniku and Rashmi Varma. There is also a dazzling display of accessories, handmade in India and a spectacular scarf wall featuring pashminas, silk and Khadi (handcrafted) cotton scarves hanging from “hands” protruding from the wall in the 8 mudras or hand gestures for meditation. It is a really creative and thoughtfully-presented display.
The young Indian designers on show here are the most impressive feature by far, though.
Miuniku is designed by sisters Tina and Nikita, born and still based in Mumbai. Since graduating from London College of Fashion in 2013, where they won the Fashion Innovation Award, they were semi- finalists of the H&M Design Awards 2014 and won the Special Jury Prize at the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers 2014. It is hard to believe that they have only produced two collections when you look at their designs. I immediately fell in love with a lilac wool coat with blocks of colour and glitter applique and an extremely flattering shift dress in colour-blocked style, embellished with beads and with a trompe d’oeuil tie at the hips. Both beautifully flattering designs, in eye-catching colours, but easy to wear – the kind of stand-out pieces one can imagine wearing and cherishing for years.
Also launched in 2013, Rashmi Varma’s label draws on India’s traditional artisan crafts to create strikingly modern designs. She works with craft organisations and directly with artisans on beautiful garments that show off India’s handwoven cottons & silks, hand dying, embroidery and sari-style pleating and draping. At Selfridges you can see her Bihar sari dress. Sewn in sari style, it is fitted but super-flattering with a high waist and draped skirt ending in a long frontal train that loops back around the body and over the shoulder. It is a genius hybrid of style – flattering, slinky, modest but with a very sinuous line.
Morphe, designed by Central St Martins graduate Shenali Sema, is a highly contemporary collection that produces designs that play with silhouettes and fabrics. Their collection at Selfridges includes blue culottes in a super-soft neoprene with a matching baseball-style jacket or, more classically pretty, blouses and tops in semi-translucent fabrics in the style of the choli, the traditional Indian bodice worn under the sari. For a more dramatic entrance, there were dresses and tops in magnificent gold brocaded prints.
Selfridges loves India and it really shows. It continues, online and in store until December. For the sheer exuberance of contemporary Indian design and pure colour energy it is the closest you can get to India without actually leaving London.