A couple of years ago, when Rahul Mishra — India’s best-known export to international fashion in recent years — was invited to participate in the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW), the Van Heusen Men’s Fashion Week in Delhi, the Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai (LFW), the Bangalore Fashion Week, the India Couture Week and the Goa Resort Week among others, he chose just two: the WIFW and the LFW. The reason was simple: WIFW (now the Amazon India Fashion Week), offered the maximum business and LFW, the most publicity. As a designer who had already made a name for himself, Mishra was choosing the best of both worlds.
Delhi-based textile expert Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango must have done the same math. For the longest time, he kept away from the hullabaloo of fashion weeks and worked from the anonymity of his studio in Chhatarpur, Delhi. Yet, this year, at the ongoing AIFW at the NSIC Grounds in New Delhi, Garg was the opening designer of the five-day fashion extravaganza.
Garg is already an established designer and Raw Mango’s clientele includes the who’s who of the subcontinent. Why, then, would he need a fashion week?
That’s because an umbrella trade event such as a fashion week is essential in bringing together designers, retailers and corporates on a single platform to generate more business. Traditionally, fashion weeks across the world are trade events where designers showcase their collection six months in advance so that buyers — boutiques and international retailers — can order in advance and received the consignments at stores in time for a new season or ahead of festivals.
From a fledgling India Fashion Week in 2001, India has, over the years, had over seven fashion weeks in a single calendar year. While the LFW and the AIFW remain the benchmark, there have also been fashion weeks in Kolkata, Bengaluru and Jaipur, among other cities. Goa has been host to a resort-wear fashion week, Mumbai even had a children’s fashion week a few years ago. Bridal fashion week and couture week flourish in Delhi and Mumbai; a men’s fashion week, too, has had its moment under the sun.
Fashion weeks in smaller centres are less business-driven, but they have their own purpose. Over the years, with the aggressive rise of social media, the plethora of fashions weeks have given birth to a lot of ancillary industries — independent bloggers, event organisers, stylists, photographers, fashion schools and magazines and even tourism. Why would established designers such as Garg or Mishra, with thriving businesses, participate in fashion weeks? The answer is simple: Fashion weeks offer them a chance to maximise their profit by working to their strength. It’s more of a branding exercise where they can break into a new niche market and also have celebrities in the front row wearing their designs and cheering for them.
For newer designers, it offers them a spot under the strobe lights where dreams can come true and talent is feted. An event such as the LFW, for instance, not only grooms selected designers, but also takes care of all the professional requirements of hosting a show that can be so daunting for a newcomer trying to make a mark in the industry (read, stylists, models, ushers, power back-up, security, music, venue, publicity, etc.) for a price, of course.
But does India need so many fashion weeks and do they serve any purpose?
In some ways, they do. In India, AIFW remains the most successful business forum for designers, while LFW ensures the best grooming ground, particularly for upcoming designers. The latter also ensures the maximum publicity, drawing in Bollywood A-listers by the hordes. In a country where the domestic market is the strongest, with a major chunk of business coming from the bustling wedding market, the couture week is more of a branding exercise targeted at individual customers, mostly NRIs and celebrities and domestic boutiques such as Kimaya, Ensemble, Aza and others. The domestic segment is responsible for 90 per cent of the business in India. Most of the buyers who come in from Europe contribute less than 1 per cent of the business. Buyers from the Middle-East account for the rest.